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In Doom we trust

With all the discussion about who would make a better President, Barack Obama or John McCain, one obvious candidate has been ignored — one who rises above them all. Who is this dark horse candidate who has proven himself to be the most deserving of the title of Commander-in-Chief? I’m speaking of none other than Victor von Doom — the one they call Dr. Doom.

What qualifications does he have?

  1. Experience – McCain likes to tout his experience in politics, pointing to critical pieces of legislation which he’s been instrumental in writing and passing. Obama, on the other hand, points to his former life as a community organizer, helping to drive grassroots level change as an important type of experience for a leader. But, honestly, how many of them have actually taken a war-torn, starving third-world country like Latveria and, through sheer ingenuity and force of will, turned it into a peaceful, prosperous, and one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world? None but Dr. Doom. Advantage: Doom.
  2. Strength in the face of adversity – McCain has the obvious upper hand here — a POW who survived brutal torture in an enemy prison camp. Yet, that pales in comparison to the trials and tribulations of Doom. McCain may talk about how being in a Viet Cong prison was like hell. Doom was actually cast into Hell and yet he still managed to claw his way out through nothing but tenacity and intellect, despite his mortal enemies attempting to trap him there. Advantage: Doom.
  3. Technology – Many have proclaimed Obama to be a true technological pioneer, embracing social networking and iPhone applications to spread his message of hope. Pathetic. Victor von Doom is an expert in every known technological field and science — having invented a time machine, a device which can control mutant/metahuman powers, forcefields, and portals to other dimensions. Obama and McCain talk about researching new alternative energy technology. Bah! Doom can give every worthy citizen a garbage-powered jetpack. Advantage: Doom
  4. Terrorism – Much has been made about the Bush administration’s inability to capture Osama bin Laden and about the Democratic Party’s supposed inability to face terrorist threats. These are all mere side issues. No terrorist would dare attack a country run by Victor von Doom, for there is no place in the universe that is out of the reach of Doom. Doom has traversed the cosmos, traveled through time to even conduct an affair with the sorceress Morgaine le Fay, and has even descended into the pits of Hell. Suicide bombers? Inconsequential — for no suicide bomber would dare attack when the risk of failure would be a visit to Doom’s “re-education” chambers. McCain and Obama can talk all they want about military response, but Doom is the only one with the teeth and the record of hunting down all offenders. Advantage: Doom
  5. Law Enforcement – Obama may talk about his experiences in the rough side of Chicago as giving him authority to discuss law enforcement and crime, but I dare say — who can administer civil justice better than Doom? There is no crime in Latveria, and there aren’t even superheroes to help maintain that order. All is simply maintained out of the citizenry’s love and … respect — yes that would be the best word to describe the bone-chilling paralysis that the citizenry feel in Doom’s presence — for Doom. Contrast that to most inner-cities, where there is no respect, let alone love, for the law. Advantage: Doom
  6. Secret Service – Obama may be an athlete and McCain may be a good ol’ fashioned tough guy, but only Doom can dispense with the need for the public to worry about assassination attempts. Not only would terrorists and criminals be completely dissuaded of attacking one such as Doom, if they were to try, they would certainly fail. Doom’s armor is made from some of the most sophisticated technology, allowing him to stand in physical combat against beings such as the Hulk and even demons from Hell. Even if an attack were sufficiently strong to defeat Doom’s armor, one must always be wary of the fact that Dr. Doom uses Doombots — perfect robotic copies of himself such that the real Victor von Doom is never truly threatened. Advantage: Doom

Surely, at this point, there is no doubt in your mind who is the most competent and qualified man of the hour. So this November, go to the ballot and cast your vote for the one man who can bring America to greatness. And may Doom bless you all.

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The Bare Essence

What is it that consultants do?

I’ve been asked that question many times — and the only answer I have is that we do whatever is needed to help solve management’s problems. But that’s always felt like a cop-out to me — because realistically speaking, what we’re doing usually ends up in some sort of Powerpoint slide.

