Sailing on in consulting

Matthew Reeves continues to boil the consulting ocean

I love chaps like Stephen or Stuart (I can never remember which, but it's definitely an S-name). Anyway, he's a lovely 20-something colleague of mine at the consulting firm where I work who reeks of new, like he's just come off a cloning production line.

Simon is immaculate from his cufflinks, which are shinier than his boss's much discussed Porsche, right down to his pencil case. He's polite, unobtrusive, asks questions, makes notes, and spends his time researching before producing a beautiful little document with all the solutions clearly laid out. If I had to choose one grad who I know could actually use his first from Cambridge to quietly and slowly produce work that nobody in the team really needed, it would be him, and he lends me pens. I'm sure WikiJob is a very proud parent.

The best part is that I actually outrank this Stefan chap, not because I have two weeks' more experience or a worse degree from a worse university. It's because, unlike him, I realise that all you really need to know to get by in consulting is that everything is just one big nautical metaphor: "We need to simplify the deck" (that's the Powerpoint slides). "As it is, it looks like we're trying to boil the ocean" (do something really complicated). "We don't want to drown them" (scare the client). By coming out with stuff like this I look like I've actually done something in the time it takes Sebastian to rearrange the flip chart.

Stan hears all this stuff of course, but what he's really failed to grasp is that all this raising of the titanic baloney isn't just meaningless corp-speak. It's meaningless corp-speak that's been around so long it's transcended the function of language and become a territory of its own. Each client and each firm has its own little dialect, and they all roughly understand each other just enough to be able to argue between themselves - and that's the point.

Don't be fooled into thinking that consulting takes on the best in order to sail in and change the world for the client. If we did that, we'd all soon be out of business. Getting by in consulting means understanding that you're paid by the day and should use as many of them as possible to look busy, pitch into the argument, and then find just a few small underlying problems to fix. Once that's done, the good ship consulting can sail forth once again. Excuse me while I go and reshuffle some deck chairs.