Consulting Bad: Lessons learned from the success of #BreakingBad


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You would be correct in assuming that I included “Breaking Bad” in the title of this post to drive page views. At least, that was my original intention, but after writing the title of this blog, I settled in to my normal routine of procrastination and wound up watching two episodes of the rightly held greatest show on television. And then what began as a cheap marketing ploy lead to some actual inspiration about what it means to be a good consultant. Oh, and don’t worry nerds, there are no spoilers below.

Why is Breaking Bad such a phenomenon? Why is it praised as the pinnacle of television storytelling? How does a show that has all the same components as any other program feel so much more compelling, so much more satisfying? In the years I’ve watched the show, followed the tweets, listened to the podcasts and maneuvered cautiously through the spoiler alerts, my honest conclusion to what makes Breaking Bad better than anything show is its complete dedication to the original intent of the story, as first pitched by Vince Gilligan’s to AMC executives with a simple purpose. “I want to turn a protagonist into an antagonist. I want to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface” he said. And while the components may have changed countless times, the purpose always stayed the same. The writer’s room remained committed to Vince’s original intent – we have a beginning and an end, let’s make the middle as fun and interesting as possible.

That’s great Jeff, but what does this have to do with consulting? Consulting, at its heart, is about problem solving. Clients rely on consultants for expertise to solve complex problems – it’s a simple pitch with a clear purpose. Yet here is where the difference between good consulting and bad consulting lies. Since the true nature of consulting is problem solving, good consultants aim to solve the client’s problems and work toward achieving the client’s goals. Bad consulting simply exists to develop a relationship with the client and serve that client for as long as possible. It’s a subtle difference, I know, but subtle differences become much more visible when comparing good to greatness.

Just like television writers can either write to serve the audience or write to serve the story’s purpose, consultants can either be driven by the acceptance of their client or they can be driven by solving the business problem that their client is facing. Sure expensive steak dinners are great for building a lasting client engagement just as helicopter crashes and Wild West shoot-outs are great for television audiences, but I guarantee that you won’t find “free 24oz rib-eye” in any SOW aimed to increase a company’s brand loyalty. And while Jack Bauer caused more explosions than Walter White caused chemical reactions, 24 never gave its fans the pure satisfaction that Breaking Bad fans are cherishing at this moment.

There are times in a consultant’s career where there are two possible answers to the same question, the client answer, which is meant to make the client feel good and keep the relationship fruitful, and the company answer, which honestly addresses the business problem and realistic solution. Sadly, in this business, most of the big guys stick to the client answer, which makes a lot more money. But I like to think there is a better way, and over time, that better way will get noticed and at some point get the recognition it deserves – just like the greatest television show of our time.

The real secret to the greatest of Breaking Bad is not the answers it gives its audience each episode, but the more profound and compelling questions it continues to ask of its audience. Listen to any lunch time conversation about the show and you will hear that that questions about “what will happen next” handily outweighs that answers of what happened before. Good consulting holds the same truth, better consulting means asking the better questions.

Nonetheless, it’s still heartbreaking that for Breaking Bad, the questions are about to run out.

Jeff Geuder
Jeff Geuder is a Sr. Consultant at Andrew Reise Consulting, helping clients develop and deliver on their customer experience strategies. Jeff lives in Chicago where he enjoys following hipster culture and discovering new techniques to incorporate bacon into everything. Follow him on twitter (@JeffGeuder).


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