Consulting under the influence

Img_0510 I’ve been on the road for 18 days.  I’ve had an afternoon off here and there, but mostly it has been a succession of interviews, with days in-between spent trying to capture the data in hand before more data arrives.  What did I hear in Germany, now that I am headed for Belgium?  What in Belgium now that I’m headed for France?  We can’t afford to sort it out when we get home.  Except for a brief visit at the end of the week, I don’t get home till the middle of June.

It’s beginning to tell.  If ever I was a strategic marketing consultant, the ability of adding value by adding ideas, is now under challenge.

How to manage this exhaustion?  I am willing to bet there is no literature.  Most consultants have been obliged to work while exhausted but I don’t think any of us have codified techniques or strategies. For most of us it’s a private hell…hellish, anyhow.  Blogging to the rescue.  This is the perfect medium for sharing thoughts and, um, strategies. 

There are rough guides but most of them come, interestingly, from the world of sports and inebriation. 

We might manage exhaustion the way drunks manage intoxication, steering with a loose hand, navigating as if out on the lake in a motorized boat.  Relax the vigilance.  Do not, under any circumstances, over correct for our condition.  Choose simpler targets, more obvious landmarks.  Perfection is out of the question.  The thing is no sudden movements.  Play it as it lays. 

And when things get really tricky and we have bottomed out altogether, we may resort to Mohammad Ali’s "rope a dope," the moment when we allow ourselves to go altogether.  This is when you hope the respondent will have a moment of eloquence and run on.  Or that the translator will spot your difficulty and step into to assume executive powers.  If none of this happens, you can always fake a phone call, and retire to the hall way.  You just need a moment to catch your breath.  Then you’re fine.  No, really. 

I have been thinking hard about how translation works for ethnographic purposes, and I have some quite good notes, I think, to offer if and when I can gather my wits.  I have had uniformly good translators, and I think the trick here is to use professionals who have their wits about them.  But more on this in a future post. 

The translators have been charming conversationalists, but part of the problem is that you haven’t talked to anyone you know (except by phone with Pam) for too long.  As some of you will know, I tried to befriend a plant that came in on my room service tray.  I have bad news here, I’m afraid.  Melanie was confiscated today. I came back to my room and she was gone.  Bastards!

I guess some of this is deeply personal.  When I am really tired, I feel like a Warner Brothers’ cartoon character with a bucket stuck on my head.  For me, the only real way to refresh is to do relaxation/mediation techniques.  For young consultants coming up, I recommend that you take a short course, just a couple of weeks, on how to meditate and relax.  It’s doesn’t have to have spiritual objectives.  Mine didn’t.  I will supply a link when I can find it. 

I’m not much for self revelation in the blogosphere, but this has helped a lot.  Thanks.

8 thoughts on “Consulting under the influence

  1. jens

    sleeping on taxis and planes is cool. sleeping in concerts, opera, theater, cinema or readings is even better.
    sport is always a good investment (paris is great for jogging and inline skating).
    the whole wellness thing works too – sauna, steam-bath, massages…

  2. SusanA

    This post really made me empathize. And also called forth a memory. One year, I had spent many weeks in Jamaica on a project, in two week stints, mostly with various other team members. Then near Christmas I was there on my own for the better part of two weeks. All of it being insanely busy.

    One night there, sitting having my dinner alone, and a glass or two of adult beverages, I was listening to the cowboy singer. [Which is another story, but he was an outstanding performer]. He started in on “I’m so lonely I could die”, and it was all I could do to hold it together. When the client asked me to stay on a few more days I told them no, I absolutely had to get home.

    Personally, I found that the more exhausted I became, the more overwhelming the little cultural differences became. What was interesting, intriguing or challenging when fresh just became incomprehensible when tired. And the normal hassles of life on the road, ranging from dead cell phones to patchy internet connections, just start to defeat you.

    From an observational standpoint, I have realized that I now choose hotels — and even specific rooms in hotels I know well — that make me feel less lonely. Whether that’s because there is a reasonable lounge to sit in, or you can see people from your room, or whatever it is, it matters. It’s not a question of luxury, it’s a question of feeling near people, feeling less isolated.

    Please do tell us more about using interpreters for ethnography. I have been curious about this. And in the meantime, read your favorite newspaper online and to heck with the cost, and buy some flowers for your room.

  3. Brad Berens

    Grant, I’m with you. I travel for business a LOT and lately what I have to do to survive is simply stop working. Whether that means taking a nap in the middle of the day or finding SOME old friend or acquaintance or email buddy to have dinner with in the middle of a trip… whatever. Something, SOMETHING, has to be just for me or I lose myself in the rush from the plane to the shuttle to the hotel and back again. During one recent trip to New York I even managed to take in a show. I could have had meetings, but I refused.

    As a dad, though, the worst is being away from my kids. I suffer from a terrible inability to go to sleep. Once I AM asleep, I’m gone, but without little people to check on, I can’t motivate myself to make that “OK, it’s time to get into the jammies” decision.

    Hang in there. You’ll be home soon.

  4. John McCreery

    Just a quick thanks to SusanA for using “interpreters” instead of “translators.” Interpreters, who handle the spoken word on the fly, are a different breed of cat from translators, who ponder how best to make sense of written text. As translators who often translate verbatims from focus groups, we here at The Word Works are often caught thinking about how to capture the voices we hear in the text, without, of course, having been there to hear them.

    As an aging traveler, I agree with Brad. Sometimes you just have to say “Time out” and take some time for yourself, a walk, a nap, a pool, a fitness center, whatever.

  5. Peter

    A colleague once advised to spend the last hour of each day while on the road just listening to music, without doing anything else (ie, not reading, not watching TV, not exercising, not calling anyone, etc). This works for me.

  6. Anonymous

    I lived on the road (rock’n’roll version) for the better part of a dozen years, herding cats (ie: musicians), dealing with promoters, concerts, audiences, gear, crew, press and radio and tv and recalcitrant stars, switching languages and sensibilities and cultural and technical customs daily, usually in a state of exhaustion. So, a couple of thoughts…..

    You’ll fail, by any standard of perfection. Much like life but slgihtly more so.

    You’lll have to abandon normal structure and adapt and adapt and adapt. With so much adaptation going on, you’lf be far closer to where you are than where you were or where you think you’re supposed to be or what you’re supposed to be doing. And that can be disconcerting. And being disconcerted when exhausted makes you nuts. So don’t.

    Structure will be provided by tasks at hand, which will all be a great deal more logistically challenging than they wouold be under normal circumstances. People will wonder why you’re not getting simple obvious things like email or phone calls or such done, and you won’t be able to communicate how challening that was because even that is a challenge. Your efficiency simply can’t be what it is norally. But once you accept that, you get a lot less exhausted because your nervous system calms down.

  7. Carol Gee

    Grant, I just read this post and had another thought. The wealth of good strategies in these comments make me aware of the good souls who are drawn to your blog. What a great group chose to respond to your personal situation with very experienced and practical ideas.
    I’ll add another thought or two: Pay attention every day if you can, to the most basic of the basics in personal care – as balanced nutrition as you can manage, a bit of physical exerise, particularly after mental stress, a tepid bath/shower, maybe some extra vitamins or supplements (i.e. green tea, etc.), and no horror or adventure movies just before sleep. Pay attention to your dreams. They are clues to your inner unresolved stuff and physical well-being. Stay safe.

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