This isn’t to be completely dismissive of the job — far from it. A great source of value that consultants add is to help dig through the information that a client already has (or knows exists) and then to repackage it in a way which is actionable to its management.

Of course, you can take a different view (hat tip: Dilbert — who else?)

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Cha-ching!

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Employer social networking

Did you read my post on the pitfalls of having Social Networking profiles while maintaining a profession identity and think, “Ben’s just exaggerating”?

imageThink again (HT: Christine), a CareerBuilder.com survey found that over 20% of employers do look (and an additional 10% will start looking soon) for the social networking profiles of jobseekers, and, in fact, 1/3 of employers have found information which caused them to drop a job candidate.

But, as I mentioned before, instead of thinking of this as a reason to restrict access to your Facebook account to only those who know your magic 52-digit password, think of it as an opportunity to put your best foot forward. After all, 1/4 of employers found information on social networks which helped convince them to hire a candidate.

So, what to do? First step, clean out your profile pages of:

  • Drug/alcohol use: Yes, it’s cool that you drank your weight in beer at that keg party, but that’s really not what your employer wants to see
  • Inappropriate photos: Unless you’re interviewing for a position as an adult film star or a mafia enforcer, leave out those “compromising” pictures
  • Examples of poor communication: “I’s am can communicateding really goodly” and other less dramatic examples of poor spelling and bad grammar don’t reflect well on your attention to detail or your ability to communicate with your coworkers, clients, and superiors
  • Bad-mouthing people at work: It doesn’t matter how bad the boss or how obnoxious the coworker, bad-mouthing them on a public forum reflects very poorly on you and your professionalism.
  • Evidence that you misrepresented yourself on your resume: Writing on your resume that you have an MBA from Harvard doesn’t make it true, especially if your Facebook profile says you’re a high school dropout.
  • Confidential information about past employers: This is not only stupid, but illegal.

Second step? Add some information to present a “more balanced” view of you online:

  • “Compatible” interests: Nobody expects you to be super-interested in everything your employer (current or prospective) does, but you should be able to show some baseline level of enthusiasm for the job that you’re trying to land.
  • “Professional” photos: As much as employers would deny it, a lot about a first impression is visual. So, while you don’t need to take down all the pictures of you from your trip to Cancun, you should definitely make sure there are pictures of you up there looking sharp and presentable.
  • Depth of thought: Want your employer to think you’re smart and goal-oriented? Put something on there that makes them believe it. Link to interesting and thought-provoking articles or blogs. Include quotes which convey your personality the way you want to be thought of.
  • Evidence that your resume is accurate: It never hurts to befriend real coworkers or classmates, or join online communities/groups which reflect the accomplishments on your resume.
  • Get Linkedin: I used to think that LinkedIn was just Facebook, but for a slightly older demographic. But then, I read Guy Kawasaki’s great list of ten ways to use LinkedIn, and then watched consultants at my firm use it to get access to interviews and sources of information which I had thought inaccessible. It’s real and has a ton of value.
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What are you saying again?

More for that consulting dictionary, from an old gem by Lifehacker (HT: Sophia)

Let’s think out of the box: Really means, "Can you creatively anemic people please come up with something?" The person who says, "Let’s think out of the box" is usually desperate for a new idea and surrounded by people who are not known for generating ideas. So the phrase is actually an announcement that says, "I’m in trouble."

I need someone who can hit the ground running: Really means, "I am screwed." Because no one can hit the ground running. You need to at least assess what race you’re in and who else is running.

Do you have the bandwidth? Note that bandwidth is not time. It is something else. If you ask someone "Do you have time?" you mean, "Am I a priority?" If you ask someone "Do you have bandwidth" you mean, "You seem like your brain is fried. Can you pull yourself together to do this for me?"

