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Reinventing Consulting: From Time and Materials to Changemaker Communities

Consulting is in the midst of a revolution. What might the future hold for one of the modern world’s most symbolic professions?

Arthur Dehon Little pioneered the first consultancy in 1886 to deal with complex problems existing staff couldn’t solve. However, it was Booz Allen Hamilton and McKinsey & Company, which developed the modern management consultancy throughout the 1900s. Consultants offered fresh perspectives and legitimacy for leader’s decisions. They paid bright graduates top-wages to staff projects, which swung between outsourced routine work and complex, cutting-edge solutions tailored to client’s biggest problems. Consultancies led the corporate strategy revolution, opening the door for systems, foresight, innovation, and design to have a seat in the C-suite. They also led corporate reengineering efforts, which some suspect hollowed out the American middle class on behalf of the Milton Friedman, profit-first philosophy.

Trends in Consulting

Despite the historical success of consulting. The context in which consulting rose to prominence is fading, driven by emerging technologies, social and systemic forces, and a re-alignment of corporate ethics and practices.

  • The Second Machine Age: The emergence of artificial intelligence and automation are turning many jobs and decisions, which once may have been outsourced, into internal operations, bolstered by ever-expanding datasets and powerful, analytical tools.
  • Value-Based Models: Many industries, including healthcare and automotive, are shifting to value-based pricing, where clients pay for the value they receive.
  • Gig & Remote Work: Powered by digital leaders, such as Upwork and Fiverr, and driven by COVID-19, work is increasingly done remotely, and in increments outside the usual salaried 9–5.
  • Systemic Welfare: Bolstered by successful Universal Basic Income pilots and proposals for a four-day workweek, the workplace power dynamic may shift towards people freely choosing when and how they work, rather than being driven by subsistence needs.
  • Open Innovation: Corporate transparency, the explosion of information online, and crowdsourcing platforms, like Lego Ideas, has shifted the market towards co-creative, open working practices and away from selling expertise.
  • You Inc.: Social media and platforms, such as LinkedIn and Medium, have positioned many to pursue entrepreneurial or independent ventures and form independent, collaborative communities.
  • Emergent Strategy: Facing waves of change, many corporates have shifted away from fixed infrastructure, like permanent employees or owned technology, towards flexible workers and systems, like Toptal or Amazon Web Services (AWS) to permit rapid pivots towards new strategies or business models.
  • Ethical Governance: Facing pressure from systemic forces like climate change and customers demanding more ethical, sustainable business practices, many corporates are shifting towards ESG or impact-first management.
  • Digital Globalization: Once the domain of manufactured goods, today services and people are more capable of freely travelling and working, physically and digitally, towards truly international teams collaborating on global projects.

Leaders of Change

  • Edum McCallum: Edum McCallum does not hire consultants. Unlike traditional firms, which are incentivized to maximize utilization, Edum McCallum sources experts from an independent network of experienced, senior consultants. Consultants are not pressured to sell, while clients enjoy lower overhead and better projects led by handpicked experts.
  • PSFK: Rather than creating one-off solutions for each client, PSFK sells expertise and advice through reports, blogs, and strategic advice. PFSK draws on a global network of experts to create industry-wide and client-commissioned reports.
  • Florpartners: Unlike the broad-spectrum clientele and services of traditional firms, Florpartners’ small team hyper-specializes in advising the Dutch horticultural sector.
  • Tuzzle: Rather than offering advice, Tuzzle draws on a proprietary psychological technology to identify and staff companies with the appropriate expertise to make key strategic decisions in-house.
  • Catalant: Catalant’s 70,000+ on-demand experts and strategy software work together to offer management tools and advice to define and align staff behind a course of action.
  • Gerson Lehrman Group: GLG’s 700,000+ expert insight network offers ready-made, tailored expertise or project teams to meet client’s needs.
  • Fahrenheit 212: Fahrenheit 212’s industry-leading value-based pricing model means that more than 2/3s of fees are tied directly to client outcomes, like revenue generated or new products launched.

Recognizing the need to pivot, many consultancies are experimenting with new business models, working practices, and value propositions.

Shifts in Consulting

Today, consulting is in the midst of a revolution. The dominant norms, which grew consulting into a $250bb per year global powerhouse, are being replaced by new processes, models, and value propositions. These are shown through shifts from today to tomorrow.

  • Pricing: Time & Materials to Value-Based
  • Value: Advice to Outcomes
  • Staffing: Salaried Employees to Expert Networks
  • Timeline: Months to Instant or Continuous
  • Process: Closed to Open, Collaborative
  • Risk: Client-Only to Joint-Ownership

Consulting in 2050

There are many potential futures ahead for consulting. Each presents different, challenging decisions for firms today, including whether to pivot or double-down on existing models or embrace a new vision.

