Teddies, Fetishes and the Management Consulting Scam

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What if I told you that the key to becoming a successful management consultant was to become a Teddy Bear?

What if I also told you that it involves fetishes? You might be re-checking the URL to make sure you are on the right site!

Fear not, this article is definitely not “50 Shades of Management Consulting Grey”. Nor is it about donning a cuddly animal suit as a mascot for a football team. To borrow from the much loved children’s TV show “Playschool,” there’s definitely a bear in there, but not the one you might be thinking!

You see, for many people, modern corporate life is now at a point where pace of change is accelerating, unrelenting and fatiguing. In my home state of Western Australia, businesses are reeling from unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty, be it the end of the commodity boom, the impact of global competition or disruptive, technology-enabled innovation. It is now difficult to think of any industry that has not had the ground shift beneath it in some way — except perhaps, for Management Consulting.

Management Consulting thrives in an environment of fear, ambiguity and doubt, principally because its business model is based on the presumption that they can make it go away. It’s lucrative too — ambiguity is such a powerful force that executives will part with copious amounts of cash in attempts to escape it…

read the full article at medium.com

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The end of a journey… my book is now out!

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About bloody time eh?

The Heretics Guide to Best Practices is now available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.



In Paul and Kailash I have found kindred spirits who understand how messed up most organizations are, and how urgent it is that organizations discover what Buddhists call ‘expedient means’—not more ‘best practices’ or better change management for the enterprise, but transparent methods and theories that are simple to learn and apply, and that foster organizational intelligence as a natural expression of individual intelligence. This book is a bold step forward on that path, and it has the wonderful quality, like a walk at dawn through a beautiful park, of presenting profound insights with humor, precision, and clarity.”

Jeff Conklin, Director, Cognexus Institute


Hugely enjoyable, deeply reflective, and intensely practical. This book is about weaving human artistry and improvisation, with appropriate methods and technologies, in order to pool collective intelligence and wisdom under pressure.”

Simon Buckingham Shum, Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University, UK.


“This is a terrific piece of work: important, insightful, and very entertaining. Culmsee and Awati have produced a refreshing take on the problems that plague organisations, the problems that plague attempts to fix organisations, and what can be done to make things better. If you’re trying to deal with wicked problems in your organisation, then drop everything and read this book.”

Tim Van Gelder, Principal Consultant, Austhink Consulting


“This book has been a brilliantly fun read. Paul and Kailash interweave forty years of management theory using entertaining and engaging personal stories. These guys know their stuff and demonstrate how it can be used via real world examples. As a long time blogger, lecturer and consultant/practitioner I have always been served well by contrarian approaches, and have sought stories and case studies to understand the reasons why my methods have worked. This book has helped me understand why I have been effective in dealing with complex business problems. Moreover, it has encouraged me to delve into the foundations of various management practices and thus further extend my professional skills.”

Craig Brown, Director, Evaluator

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Why I’ve been quiet…

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As you may have noticed, this blog has been a bit of a dead zone lately. There are several very good reasons for this – one being that a lot of my creative energy has been going into co-writing a book – and I thought it was time to come clean on it.

So first up, just because I get asked this all the time, the book is definitely *not* “A humble tribute to the leave form – The Book”! In fact, it’s not about SharePoint per se, but rather the deeper dark arts of team collaboration in the face of really complex or novel problems.

It was late 2006 when my own career journey took an interesting trajectory, as I started getting into sensemaking and acquiring the skills necessary to help groups deal with really complex, wicked problems. My original intent was to reduce the chances of SharePoint project failure but in learning these skills, now find myself performing facilitation, goal alignment and sensemaking in areas miles away from IT. In the process I have been involved with projects of considerable complexity and uniqueness that make IT look pretty easy by comparison. The other fringe benefit is being able to sit in a room and listen to the wisdom of some top experts in their chosen disciplines as they work together.

Through this work and the professional and personal learning that came with it, I now have some really good case studies that use unique (and I mean, unique) approaches to tackling complex problems. I have a keen desire to showcase these and explain why our approaches worked.

My leanings towards sensemaking and strategic issues would be apparent to regular readers of CleverWorkarounds. It is therefore no secret that this blog is not really much of a technical SharePoint blog these days. The articles on branding, ROI, and capacity planning were written in 2007, just before the mega explosion of interest in SharePoint. This time around, there are legions of excellent bloggers who are doing a tremendous job on giving readers a leg-up onto this new beast known as SharePoint 2010.

BBP (3)

So back to the book. Our tentative title is “Beyond Best Practices” and it’s an ambitious project, co-authored with Kailash Awati – the man behind the brilliant eight to late blog. I had been a fan of Kailash’s work for a long time now, and was always impressed at the depth of research and effort that he put into his writing. Kailash is a scarily smart guy with two PHD’s under his belt and to this day, I do not think I have ever mentioned a paper or author to him that he hasn’t read already. In fact, usually he has read it, checked out the citations and tells me to go and read three more books!

Kailash writes with the sort of rigour that I aspire to and will never achieve, thus when the opportunity of working with him on a book came up, I knew that I absolutely had to do it and that it would be a significant undertaking indeed.

To the left is a mock-up picture to try and convey where we are going with this book. See the guy on the right? Is he scratching his head in confusion, saluting or both? (note, this is our mockup and the real thing may look nothing like this)

This book dives into the seedy underbelly of organisational problem solving, and does so in a way that no other book has thus far attempted. We examine why the very notion of “best practices” often makes no sense and have such a high propensity to go wrong. We challenge some mainstream ideas by shining light on some obscure, but highly topical and interesting research that some may consider radical or heretical. To counter the somewhat dry nature of some of this research (the topics are really interesting but the style in which academics write can put insomniacs to sleep), we give it a bit of the cleverworkarounds style treatment and are writing in a conversational style that loses none of the rigour, but won’t have you nodding off on page 2. If you liked my posts where I use odd metaphors like boy bands to explain SharePoint site collections, the Simpsons to explain InfoPath or death metal to explain records versus collaborative document management, then you should enjoy our journey through the world of cognitive science, memetics, scientific management and Willy Wonka (yup – Willy Wonka!).