Let’s hit a home run: "I’m desperate to look good. Even though the odds of a home run are slim, I’m banking on one because it’s the only thing that’ll save me." Something for all your sports fans to remember: If you have a bunch of solid hitters you don’t need a bunch of home runs.

You and I are not on the same page: "Get on my page. Your page is misguided." No one ever says, "We’re not on the same page, so let me work really hard to understand your point of view. If you want to understand someone else, you say, "Can you tell me more about how you’re thinking."

I’m calling to touch base: "I want something from you but I can’t say it up front." Or "I am worried that you are lost and I’m sniffing around for signs to confirm my hunch." Or "I’m calling because you micromanage me."

Let’s run the numbers and see how they look: "I know they look bad on first blush. But the true use of Excel is to keep changing the formulas until you find a format that makes the numbers look good."

My plate is full: "Help I’m drowning," or "I would kill myself before I’d work on your project."

Let’s close the loop: "Let me make sure I’m not going to get into trouble for this one."

Let’s touch base next week: "I don’t want to talk to you now," or "You are on a short leash and you need to report back to me."

Keep this on your radar: "This will come back to bite you. or me."

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"Give me the view from 10,000 feet"

One of the most atrocious examples of consulting-speak that I see on a day-to-day basis is asking for the “10,000-ft view” — a euphemism for “give me the general idea, but leave out those annoying details that I don’t care much about.” If you don’t care about the details, just say so — don’t give me some contrived “oh I’m thinking at a level far above you ground-cannon-fodder” term to avoid saying what you actually mean.

Of course, instead of suffering in silence, what I should do is really give them that “high altitude view” that they so crave (a la Dilbert):

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Ahh… the life of a termite

Source

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It’s beginning to look a lot like September

What does September mean? To countless parents out there, it’s time to for your good-for-nothing kids to head back to school. But, to the select group of college/MBA students out there, it’s something much more horrifying: recruiting.
Last year, I posted a brief sketch on how recruiting works and some general tips on how to improve your chances. I’ll probably extend the series somewhat this recruiting season, but to get everyone off on the right foot (and more or less give away a pretty key hint), here’s a brilliantly constructed video from consulting firm Deloitte:

Yes, it can really be that simple.

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Apparently, I made the wrong career choice

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In all fairness:

  • Not all bankers went to public schools, nor did all consultants go to private schools; Actually, in general, there’s a fairly good chance they both went to private schools
  • I wish I could get home by 7:15 everyday…
  • My Blackberry isn’t 4 years old (my firm subsidizes 1 purchase every 2 years)
  • I really doubt that bankers “create value”; find it, maybe, but “create” is a stretch
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Attack of the mini-viruses

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Viruses are fascinating little creatures. They’re like ninjas. Ninjas who sneak into your house, and turn your kids into more house-invading ninjas (that is, if your house were a cell, and the process of raising your kids was the cellular machinery).

They’re sneaky. My thesis was conducted on how living cells respond to ninja attacks viral infection – and while your immune system is smart, the numbers of ways viruses have of beating you are far more clever.

But, what if there was a way to out-ninja the ninja’s? What if there was a virus that could attack other viruses? Just published in Nature (hat tip: R. Boyko), some scientists discovered a tiny virus which they’ve called Sputnik which was capable of beating up other viruses.

They found that Sputnik infects the replication machinery in mamavirus [yes, I know how crazy that name is] and causes it to produce deformed viral structures and abnormal capsids. It had a similar effect on mimivirus [what’s with the crazy names?]. Because Sputnik’s behavior so closely resembles what bacteriophage do to bacteria, the researchers called the new type of virus a virophage, and suspect it may represent a new virus family.

Psh. Virophage is lame. I prefer – super-ninja.

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Hamlet in the 21st Century

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Hat tip to Christine for finding this, but it brings back memories of a video I made back in senior year of high school. Imagine how the story of Hamlet would have played out had there been Facebook at the time:

HAMLET (FACEBOOK NEWS FEED EDITION).

