Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

A noble and ancient business

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There is a motto at Consultant U: Those who can do; those who can’t teach; everyone else consults unless their father owns a cushy business they can go to work for, eventually inherit and drive into the ground.

Don’t get me wrong. Consultancy is a noble and ancient business. The first known instance of someone hiring a consultant dates to prehistoric times. It was – trivia alert – a consultant who invented the wheel. The consultant’s name, and that of his firm, has been lost to antiquity.

It was supposed to be a straightforward contract. The terms of engagement called for the design of a coffee table. The cave dweller, let’s call him Fred, who hired the first consultant was too busy hunting mastodon to make the table himself. His wife, let’s call her Wilma, was sick and tired of having their cave cluttered up with piles of coffee table books. It was a tense househole.

The consultant went to work. He asked Fred how much he wanted to spend. He asked Wilma what kind of features she wanted in a coffee table. He noticed the overall architecture of the cave was basically a round hole eroded out of a limestone cliff. He asked them both what kind of furniture they preferred. They said they were into natural finishes. They all agreed on stone.

The consultant disappeared. The deadline passed.

Then, finally, the consultant returned. He brought with him a team of four "associates." Three of the associates carried medium sized boulders, the legs of the coffee table. One struggled mightily with a flat slab of granite, carefully rounded to fit the overall shape of the cave. The team assembled the table. Wilma casually tossed some books on it. Fred and Wilma were happy.

Then they saw the bill. It was over twice as much as Fred expected. There were heated words. The consultant explained how the job was bigger than expected, how he needed to enlist the support of a larger team than he’d anticipated to "cover all the bases." He emphasized how happy Wilma was and how Fred would never have been able to accomplish the task without outside help. Finally, he agreed to consider giving Fred a "deal" the next time he required his services.

Several months later, in the middle of spring cleaning, Wilma got Fred to move the coffee table. With much exertion, he managed to get it on edge and move it toward the front of the cave… the part that sloped gently downhill. The coffee table began to roll. When it came to rest, it was in many pieces. The rest is history.

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