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Our Success Is Based Upon Your InefficiencyAt the end of a year that seemed at times unusually bleak — Ebola, Islamic State, Taylor Swift yanking her catalog from Spotify — it felt like a good moment to go looking for role models. And we found them. Corporate leaders, such as Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, are committing substantial portions of substantial piles of wealth to projects in education and health. Young entrepreneurs are figuring out not just how to get rich, but how to make a living helping others. The good business issue, Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec 29, 2014.

As a consultant, a lot of my income potential is based upon a customer struggling with issues. A lot of this struggling with issues is based upon poor decisions and processes. So why would I help them permanently fix anything? Isn’t it better to just help them get along so that I can continue to get paid?

Gee, you say, isn’t that how business works today? If I send in my credit card payment late, the financial companies gleefully charge me a fee and crank up my interest rates. Their business plans specifically assume a certain rate of “mistakes” by their customers and their processes are alleged to even encourage those mistakes.

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Look at “health” care. We know that exercise, eating right, sleeping enough and stress management can pretty much ensure we live a long and healthy life. The last “medical breakthrough” article I read put in the perfunctory “eat healthy and exercise regularly minimizes the need” and then touted the new drug that kind of reduced the problems with only typical side effects (e.g. chance of heart attacks, blindness, etc.). Billions are spent to develop and patent a new drug but not on programs to help people exercise and eat right. Why not? Probably because we can’t make much money on health but can make significant profit on stitching back together people who are sick.

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I was invited to talk to a VP of engineering about his software development teams. After the hour discussion I decided I didn’t really want to engage with them. Why not? The VP suggested he would take every hour I had available. The reason boiled down to the fact that the problems they were most concerned with (staffing, documentation) were not things I specialized in fixing. I considered helping them work on these things, collecting my consulting fee, until I found any of the more typical big things I did well (e.g. scheduling, estimating, tracking, on time projects, change management etc.). I knew from past experience that it didn’t always work this way. If I was good at holding my finger in the dike for one type of problem, folks wanted me to stay there and keep the dike from leaking.

So we have a dilemma. Many of our typical problems are of the kind “just do the right things” and our health and our business will be fine. However, too much of our business income potential comes from folks who, for one reason or another, can’t get around to doing the right things. While helping them do the right thing would be best for them, getting them to pay us to tell them to do what they already have heard, doesn’t seem like much help to them. Getting someone to provide a miracle pill or tool that should, possibly — some of the time — with only a few bad side effects, help our situation seems to be a more desirable path for many people.

An economist once said that having 50 people dig a hole and then having another 50 people fill in that hole is a perfectly good economic activity. In other words, we just need to keep people busy and appear to be adding value and our economic system will work just fine. It too often seems to me that much of what we do is “activity” that appears to add value when in fact it just activity without any hard economic purpose. However, we can still make a significant profit from this activity so it must be useful and beneficial to someone. Right?

Are we working on projects that make a real difference or something that just makes money?

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Thank you for sharing!