BY SARAH SCHMELLING

– – – –

Horatio thinks he saw a ghost.

Hamlet thinks it’s annoying when your uncle marries your mother right after your dad dies.

The king thinks Hamlet’s annoying.

Laertes thinks Ophelia can do better.

Hamlet’s father is now a zombie.

– – – –

The king poked the queen.

The queen poked the king back.

Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends.

Marcellus is pretty sure something’s rotten around here.

Hamlet became a fan of daggers.

– – – –

Polonius says Hamlet’s crazy … crazy in love!

Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet are now friends.

Hamlet wonders if he should continue to exist. Or not.

Hamlet thinks Ophelia might be happier in a convent.

Ophelia removed “moody princes” from her interests.

Hamlet posted an event: A Play That’s Totally Fictional and In No Way About My Family

The king commented on Hamlet’s play: “What is wrong with you?”

Polonius thinks this curtain looks like a good thing to hide behind.

Polonius is no longer online.

– – – –

Hamlet added England to the Places I’ve Been application.

The queen is worried about Ophelia.

Ophelia loves flowers. Flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers. Oh, look, a river.

Ophelia joined the group Maidens Who Don’t Float.

Laertes wonders what the hell happened while he was gone.

– – – –

The king sent Hamlet a goblet of wine.

The queen likes wine!

The king likes … oh crap.

The queen, the king, Laertes, and Hamlet are now zombies.

Horatio says well that was tragic.

Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, says yes, tragic. We’ll take it from here.

Denmark is now Norwegian.

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Why I’d make an awesome VC

 

 

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If I ever find myself on the Venture Capital side of things, I intend to go into the first meeting wearing one of these babies – to lighten the mood, as well as show them who they’re dealing with.

And, if at any point I’ve decided that the guy who’s pitching to me can’t tell that his product absolutely sucks, I’ll switch to this baby:

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Image (and shirt) credits: http://www.vcwear.com/

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Straight from the Horse’s Mouth…

My good friend Shang explains consulting:

Sometimes I sit around trying to figure out how to explain consulting to my friends. Sure, it’s about providing strategic advice to various clients in all industries. When it comes down to it, consulting is a client-oriented service, and one that works with tight deadlines and intellectually demanding work. It’s not intellectual in that I’m inventing a new computer or a new vaccine or writing a new scientific postulate, but it’s intellectual in that one day, I could be ramping up to become expert in calculating the costs to a shoe store, and the next day, I’m talking heart disease with cardiologists, all with an aim at understanding the business that it can support.

This is why consulting is such an unpredictable lifestyle. Luckily for me I’m not on traveling cases, but some weeks – like the last 2, I’d never have to buy groceries because I order in dinner all the time, and I also never see my roommates because I cab home around bedtime. Some weeks I get to go home (almost) like a regular workperson at 6:30 ~ 7:00 PM. On average, especially during fall / winter when caseload was heavier, I worked until around 10 or 11 PM every day. Sometimes I want to play all weekend because I haven’t been able to do so all week, but then I run the potential of exhausting myself as well, and I sometimes take hermit weekends to sleep in and clean my apartment.

Coming away from 10 months of doing so I think I’m doing a much better job at managing my time. I’m able to estimate how long I can finish a piece of analysis and I also know when to push back on a consultant / manager when a piece of work is just going to take too much time and add little value to the slide pack.

I still wish I had more time to get in touch with friends. I’m really bad about phone calls, I’m even worse at running 9 – 5 PM errands such as dry cleaning and postal mail, but I’m using Gchat more on light work days. I still send out an absurd number of emails each week. And yeah, I still pursue photography – not as a career, but as something that keeps me sane

In addition to having an unpredictable lifestyle, the work itself is very unpredictable. One day, I’ll be using an Excel model to forecast the future of the PC industry, the next day I’ll be at Safeway trying to figure out women’s shampoo, and the day after that I’ll be cold-calling analysts to try to tease out what sorts of competitive moves my client needs to worry about.

