Continuing the discussion on differing perspectives of consultants and practitioners, I have asked Scott Berkun a few questions on the subject. I chose Scott because for the past few months he has been coping with both options: while publishing his next book – Mindfire: Big Ideas for curious Minds – he spent a year and a half having something like a regular job at WordPress.com.
Not only was I curious about Scott’s views on the subject but also I think we can learn a lot from him, especially those of us who are considering coupling both roles. So here are a few gems of knowledge gleened from Scott.
Scott, you’ve recently left Automattic where you worked for some time and it has triggered me to ask you a few questions about your spell there. The difference between insider versus outsider or practitioner versus consultant perspective is something that draws my interest for some time already. You’ve decided to try living both lives concurrently and it gives you a unique perspective on a subject.
Reading your blog and your tweets over time, my impression is that your enthusiasm for having a regular job while pursuing your career as a writer and a consultant was diminishing. Was that only an impression or there is something more to it?
The plan was always to stay at WordPress.com for about a year. It’s a great place to work and it was hard to leave. Any complaining I did was probably just to help convince myself I needed to leave, which was hard to do as I enjoyed it so much. I stayed there for 18 months, 6 months longer than I’d planned.
What was the biggest challenge of having two so different careers at the same time?
Having two careers sucks. I don’t recommend it. My success in writing depends on full commitment. I can write books because I have no excuses not to. I succeed by focus. It’s the primary thing I’m supposed to do. Having two jobs divided my energy and I don’t have the discipline needed to make up for the gap. It also changed my free time. I noticed immediately the amount of reading I did dropped dramatically. I used to read about a book every week or so. That dropped to a book every few months. Having two jobs meant my brain demanded idle time which came at the expense of reading. I felt like I was working all the time, which isn’t healthy for anyone.
And what was your biggest lesson from this time?
The next book is about my experience working at WordPress.com and what I learned will be well documented there. Professionally I learned creating culture is the most powerful thing a leader does, and WordPress.com has done that exceedingly well.
Do you think that coupling consultancy and a regular job is doable in the long run?
I don’t know why anyone would want to work that much in the same field, honestly. For anyone who thinks I’m good at managing teams, or writing books, a huge reason why is the other interests and experiences I’ve had in my life that have nothing to do with leadership or software or writing.
Do you plan to get another job at some time in future again? Why?
As long as I’m paid to speak to people who are leaders and managers, it’s wise for me to periodically go back to working in an organization where I’m leading and managing people. It forced me to test how much of my own advice I actually practice, and refreshed my memory on what the real challenges are. Any guru or expert who hasn’t done the thing they’re lecturing others about in years should have their credibility questioned. I figure once a decade or so it’s a necessary exercise for any guru with integrity.
Why we should consider moving to (or staying in) a consultancy role?
When I first quit to be on my own I did a lot of consulting. As soon as the books started doing well and I had more requests to speak, I did less and less of it. I do it rarely now. Consultancy can be liberating as you are called in to play a specific role on a short time frame. If you like playing that specific role and like change (since who you work with changes with each new project), consultancy can make you happy. It pays well if you are well known enough to find clients.
Why we should consider moving to (or staying in) regular jobs?
Consultants rarely have much impact. Advice is easy to ignore. Consulting can be frustrating and empty for the consultant, even if you are paid well. Anyone serious about ideas and making great things knows they have to have their own skin in the game to achieve a dream. You can’t do that from the consulting sidelines. In a regular job at least there is the pretense of ownership. Everyone should be an entrepreneur at least once in their life: you can only discover what you are capable of, or not, when you free yourself from the constraints of other people.