3 lessons from management consulting

A stint in management consulting after university was interesting and educational in ways I hadn’t expected. I found a note on some observations I made shortly after I left (about seven years ago now) and I think they still hold up.

  1. Individual incentives move the world.

    We can fight incentives with idealism for a while, but it’s a struggle that’s likely to fail. To change things, we are often better off spending that effort on changing individuals’ incentives. Teams, organisations, societies, and countries can’t be incentivised, only the individuals they are made up of can.

  2. It’s easier to sell what your customers want to be true, than what is true.

  3. The only thing you should learn “on the job” is the layout of the office.

    You don’t learn to, say, negotiate well from a colleague whose main credential is to have not been fired (yet). Read books and papers by people who have dedicated their lives to negotiation and have taken the time to communicate their insights clearly. Then use the opportunities the job gives you to practice and hone your skills.