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“Boiling the Ocean”

In many ways, scientific training crosses over very well into consulting. It trains individuals to think critically about the world around them, to take in all observations for careful analysis, to skeptically consider evidence, to craft and test falsifiable hypotheses, and to find rigor in numbers and computation. It is no small wonder that so many science students at all levels successfully make the jump into consulting.

On the other hand, scientific training also instills within trainees a few trends which run contrary to what a successful consultant needs to be. Science emphasizes thoroughness and depth. Your training is not complete until you know every little detail relating to your field of interest — and quite a bit more about associated fields. It is quite inconceivable to the layperson just how much a grad student has to read just to be able to “tread water” in his or her field, let alone be successful at it. To that end, grad students are not only forced to but strongly encouraged to read broadly and constantly, leaving no stone unturned; no tree missed, no matter how large the forest.

Unfortunately, while this focus on depth can lead to very deep insights and very complete analysis, a consultant rarely has the time to “boil the ocean”, or perform an analysis with a thoroughness and completeness which leaves no room for uncertainty. It is simply not feasible for a single consultant to read every relevant piece of literature dealing with a given client or industry or division or even a product and yet still have time to complete a segment of analysis fast enough for a client team to meet a deadline or be agile enough to switch strategies when necessary.

Instead, a consultant (or anyone in a non-research oriented job, really) has to learn when enough is enough — when there is enough information to make a judgement or perform a piece of analysis but not too little such that the judgement or analysis has no possibility of being reasonable.

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