Archive for April, 2010

Reflections on consulting Part 4 – Why consult?

April 19, 2010

In parts 1, 2, and 3 we talked about the three most important things for consultants – networking, networking, and networking.  But why consult in the first place?

One possible reason would be for money.  Since money is functionally equivalent to goods and services, if you don’t like money, what do you like?  There are enough subtleties to this that it perhaps deserves its own post, but briefly, the situation is reminiscent of a story I once read where a man makes a deal with Devil, and then eventually has to pay his soul.  He takes some consolation in having at least got something for eternal damnation, but the Devil cheerfully informs him that diabolical pacts are limited to offering only what could be achieved by hard work and trust in “above” – there are no consolations available to the damned.  In our case, you can certainly make a lot of money as a consultant, but more than by diligently climbing the corporate ladder?  It’s unclear.

What about freedom and flexibility?  Perhaps freedom is just another word for nothing left to bill.  But consultants may at times have more flexible work schedules than regular employees.  On the other hand, they might end up with less flexibility when a deliverable becomes due.  And although you can choose to take a client or not, contracts may come at awkward times, so you can’t take two good ones at once.  (A network of consultants can help with this – see parts 1, 2, and 3.)  Still, there’s something to freedom and flexibility as a consulting advantage.

Perhaps the best reason to be a consultant is liking variety.  When I was consulting, I worked for organizations ranging from 20-person startups to Fortune 5 companies, in a number of different industries.  It’s worth noting that you might be able to get similar variety as an employee in the consulting arm of a company, and that depth can end up being sacrificed to breadth.  But if you like the new, and don’t mind uncertainty, consulting could be the career for you.

Optimal eschatology

April 6, 2010

There’s a group that claims that Judgement Day is May 21st 2011.  Of course, this is doubtless based on research and divine inspiration.  But we can still ask the question – if a group predicts the end of the world, what time should it pick for maximum impact?

You may have heard the joke about the man who listens to an astronomer lecture, and becomes very concerned when she talks about the sun expanding to engulf the Earth.  He says, distraught, “This is terrible!  Is there nothing we can do?”.  “Not really”, she says, “but it is a long way off – about five billion years.”  “Oh thank God!”  he says.  “I thought you had said five million”.

On the other hand, a person predicting the end of the world in ten seconds would find it difficult to assemble a group in such a limited time.

Between these two extremes there must lie a happy medium.  May 21st 2011 seems a little soon, but perhaps it is good to have an early date, to get data quickly.  Mathematical analysis shows that the true optimal date depends on the Bass coefficients of adoption, the equity premium over a riskless asset, and the discount rate – the exact formulation is left as an exercise for the reader.

This analysis assumes that the end of the world date is fixed and announced.  This is often not the case.  Had Christians specified an exact time for the Second Coming, they would be little more than a footnote in ancient history textbooks.  But instead, the Bible tells us in Matthew 24:36 that “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven…”, a clear reference to a non-degenerate probability distribution.  If the end of the world is specified as a Poisson process, we can ensure that it is always ten years in the future on average, no matter how much time passes.  Until, of course, the end finally comes.

A note to loyal readers

April 6, 2010

Loyal readers of this blog may recently have experienced an existential crisis – for how can you be a loyal reader when there is nothing to loyally read?  For the past few months, I have been preparing to marry, marrying, and celebrating being married to the best of all spouses.  Now that the preparation and marrying are over, and the celebration remains, posts will resume on the regular irregular schedule.