I’ll say one thing about it, “Management consulting is never boring.”

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Discovery Channel Love

xkcd is one of my favorite webcomics, and is frequently featured in my Google Reader share list. It’s an extremely nerdy comic, and as such, is oftentimes incomprehensible to the layperson who does not necessarily get the computer science or physics or math jokes.

So, when I didn’t understand one of xkcd’s latest comics (below), I simply chalked it up to my not having understood some bizarre cultural or geek reference.

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Lo and behold, I spot this little gem of a Discovery Channel ad on YouTube:

 

 

And then it all made sense!

Honestly, though, it’s a very cute and (I think) effective ad!

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Consulting to the next level

image The assumption underlying most consulting professions is that it is possible for highly trained individuals to be brought up to speed quickly on unfamiliar projects/businesses/initiatives to contribute valuable advice. Whether or not this is true probably varies from type of consulting, but it raises an interesting issue, why stop at just advice or support?

And it seems I’m not the only one who is asking this question. I’ve identified two (out of probably a whole world of other companies) who really seem to take consulting to the next level, bringing in special forces (hence the picture of Marvel’s Winter Soldier) rather than merely slidemaking advisors:

Pivotal Labs

Pivotal Labs is a small software company who’s business model is an interesting hybrid of consulting and software development. They are hired by software companies who cannot solve key programming problems. Think this means that only small little startups hire them? Think again – their list of clients includes the mighty Salesforce.com as well as Twitter, which has recently been dealing with the limitations of the Ruby on Rails programming framework.

From what I can tell of their site, not only are they brought in to help their clients with software issues, they engage in many practices which well-managed management consulting firms follow:

  • Rotate staffing – According to Pivotal’s web site, not only are their employees staffed on challenging problems, they are rotated between projects, probably to prevent boredom, but also to help workers develop experience and to foster a sense of community (we don’t work for Salesforce, we work with each other on Salesforce or any of our client’s problems).
  • Training of the client – The difference between a good consulting firm and a bad one is that the former will help facilitate skill and responsibility transfer to the client. This may mean that in the short-term, the firm sells less projects/cases, but in the long term it improves the value proposition of the consulting project and, at least in theory, leads to future demand for the firm’s services.
  • Proprietary and non-proprietary frameworks/toolkits – Every consulting firm has their own magic “bag of tricks” which they constantly develop and deploy when faced with consulting challenges. Pivotal is the same way, having developed a number of web application programming tools which they are happy to explain (most seem open source) and even happier to deploy.

Bain Corporate Renewal Group

Bain & Company is one of the “Top three” management consulting firms (along with BCG and McKinsey) and is known for being somewhat of a maverick in the consulting industry – when it started, it promised not to work with your competitors, demanded access to top-level management, and became known for its emphasis on protecting the secrecy and confidentiality of its clients. These are now fairly common practices across the management consulting industry, but at the time, they were fairly unique – a pattern which followed with Bain pioneering private equity consulting, again something which the rest of the industry is now copying.

It’s not a surprise, then, that Bain recently announced the formation of its Corporate Renewal Group, an arm of the firm which doesn’t merely provide business advice and analysis, but which actually takes over a troubled company/division and turns it around. After all, if consultants truly believe they have the business savvy and the know-how to help troubled companies, then why not take a hand at actually managing the turnaround?

Unfortunately, the Corporate Renewal Group appears to be in its infancy, so the Bain website and a general Google search hasn’t turned up significant evidence of its success. But, it will be interesting to see if Bain is capable of pulling this fairly significant departure from its core slidemaking advisor competencies to the world of “special ops.”

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Why Scale Matters

There are many reasons companies desire an increase in size and scale. And, as always, Dilbert has a cleverly humorous (albeit true) reason why – bargaining power:

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