When this century started, development wasn't even in our (the Western) lexicon. Exploitation of resources, and later, of markets, was still the goal, and one that was pursued quite avidly.
For whatever reasonscharitably, let's include "altruistic" with political and economicwe recognized that taking and not giving back eventually wouldn't work.
coming to the answer (because there is always an answer) is much less important initially than having the client truly understand the question, only in his or hernot your context.
Jim Wood, my first boss at Wabash years ago, gave me a couple of lessons that I use to this day, too. One was learning to, in Jim's terms, "out-slow" someone if you weren't ready or able to make a move.
Tom Martella 71
What 20th century event had the most significant impact on your profession or field of study, and what lesson do you take away from that event?
From a global perspective, I have to mention two: the changing nature of "development" worldwide and the dawning of the information age. Both are inextricably linked, too. When this century started, development wasn't even in our (the Western) lexicon, I believe. Exploitation, of resources, and later, markets, was still the goal, and one that was pursued quite avidly. For whatever reasonscharitably, let's include "altruistic" with political and economicwe recognized that taking and not giving back eventually wouldn't work. Theories on development abound, but one principle appears to be resilient these daysthat bringing along a nation and its economy and society, its institutions, people, government, is the foundation of sustainable development. And sustainable development simply makes most sense on a global scale. The second "event"the dawning of the information technology agesimply can accelerate both expectations and national economic, social, or market solutions, even if through trial and error. We know more about each other, what we offer in a global marketplace of commodities, sourced products, finished productsand, oh, by the way, ideas and ideals. This co-mingling today in real time actually encourages, even demands, fruitful and real interchanges.
What is the most meaningful life lesson you've taken from your vocation or avocation?
In management consulting, probably the most important lesson I have learned is to fight the impulse to "enter talking." Most successful consultants have something important to say, but learning to be respectful of the client's time and his sorting out of his problem is critical. The desire to prove oneself quickly could be rooted in some insecurity or ego problem, I guess, but I suspect it is driven more by the fact that a client has a real problem and is willing to spend a lot of money on things largely intangible, like consultant recommendations! So the urge to alight and offer opinions is quite strong.
Still, marshalling some confidence and learning when to intervene with the knowledge, insight or right question is important. Most clients I have encountered and worked with, particularly outside the United States but also within, haven't really defined their problem well enough. Too many assignments start with the client's perception of a problem when the critical issue actually is something different. And coming to the answer (because there is always an answer) is much less important initially than having the client truly understand the question, only in his or hernot your context.
Let me say one more thingpeople these days don't seem intent on listening. Haven't we all been in important meetings where everyone appears focused on preparing his response, or defense, or sharp comment rather than absorbing what the current speaker is saying? How much ground do we lose with this approach? I think a lot.
Who are the mentors who've had the most significant impact on your life?
Career-wise it has to be a public-sector client in the U.S. years ago who got beyond his highly technical background, work, and team to recognize that what was hurting his large organization's performance was its fundamental structure and interaction with field offices. It wasn't at all a problem with the different technologies inundating them. He taught me that intrinsic value isn't always obvious. Frankly, I was somewhat surprised he accepted me and my team in his restructuring, with my MBA and liberal arts background. But as I learned, our work was accepted in fact because it wasn't really based on the technologies in which the organization worked. And he and this early experience led me to the conclusionwhich we argued about and ironically, he didn't share (at least he never admitted it)that there is always a technology (or financial, or whatever) solution; the challenge is almost always the people solution.
Despite our vast differences in every respect, he took some risks in hopes of benefiting his organization and was willing to both listen and teach. It was probably the best work I and my team have done, and that assignment was the foundation for years of interesting work for me and others extending in all directions, and continuing with sizeable, ongoing engagements to this day. It is also a lesson that has been even more valuable when I moved to international work, since we are asked to be very flexible and adaptable, with more of a generalist approach.
I have to add that my first boss, Jim Wood, at Wabash years ago, gave me a couple of lessons that I use to this day, too. One was learning to, in Jim's terms, "out-slow" someone if you weren't ready or able to make a move. I have to tell Jim that throughout parts of Booz Allen and in various parts of the globe, I have taught people about "out-slowing" someone, and that term is definitely in play, at least in the developing world. I confess, however, that it might not be the best lesson to leave behind in emerging economies!
What is the greatest misconception the public has about your vocation or the people in that vocation?
The confusion over what "consulting" is, I think, is reaching significant proportions. The increasing importance of information technology, its vast array of technical solutions, and a mobile labor force have produced new, necessary business models. Lumping two of these, "outside contracting" and "outsourcing," with management consulting blurs the definitions of all. One danger is confusion in the marketplace, as these new business models evolve with separate objectives and functions. A bigger danger exists in the developing world where expectations are heightened in less sophisticated organizations or industries. There, with such confusion, the delivery at best could be unsuitable or unsatisfactory, and at worst, detrimental to the organization's progress. There, problems are really critical and not as many choices exist as we have in more developed economies. Furthermore, resources are scarce, meaning recovery or re-work plans are less possiblein short, any mistake is a big mistake, a lasting mistake, and a lost opportunity.