Mia grinned, excited. She’d recently joined the Coalition Insights expert network as a specialist in behavioural sciences and transformation design. Today was the kickoff for a new project to help a global NGO pilot a new initiative on Design for Future Generations. Their goal was to pilot new community activation model, where they met with local change-makers to help them design for the present and future members of their communities.

Mia was sitting in her home office; her three colleagues projected around her table. Kay, the team’s systems analytics expert, Adler, their futurist, and Helen, their designer. Mia smiled at her team, “Good morning everyone. Welcome to our project kickoff. As you know, each of you will be leading one phase of this project. Let’s go through it all now.”

Kay nodded, “As always, we’ll start with a system scan. We’ll be tapping on the Coalition Lab’s citizen-leaders to speak with different stakeholders through VR workshops. Alongside their thoughts, I’ll be conducting a scan of past precedent, ancestral wisdom, and modelling different variables make sense of what may drive different outcomes.”

“Thanks, Kay,” Adler said, “Next, I’ll be leading a futures exercise with our clients to understand their desired futures. Based on your drivers Kay, we’ll co-design an ideal, shared future and understand what steps are necessary to get there.” Helen nodded, “Last, I’ll be working to turn those steps into practical realities. Ultimately, we’ll end up with a framework or mindset, which our NGO client will apply towards making sure programming meets the needs of stakeholders today and tomorrow.”

Mia smiled, “Thanks, everyone. Remember, we can also tap into Coalition’s rotational experts anytime we need rapid, expert perspectives. We’ll be meeting with the client again this afternoon to help coach them. While it’s easy to think of our framework as our deliverable, it’s the client who is. It’s only once they embody and can act on what we design together that we’re really done.”

Mia hung up and grinned quietly. She’d started in the Coalition Lab while pursuing her masters. She’d get emails periodically to join panels, interviews, or VR workshops, represent different perspectives, and co-create new initiatives or products. It was fairly well-paid and supplemented Mia’s UBI in a way that enriched her education. Once Mia graduated, she applied to become one of Coalition’s experts. Unlike the Coalition Lab, Mia would rotate between supporting and owning projects. Mia specialized in helping finance, education, and service institutions to design workplace practices and nudges for their stakeholders.Mia was exposed to hundreds of challenges, disciplines, and stakeholders and eventually gained the expertise to lead core teams. She owned the project outcomes on behalf of her client. However, Mia had no pressure to sell as Coalition Insights paid her. Clients got work they loved, Mia was free to work on her terms, and Coalition delivered rapid, personalized value to their global clientele.

Future Concepts

Compass | Your Innovation OS

The future is always unfolding. Often, unconventional, seemingly risky ideas are the safest path forward. There are many paths ahead for consulting and many possible new products, services, or initiatives that companies could pilot to lead their future.

Today intuition, dogma, and theatrics dominate innovation. What’s missing is rapid, actionable qualitative, and quantitative data-driven innovation. Imagine swift, precise decision-making on finance, strategy, and talent backed by concrete evidence and AI. Track and manage ideation, portfolios, processes, talent development, and capabilities informed by proprietary, global innovation datasets.

Ideaific | Own the Future

While equity crowdfunding platforms exist, like MicroVentures, they serve late-stage ventures seeking investment. Imagine an ideation and co-design platform where researchers, inventors, and activists can find partners, source micro-investments, and manage enthusiastic audiences while exploring novel, visionary opportunity spaces, like AgriTech or AgeTech, and boosted by creative-AIs. In-house tools, like one-page business plans, ensure rapid consolidation of concepts. Practitioners can present their projects as portfolios, while organizations can rapidly employ or harness talented individuals to co-design new offerings through design jams or hackathons and offer micro-ownership or services, prizes, certificates, or internships as incentives — a 21st-century innovation marketplace and economy.

Change Theory | The Future, Together

An organization-wide innovation concept crowdsourcing platform. Ideas are identified, tagged, and grouped into focus areas. External contributors, research panels, or internal enthusiasts can comment, explore, and contribute to new visions. Voting systems act as a litmus test for leaders to sense which concepts have the most widespread support. Identify internal leaders who can lead new ventures and draw on external practitioners through incentive systems or contests.

From Insight to Action

The future of consulting is deeply inspiring. It intersects with timeless human truths: people want to express themselves creatively, balance freedom with security, and feel unique and valuable. Consulting is the key to how clients facing rapid, disruptive change who will connect with dispersed, global talent empowered to choose meaningful work on their terms.

The billable hours, project fees, commissions, and control will fade, replaced by networks of inspired change-makers who will connect, collaborate, and create under the umbrella of consultancies, which activate, inspire, and guide their partners towards better, shared outcomes.

However, the future isn’t fixed but decided every day by the decisions we make. It’s up to us to choose how to respond to what’s ahead.

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