<!—->  <!—->  <!—-> 

It always comes as a bit of a surprise that I once worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Co., the world’s most famous – or infamous – consulting firm.


I think it came as a surprise for them too. And for the clients.


Companies pay a fortune to get the advice of McKinsey consultants. Top MBA students from the world’s most prestigious business schools fight for a job at a firm so self-absorbed it calls itself “The Firm.”


Maybe it’s worth it. Maybe there’s some magic or mystique to the place. But I was an outsider who, through happenstance more than anything, managed to spend a couple of years inside the citadel. My impressions may not be those of others. But here are ten things I learned there which I found valuable in business and life.


1. There are no “experts” in business.


It was my first grown up job, and this was the biggest surprise. Before I joined I had assumed that people in the upper echelons of the business world really knew what they were doing – that they were imbued with great wisdom, and knowledge, and insights, and secret data that the rest of the world didn’t know about. Turns out they are pretty much guessing, much like the rest of us. That’s why they hired a bunch of smart young people to tell them what was going on in their own companies. And we were able to tell them.




2. The answers are usually hidden in plain sight.


The world is awash with information. It was always there. These days, thanks to the Internet, it is more accessible than ever before. Yet ignorance and misinformation are everywhere. I learned early on that if I was willing to put in a little time and read documents I could quickly learn what I needed to know. I am still amazed at how few people out there – including people on Wall Street, journalists and others – are willing to do that. It’s all there.


3. MBAs are a waste of money.


Kids borrow $100,000 so they can spend two years at a business school in the hope of landing a job at a place like McKinsey. I landed a job there after spending two years not finishing a doctorate in history at Oxford. All I had was some basic smarts and a plausible manner. I also read a lot. When I arrived I assumed my business knowledge would be two years behind everyone else. I soon found out you can learn everything you really need to know about economics, strategy and finance with a few weeks’ formal study. If you also read about two dozen good books about strategy you’ll be way ahead.



4. No jerks. Ever.


When you interview for these places, you don’t find out till later that the last issue discussed by the recruiters is the so-called “flight test” – would your colleagues want to sit next to you on a long haul flight? In other words, are you a bit of a jerk?


One of the most important lessons I learned is that you should never work with, or employ, a jerk. Ever. If you have one, fire them. Now.


It’s a cliche that a company’s most important asset is its people. But you don’t really appreciate it until you work with a client that has people problems. I once saw a team manager so awful that he hectored his own team for two hours without a break. “Be quiet, Kate!” he shouted at one member. “This isn’t your meeting, this is my meeting!” He was supposed to run the “change team.” You can guess how well that worked.


I’d bet on a team of good people with no money, no product and no clients over a team of bad people with all three – every time.


5. Everything’s a grid.


Which project should you prioritze? Try fitting them all in a “Pain/Gain” matrix, and then seeing which ones offer the most gain and the least pain. Which of your competitors should you take over? Rate them all by geographic fit, market share, financial strength, and so on – and then see how it adds up. Before I joined McKinsey I pretty much approached questions in life in the same kind of lazy, haphazard, disjointed way that most people use every day.