Thursday, April 21, 2005

Insulting the Consultant

Insulting the Consultant

I'm sure everyone has heard hackneyed jokes about consultants being people who con and insult their clients for a living; or the consultant is someone who comes in to solve a problem and stays around long enough to become part of it; or the consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time, and then keeps your watch. Just do a google search, there are as many consultant jokes out there as there are on lawyers and blondes.

Like it or not, I still have to call myself an IT consultant because that's what I do for a living. But I think it is good not to take yourself so seriously sometimes. So today, I'm not going to blog about anything serious but instead I'm going to laugh at my own profession a bit and share with you all some of my favourite consultant jokes. Enjoy!

Q: What's the definition of a consultant?
A: A consultant is a guy who knows 99 different ways to make love, but doesn't know any women.

The classified ad for a large multinational corporation says:
"Wanted: CEO needs a one armed consultant, with a computer science degree, MBA and 15 years of experience." And true indeed, a one-armed man with the right paper qualification was finally chosen for the job. Curious, the candidate asked the CEO, "I understand most of the qualifications you required, but why 'one armed'?"
The CEO answered, "I have had many consultants before, and I am sick and tired of hearing with each advice the phrase 'on the other hand'."

Sign in a headhunter's open market in darkest Africa:
- Ordinary brains $9 per kg
- Engineer brains $12 per kg
- Doctor brains $11 per kg
- Accountant brains $10 per kg
- Consultant brains $97 per kg
Asked to explain the high cost of consultant brains, the proprietor said "You don't know how many consultants we have to catch to get a kilogram of brains!"

A man walked into a consultant's office and asked about the rates for a study.
The consultant answered:
"Well, we usually structure the project up front and charge $50 for three questions"
Shocked, the prospective client asked:
"Isn't that awfully expensive?"
"Yes", replied the consultant, "and what is your third question?"

A man walks into a Silicon Valley pet store looking to buy a monkey. The store owner points towards three identical looking monkeys in politically-correct, animal-friendly natural mini-habitats.
"The one on the left costs $500," says the store owner.
"Why so much?" asks the customer.
"Because it can program in C," answers the store owner.
The customer inquires about the next monkey and is told, "That one costs $1500. It knows C++ and J2EE."
The startled man then asks about the third monkey.
"That one costs $3000," answers the store owner.
"3000 dollars!!" exclaims the man. "What can that one do?"
To which the owner replies, "To be honest, I've never seen it do a single thing, but it calls itself a Consultant."

I think almost anyone who has stayed long enough in the corporate world has the potential to become a consultant, if he's not one already. Let me give you a simple test: How many of the following words or phrases do you regularly use in your daily conversations, e-mails or reports?

- synergy
- win-win
- value creation
- gap analysis
- methodology
- matrix
- strategic
- core competence
- reengineering

If your score is between 0-3: you haven't caught the consulting bug yet but stop reading so many reports written by consultants before it's too late!
4-6: You definitely aspire to be one. I bet you are lunch buddies with the AT Kearney guy who is working on a strategic business plan for your company and shares the same cubicle with you.
7-9: You are already a consultant. You probably go to work in a white shirt and tie, spend 8 hours a day building pretty Powerpoint slides and would feel very naked without your computer laptop bag slung on your shoulders.
10 out of 10: You are beyond hope. But at least try to not refer to love-making as a "win-win" thing, will you?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Forgetting Pain

Forgetting Pain

People say I have a good memory because I can remember trivia about people's lives very well. But strangely there are also things that I can never seem to remember, no matter how hard I try. A good memory is always an asset but I think it is equally important for us to acquire the "skill" to forget.

The skill of forgetting is a useful one because there are things in life that we would simply want to forget--such as painful experiences, embarassments, grudges or slights. Even though we can never completely erase the effect of such unpleasant experiences--we wouldn't want to do so either because we need to learn from them--it is important that we don't relive them over and over again until we are overcome by phobia.

The lesson of any painful experience is to be learnt once, and after which one should move on. If we sincerely desire to learn and to move on, then the mind is immediately reprogrammed in a way that it is always ready to handle similar situations in the future. It is not in memory anymore, it is already "hardwired". There must be acceptance of pain so that the lessons learnt are internalized. To hold on to pain is to prevent the soul from digesting its important lessons.

Pain is a catalyst for the soul to rearrange its constituents and to grow into a more stable state of organization. Once the effects of pain have already been assimilated, we should not hold on to its source anymore. We release it back into the universe. There is no point in holding on to hatred or grudges because they'll only warp the soul and cause repeated injuries, like a a thorn lodged in the flesh. Let the mind forget but allow the soul to "remember" through learning. Once learnt, there's nothing to remember anymore because it has already become a part you.

