Consulting Beyond Reason

“To argue with a man who has renounced the use of reason… is like administering medicine to the dead…” Signed: Common Sense.

The quote is from Thomas Pain’s pamphlets, written some 240 year ago. It was the age of revolutions: Scientific, Industrial, American, French, Bourgeois... all taking place around that time. The age of progress, followed by social unrest – pretty much intense as it is now. It is enough to look at current politics to see that human race, periodically goes over the edge of reason and one has to wonder why?

Have you ever met anyone that doesn’t hate to go to the dentist? Apart from those conscientious ones that go for regular check-ups, you go to the dentist in pain. The good doctor examines you, takes an x-ray and recommends treatment. You nod agreeably with your mouth full of cotton swabs, wait for the injection to work and, upon treatment, pay a hefty bill. It does not occur to you to question the need for x-rays, or to decline the injection, or assume that you can get service without paying the bill. Or, which is my favourite, you never ask for a free root canal, because you actually wanted to crown another tooth.

You may wonder what does this have to do with anything? Well, as you may already suspect, it is a useful analogy to describe the irrationality of the latest trend in consultancy business.

I still haven’t met a client that did not expect to change his mind without penalty and that their mistakes should somehow be rectified at consultant’s expense. There are also issues of not accepting serious safety recommendations based on personal preference or refusing to do crucial studies, as they increase the cost. At the same time, they ignore the fact that, by not doing the studies, they may double the cost of the project. But, I learned to accept it, as it seems to be part of our industry’s culture and perpetuated by otherwise kind-hearted people that would not do the same thing to their dentist.

After Big Tobacco, Big Sugar, Big Oil and all other industries that made us sick, fat and drag us through wars, the latest internet buzz is that Big Banks are killing the small business. The turnaround time, from the inception of services to the pay out, has increased from 2 months to 6 months and counting. Small businesses are literally financing the big guys!

It appears that the winds of change also brought a new class of investment business: the one that asks consultants to carry all the risk. In past five years, the only way to get involved on a large project is to provide “bread & butter” engineering services for free, with a promise of payment of heavily discounted fee only if the investor manages to get the client signed on for a big loan.

Half a century ago, small business was linked to a corner store artisan, but today the small businesses account for 60 to 80 % of all jobs. Small businesses can be bullied because they are small, but there is nothing small about the impact they have on the economy. In case of consultancy business, bankruptcy also carries a loss of core skills and knowledge, so crucially important for the betterment of humankind. As recent studies show, small businesses produce 13 times more patents than larger firms.

With corporates passing down the cost of money, financiers removing the project opportunities and expecting them to work free for years, maybe it is time to add consultancy business to the list of endangered species. Otherwise, to use the dentist analogy, when the candy hits the caries, there will be no one left to sort it out.

Contact us if you need experienced consultants for any advice and brace yourself for the future!

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