How (not) to win consulting work in the future

THE SCENE: A bar in midtown Manhattan. It’s late and two men in their 50s sit hunched over their beers. Matt is the corporate risk officer for a major pharmaceutical company. Greying and a little broad around the middle, he no longer aspires to be a professional ping-pong player. He simply wants to get through the week without another crisis. Sandy is his drinking partner of many years, since they met up at business school and discovered a common liking for burritos. Sandy is the financial controller of a well-known arts and craft magazine, a job Matt would happily trade for any day of the week. MATT runs his finger down the droplets on the side of his glass.
SANDY: Bad week, huh? What I wouldn’t give to trade my…
MATT: Consultants.
SANDY: [Sympathetically] Ah.
They sit in companionable silence.
SANDY: Coming or going?
MATT. Coming. Definitely. The boss thinks we need to review how we manage the risks of our clinical trials.
SANDY: Yeah, well, ever since that disaster with the…
MATT: I know. I can still hear the screams.
SANDY: I’m just saying it’s inevitable. You shouldn’t blame yourself.
MATT: Honestly, it’s not their presence I have a problem with. It’s the pitches I had to sit through today. We had a short-list of two firms: Not great, but not a disaster either. But the first lot came in, and I was already thinking: wet behind the ears, here to take my watch, etc., and then one of their arms fell off.
SANDY: You just can’t get the robots these days.
MATT: Darn right. And clearly a couple of the others needed oiling; creaked when they got up to talk to their presentation…
SANDY: It’s the machine learning on the job that I object to.
MATT: That and the fact their eyes are programmed to light up when you mention money… They were each trying to make out they were different. You know, better algorithms, faster search protocols, and, honestly, how am I supposed to tell? I mean, I could unscrew their heads, but what’s a set of wires going to tell me about how well they’ll be able to drive change through our organisation? I know we don’t have many people left to change, but it’s the principle of the thing!
SANDY: I heard they’re giving some of them fountain pens, so they look more like strategy consultants, and apparently the Big Four model has a calculator…
MATT: And that’s what I don’t understand. Technology was supposed to be a way consulting firms could differentiate themselves, but it only seems to have succeeded in making them the same.
They pause to stare reflectively into their drinks.
SANDY: So, what are you going to do?
MATT: I’m going to ask to speak to a person.

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