Rather than just bleat about what the problems with best-practices are, we will also tell you what you can do to address these issues. We back up this advice by presenting a series of practical case studies, each of which illustrates the techniques used to address the inadequacies of best practices in dealing with wicked problems. In the end, we hope to arm our readers with a bunch of tools and approaches that actually work when dealing with complex issues. Some of these case studies are world unique and I am very proud of them.

Now at this point in the writing, this is not just an idea with an outline and a catchy title. We have been at this for about six months, and the results thus far (some 60-70,000 words) have been very, very exciting. Initially, we really had no idea whether the combination of our writing styles would work – whether we could take the degree of depth and skill of Kailash with my low-brow humour and my quest for cheap laughs (I am just as likely to use a fart joke if it helps me get a key point across)…

… But signs so far are good so stay tuned 🙂

Thanks for reading


Paul Culmsee


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Darth Sidious reads the same books as me

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image Now, readers would know that I really lay on the pop culture references pretty thick. I find it works well and makes ordinary, sometimes mundane, topics much more interesting and easy to explain. I’ve used Brittany Spears, Ikea, Kung Fu, Death metal, Dr Phil and countless others.

But I have never used Star Wars references in my post and probably never will. Why? I would like you to take some time to have a good read of this blog. I am having trouble finding the words to convey how brilliant it is.


My own company is a play on words on the much hyped/maligned Six Sigma methodologies, but this is so much more clever!

On this blog, both Darth Vader and Darth Sidious offer advice on strategy, project management and general business leadership and management topics. Some absolutely brilliant content there too, all set against the backdrop of what it takes to manage an evil empire. When you think about it, a Death Star is a pretty serious undertaking and to build it on time and on budget takes some pretty impressive management talent. So, despite whether you are an Empire kind of guy, or prefer being rebel scum, you have to concede that Vader and Sidious know how to manage a team. Sure, they made some mistakes (certainly their disaster recovery and risk management strategy were definitely flawed), but most organisations have a misfocussed attitude to security.

Aside from laughing hysterically when reading their material, I am certain that both Sith lords read the same strategy and management books that I do.

Here are some classic quotes..

In this essay on how performance metrics impact employee behaviour, Darth Sidious cites a recent example

…if your compensation system is based on rewarding people for speed, but product or service quality is severely lacking for some reason – even though you’ve mandated quality, it doesn’t make a difference what you mandate if what you’re measuring doesn’t support that goal (or even worse, is opposite to it).

That may seem like an obvious example, but it’s more common than you think. For the Clone Wars we ordered 100M Clones, and we wanted them ready in time to trick Obi Wan, so the Clone factory sacrificed on quality and what we ended up getting was 35% of the Clones being totally useless.

Now *that* is a real-world example that I can relate to!  Here is another gem from Sidious, explaining how the empire maintains a skills inventory to help them understand a team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Say you’re in a team that specializes in using the Force to electrocute captured rebels, or run a Network Engineering team. When it comes to hiring your instinct is to focus on the obvious and primary skill of the team.

Need to fill in an electrocutioner position? Then you’re probably looking for someone who’s learned how to channel the powers of the Force into electricity. Need to fill in a Network engineer position? You probably are looking for a hardcore networking/router/firewall guy.

Probably my favourite article is the Sith version of my "Project Fail" series where Darth Sidious offers advice on strategy, vision and goals. He breaks it down to:

  • Vision
  • Corporate objectives – eg "Increase delivery time of star destroyers by 10% over the next 12 months"
  • Nested Objectives
  • Alignment of Projects
  • Executive/Sith Lord Sponsorship – "if an executive sponsor, Sith Lord, finds out you spent a large amount of galactic credits and it didn’t pay off, now you’re in deep water with no one to support you. A Sith Lord is liable to feed you to a Panna Monster in such a case"
  • ROI

I could go on and on, but I could never do the site justice. The thing I really like about whoever authors this site is that they have managed to find the perfect balance between entertainment value with really insightful and clever messages behind the humour. It is a goal I have been trying to attain in my writing also, but I have to take my hat off to Sith Sigma for nailing it perfectly.

If they would have me I’d write on that site about collaboration under the pseudonym of Jar-Jar Binks 😉

Go take a look now. Tell em Jar-Jar sent you 😉 .


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Mrs CleverWorkarounds – Skills and Competencies of Global Managers

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Hi everyone. Some light reading for the weekend 😉

This post is not authored by me (Paul). Instead, my one-and-only darling wife. Apart from being an all-round hottie, she has been studying a post-graduate business course at University. The content of this post is one of her papers that when I read it, found it to be a really excellent piece of work. Her lecturer agreed too – and awarded it a high distinction.

Now the reason that I am posting this to the CleverWorkarounds blog is she really did some serious research, and I ended up reading a lot of the material too. In fact, I used a lot of her reference material when I was writing the global strategy and technology, and “project fail…” series of posts. If you liked that stuff, you may find some stuff here you like also.

Note: If you want to see where our thinking has evolved in this area, I suggest you take a look at my book: The Heretics Guide to Management. That really nails the true skills one needs for global managers!

So without further adieu, I present to you her paper, examining what skills and competencies that global managers require to operate in an increasingly complex and dynamic global environment. Please let me know what you think of it.

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