“Always think of yourself as an independent consultant, no matter what role you have or where you work. Ask yourself, what skills and experience could I charge more for each year? This will push you to gain new skills every 12 months. And you will always stay relevant.”
The Consultant Mindset
I termed her perspective the “Consultant Mindset,” and I have leveraged it throughout my career. Here are the elements of the mindset that stood out to me:
- Change Your Locus of Control. As a young scientist, I always imagined myself working in a lab, for a company, or with a team – the locus of control was always external. By “working for myself” at a company, my focus became internal. This change in perspective was crucial because it put me in the driver’s seat of my career and allowed me to think proactively to stay relevant in the fast-paced innovation space.
- Stay Relevant. At the time, I thought I was relevant because I had a Ph.D. and a job. I learned early that in the innovation space, I would have about 12 months of relevancy before my skills needed refreshing, no matter what degree I had.
- Charge More. Prior to this conversation, I hadn’t considered that each year someone – a company, a client – will decide whether to reinvest in me and by how much. I didn’t think about my skills as a valuable commodity that I would continue to sell to potential clients, stakeholders, or employers. Just like a consultant, I should always be looking for ways to improve my skills and offer more value. This mindset helped me stay motivated and focused on my career goals, even as I navigated the day-to-day demands of a job. New value and skills = premium pricing.
- Learn Continuously. From that day forward, I focused on one skill to focus on each year – whether it was directly related to my current role, adjacent or even orthogonal. Steve Jobs famously credited a calligraphy course with inspiring Apple’s slick font and design features. You never know where each skill can take you!
- Pay it Forward. When I look back on the 30 minute conversation with my VP, I’m so appreciative of the time she invested in me. Unfortunately, I think 1-on-1 meetings with Senior Leaders are less common now than they used to be. But the time investment is worth it.
Leveraging the Consultant Mindset
Here are some examples of how the consultant mindset set me up for roles I didn’t even know would require the skill at the time I was learning the skills.
- Early Career. Advanced Statistical Modeling– Readied me for a corporate role in a statistics department developing a world-class sensory science capability.
- Mid Career. External Partnering– Led to an opportunity to help establish the global Open Innovation capability at Unilever.
- Current Role. Agile Certification– Set me up for a corporate strategy role requiring the management of organizational transformation for the 3.5B North American business.
Even starting this blog stems from the Consultant Mindset. A personal project, self-publishing a book during COVID lockdown, taught me that I enjoyed writing and wanted to do more of it.
In sum, think like a consultant no matter what position you have or organization you find yourself. Take control and adopt new skills that you can charge more for each year. Don’t wait for someone to mandate it – then it’s too late. Find something that you would like to learn and try it out. Today it’s easier than ever to learn in a way that suits your style — in person, by video or by academic course – and much of it is free. Adopting a consultant mindset can provide peace of mind, especially during uncertain economies when layoffs are rampant. It can help you feel confident in your relevancy and set you up for opportunities you don’t even know exist yet.