Pain is a benevolent teacher, not a punisher. We can always learn from pain if we have the desire to transcend it. You are a better person today because of the pain that you've experienced in the past. The soul is willing to let go and forget because it has outgrown its childishness and is not perturbed by such painful experiences anymore.

There will always be fresh pains for us to deal with in life. Everytime they come, we attempt to distill their purifying essence and hopefully allow the soul to be nourished by it. We know we have finally let go of pain when we can afford to smile when reminded of them. A smile is prove of the soul's maturity. When certain memory still rouses anger or hatred instead of a smile, then we know we have not outgrown the experience yet. Let it go. Forgive and forget. Only then can the soul grow to its full potential.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Mundane Creativity

Mundane Creativity

I simply love the basement parking at Ikano Power Centre in Mutiara Damansara. It is clean, bright, spacious and very well-maintained, unlike many of the dinghy subterranean catacombs that we have in most other shopping malls. Even though I don't do much shopping myself, there are a couple of malls that I frequent pretty often because they are convenient places for me to do some work, eat or meet up with people.

I go to KLCC a couple of times a week, mostly for meetings. However the Wi-Fi hotspots there, especially at Starbucks, are a bit too crowded to work from. And you usually bump into people you know; so don't expect to be able to work there uninterrupted.

The Summit in Subang Jaya is a good place to work from on a weekday because it is pretty quiet. There's both Airzed and Timezone Wi-fi service at the Starbucks Cafe there, which is good because sometimes one of them could be down. Furthermore parking there is very cheap--one dollar for the whole day.

In choosing a Wi-fi hotspot to work from, the first thing I check is the availability of power outlets. Sometimes that is even more important than an Internet connection. The Starbucks cafes are the most laptop-user friendly--all the newer ones have ample power outlets and their tables and chairs are the most comfortable for working.

I usually change places to work whenever I face mental roadblocks. That's the good thing about being a nomadic worker--you can always change your environment and get fresh ideas in the process. Whenever one feels that one is stuck in a mental rut, one must know how to break one's pattern of thoughts. Changing the working environment is one way; simply taking a break and doing something completely different is another.

Which is why it is important for one to seriously pursue an interest or hobby that is completely different from one's work. You get to exercise a different part of your brain. If your everyday work is mostly analytical, try to do something creative--like painting or playing a musical instrument.

I personally like drawing and painting a lot but I don't have the luxury of pursuing them independently. So what I do is to incorporate them into my work. How? I build a lot of work-related presentation slides--mine are always full of colourful diagrams and pictures.

I take "creative breaks" from my work by drawing presentation slides using Powerpoint. My proposals and reports are usually full of pictures because I know most people don't like to read words, they tend to look at pictures. I try to make my dry technical reports read like comics--pictures drive the narration.

There are always ways to make your work creative, no matter how dry or dull it is. No? You see, even thinking about how to make your mundane work more creative is itself a very creative thing to do. So start being creative!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Learning from Stupidity

Learning from Stupidity

It is strange to be sitting at a cafe in a busy mall on a Sunday, doing my work. Everywhere around me, I see people looking relaxed in their faded T-shirts, bermuda shorts and slippers while I'm hunched in my seat, eyes locked on a flickering 15.4 LCD screen, deeply engrossed in my cyber-chores.

I want to pick up my momentum for work again before my next overseas trip. It can be very difficult to summon enough enthusiasm and energy to continue doing your work day in day out because after a while, they become so repetitive and tedious. Even though I wouldn't call my work repetitive because project work is never so, the subject matter that I deal with can quite be tiresome--networks, data centers, storage, middlewares, databases and other boring stuff like that.

The challenge for me is to find ways to inject novelty and creativity into whatever mundane task that I'm doing. Even though I'm tackling a problem that I've dealt with before, I'd try to find alternative approaches to it. I enjoy looking at things from a different perspective and I am always eager to see if there are more efficient ways of doing it.

I'm also very curious to know how other people think. Do they view the situation or scenario the way I see it? If not, what's the difference? And how do they arrive at their point of view? What is the paradigm that they adopt? Do they have a unique insight that I've somehow missed?

The way I think is influenced by many factors: my upbringing, my education, my life's experiences and the books that I've read. No two person travel the same path, so it is not surprising that we all have our individual ways of thinking. When a person says or do certain things that I find disagreeable, I am more interested in understanding why he thinks in the way he does rather than to go on a frenzy of criticism.

Our work could be tedious and tiresome but if one tackles it with an exploratory mind, always seeking to learn and to understand, one will always find freshness in it. No one can claim that he or she has learned enough. We can even learn something from people whom we think are "stupid". Didn't Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) make a fortune from observing the stupidity of the corporate world?

So be grateful that there are so-called "stupid" people in this world because they can be your teacher too. Why do we think they are stupid? What makes them think in the way they do? How does the world look like from their "stupid" perspective? But most importantly: how sure are we that we ourselves are not stupid???