As cliché as it may sound, I find a lot of inspiration from the early days of Steve Jobs and his various talks about how to build and learn. The older and more experienced I become, the more his talks resonate and relate to some mistake I’ve made.
Here’s a quote from Steve (emphasis mine):
Without owning something over an extended period of time, like, a few years, where one has a chance to take responsibility for one’s recommendations – Where one has to see one’s recommendation through all action stages, and accumulate scar tissue from the mistakes; and pick oneself off the ground; and dust oneself off – One learns a fraction of what one can. Coming in and making recommendations and not owning the results and owning the implementation is a fraction of the value and a fraction of the opportunity to learn and get better.Steve Jobs
In this case he’s talking about consulting and how consultants that don’t experience the ownership of their recommendations are missing out. And, this being my transitive thought, the companies that hire consultants are missing out in terms of value delivered and learnings actualized. I’ve spent roughly 7 of the 24 years of my career consulting across two different decades. What Steve says is true.
Some brief thoughts on consulting
Let me talk about consulting for a brief moment since I am a consultant in my day job.
I’m extremely lucky to have deeply meaningful consulting work that spans a large enough time period that I am constantly having to own my recommendations and deliver on value promised. It’s why I published Lessons I’ve Learned Leading a Platform Engineering Team; the scar tissue is real and continues to develop regardless of how long I’ve been (trying) to design systems.
And in my case, it rarely makes sense to keep me around once I’ve delivered on what was promised because my methods include the needed tasks and data for a smooth and simple transition out of the work. I design an exit path because that’s What Great Architects Actually Do. I’m not someone you need full time to run the show, I’m the person you need to translate your vision into a roadmap and make it happen.
It stands to reason that delivering value in consulting is really more about “doing work that spans enough time to have the ability and autonomy to act upon what is learned.” And that’s probably the thing I’ve learned the most about working with clients and understanding how consultants work. It’s a lesson I will take with me to my future roles and future companies, and I think the ability to extract high value delivery from on-demand specialists (consultants) will always be a valuable skill to keep polished.
The scar tissue
As such, I think the scar tissue idea, or more specifically the idea that you’re going to find flaws in your plan that need remediation and action beyond the original recommendation, is solid. It forces all parties involved to pivot and swarm, which is just such a good pattern and cultural norm to develop because it unlocks VELOCITY. Shit happens all the time, and teams that learn agility through team driven prioritization and cross-functional collaboration become more self-aware and self-sustaining. It’s a tide that raises all boats.
Without this, value is, as Steve says, at a fraction of what it could be.
And this is what’s really hard for those earlier in their career.
Maybe that’s you.
Maybe you’re straight out of college, or have a little bit of intern experience, or perhaps even worked a few years in industry. I bet the job wasn’t all that great, was it? Kinda treated you like a robot that punched a time clock, worked tickets or issues, and then go home?
It sucks. There is no joy in this kind of work.
This is especially true for those not part of the company that needs the work done – those consulting or off-shore. You’re going to get the the bottom of the barrel assignments doing the grunt work.
Use this time as a tool and sharpen yourself into a finely honed blade. Be voracious in your learning and be relentless in your search for opportunities to own the delivery for your recommendations. Set your north star on this and make it clear you want to move into this area given enough time and experience.
Build your scar tissue.
When you find yourself building scar tissue due to owning the mistakes and triumphs of your recommendations, you’re in the right spot.
This is regardless of where you work or what you do.