Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Consultants Burn Out and what they can do about it.

I’ve recruited dozens of consultants. Fresh MBAs from the best campuses. Some with limited experience from the world outside. Many very senior consultants from competitors. Through a process of trial and error, I manage to identify individuals with just the right set of ingredients. In a previous blog article (, I spoke of the six skills a consultant needs to possess to be successful.

And yet, I see that many consultants “burn out” in less than ten years. They may be really intelligent and may possess all the skills I’ve spoken about. Like meteors, they set the sky on fire and then – they fizzle out. Why? Here are some reasons:

  1. They’ve never fully understood that to be on your toes constantly is very draining. The exhilaration of creating and communicating compelling visions cannot be sustained if you don’t have other things to re-energize you. In other words, a specific attempt to attain balance is important. How? Sports, hobbies, reading – all help.
  2. They don’t understand that sacrifices are necessary. This is not a profession for the placid and timid. You need to travel and be on the road. That means a personal ecosystem that tolerates such constant disruption and knows it is a price one needs to pay to be successful. If you aren’t able to manage that, then burn-out is a given because of the stress of juggling
  3. They don’t keep up with changes in their professional area.  Resumes need to be updated constantly with new skills and certifications. In the business world, trends and fads come and go and you’ve got to keep tabs and ensure you stay relevant at all times. Being a legend in the past in a particular area guarantees nothing today.
  4. They can’t handle the travel. The relentless grind of the airport experience is really hard for some to handle. Keeping track of flights, airport check-ins, rental cars, new hotels and so on – while being focused on the client’s issues – one requires significant stamina to keep up over an extended period.
  5. They can’t handle change. Consecutive Engagements that are entirely different in nature, cope and geography, client personnel with different agendas, styles and priorities, different levels of intensity, different team dynamics – the fun can erode and some long for predictability.
  6. They can’t handle professional pressure. The Consulting Profession is very challenging and works on very short cycles of gratification. Performance measurements include delivery excellence and business development acumen. With that come rising expectations of rapid career progression and fairly stern measurements of success.
And so it’s no surprise that very few manage to survive the rough and tumble of the Consulting world beyond a few years. I’ve often heard it said that a single year of consulting experience is often equivalent to seven years of any other kind of experience.  That’s the huge payoff for sure. But being aware of the stresses and strains of the profession – as described above – can make all the difference in building a long-term career in this business and becoming a Partner, the apex of the profession.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Poems of Akira Yamashita

Poems by Akira

Walk with me, my friend
And let us see
If Osaka still has traces
Of the air she breathed

Thirty years ago
I remember that she walked on that noisy street with her friends
To visit Katsuoji Temple
She laughed and caught my eye
The street fell silent for that second
And I froze and died

I ran inside
There was no one except a silent monk
With eyes closed, contemplating time
But someone had left some burning incense
The smoke drifted away from me

Which is why I ask, my friend
If you can walk the streets of Osaka with me
To see if there are traces
Of the air she breathed

Thirty years ago

The White Lily

I placed a white lily, the whitest of them
On the grave of her memory
And soon, more sprung up
I saw the birds sit close by, not touching
I sat with my koto, some distance away

And now
I caress myself
With the dust
Of a thousand and one white lilies

Do not hold my hand
Till the dust has washed away
And I no longer remember


You have forgotten perhaps
The breeze that drifted in from the Sea
When we sat on a bench at Yokohama Harbour
Speaking in silence

Look, I finally said
That ship, the one there
Do you think it is leaving for Singapore?
Shall we go too?

You did not respond then
The ship stopped, perhaps in hope
You looked away and so did I
For the salt we tasted
Was not of the sea breeze
But of the tears of hopelessness

The ship sighed and moved on
I touched the sleeve of your kimono
Slowly, very slowly, I felt nothing
I watched you become a cold ghost
Becoming mist, not responding

Today, I see in the paper
That the Emperor has called for volunteers
For the war in the Philippines
I have already lost
But I shall go.

I saw you walk
Towards the Kinkakuji temple
The trees dipped and the sunlight moved slowly
The pebbles froze as your feet touched them
The morning fog stayed on

Perhaps you knew I was watching
You moved your kimono just a little
Saying No.

I wrote a haiku on the silent pebbles
Of Kinkakuji Temple

Blue slivers of sky
A pale face etched in the clouds
A heart breaks quietly

I walked away to Kyoto
Your image in the shrine
In the temple within me

The White Lily

Soon time will pass
You know? Like sand through an hour glass

In the morning, when no one sees
The white lily blooms very slowly
And the Swans hide in shame; their beauty
Is nothing
I play the koto and the Lily listens
The white becomes pink, the blush of knowing
How beautiful she is

But soon the sun climbs down
The air is tired and the koto
It falters
An eagle watches coldly as it soars
Soon it knows, this pulchritude will fade
And it shall feast
On the dreams of a soul in agony
White is white, you thought
The koto reduces to dust
The Lily droops
The petals break away

Love – very important
It is music from my koto
Kimono soft rustling noise
I make Ikebana flower arrangements for Mito-san
She give me silent words and eyes looking down
We give the information to each other
Of the love

No, this is not Kabuki
It is the real information
Of Love
In Osaka
Many years ago.
I do not care to be told
That this is destiny.
And you must go.

We walked in the streets of Hiroshima that day
And saw nothing,
But you did not cry for the thousands.
The smoke hung close to the ground
Collecting memories of lovers.
I took you to your house
But it was gone.
You did not cry then.
But I did.
For people I had never met.

But now when we must part
You cry and I watch
While you use logic to explain
That this is best.
That the throbbing pain of two
Is more than the torment
Of those who evaporated
In Hiroshima.

I do not care to be told
That this is destiny.
And you must go.

Five Ways to help your annual strategy succeed

A recently published article on How Annual Strategies can actually succeed

6 Things Every Consulting Candidate Should Know

A recent article that I'd written that was published at