As a consultant and advisor, I’ve helped over 50 entrepreneurs improve their businesses. 

Currently working in AustraliaThailand, and Albania. About to publish my first book about the five keys to an incredible career.

What does Machiavelli have to do with business consulting?

A Business Consultant observes reality dispassionately and reacts appropriately, without arbitrary preference or bias, to help businesses generate profit. Machiavelli, a Political Consultant, wrote about this with respect to political leaders to help them establish and maintain power. I deploy his thinking in service to businesses.

Unfortunately, his name is understood negatively. I hope to change that in a few sentences.

Machiavelli observed that prosperous States, tyranny, and misery came as a result of philosopher kings, republicans, populists, and dictators. He wasn’t the first to suggest that moral ends can come from immoral means, or immoral ends from moral means. But he most certainly said it best. Because of this, many regard Machiavelli as the inventor of tyranny and the author of a playbook for brutes – as if nothing of the sort existed prior to 1532 AD. Few know that Machiavelli spent several months imprisoned and tortured due to his support for the Florentine republic. I believe actions are the truest expression of the individual. But our generation regards Twitter virtue a more significant measure of man, so I don’t expect my analysis to become the popular view. If Machiavelli’s work is a playbook for anything, it is a playbook to unseat the tyrannical and corrupt, and a sober explanation as to why so many “good” leaders invite decline.

It is better to say that Machiavelli didn’t privilege intent or preference. The result to the State – which is the maintenance of power for the Sovereign and the well-being of the people – was his project.

This is also my project.

The result to the business – its profits – which is the maintenance of authority for the executive, the well-being and development of its staff, and the well-being and knowledge of its current and potential customers.

I work directly with founders, owners, and chief executives to maintain their authority over their business by focusing on what works, not what is preferred.

I collect data using several disciplines, ranging from Six Sigma, Industrial Psychology, and my own version of Baseball’s SABRmetrics, to leverage company performance into opportunities for growth and reduce areas of inefficiency. I test new business models, products, and services using lean methodologies and iterative development. I ensure the financial model is viable under normal and disaster conditions, which allows longer term planning and preparedness for negative impacts. I design and deploy IT systems that are driven by operations, and I prefer simple and inexpensive systems, as businesses have been creating value for thousands of years without Slack premium or HD 14-way video calling. I find out what is truly creating value in the business, and what isn’t. I map out this value and communicate it constantly. I update the value map continuously, as the environment is always changing. And I do this without wasting my time or your money on creating a kaleidoscope of fluff-packed pretty charts.

Impact, in black, white, and grey. 

Why a Business Consultant versus a specialist?

There are many types of specialists out there so I couldn’t account for every possible analysis, but I can provide two clear examples so you have an image in your mind: the digital marketing specialist and the accounting specialist.

Businesses need good marketing and good financial health. There are many ways to market, and many ways to track and improve your financial health.

Sometimes digital marketing is what you need, and sometimes accounting is what you need, and sometimes one of the other thousand things is what you need. A specialist will be sure to make an argument about why both they (individually) and their favorite tool (their specialty) is right for your business and will most certainly get results.

This is bias and preference.

I prefer the Musashi approach. Miyamoto Musashi was a samurai who won 61 duels in the 16th and 17th centuries. This makes him arguably the world’s greatest martial artist and combat strategist in history. He eventually wrote a book detailing his wisdom and approach. Of the many timeless lessons is this: don’t have a favorite weapon. If the longsword is the best 40% of the time, then 60% of the time you are dead if you only know how to use the longsword.

I don’t have a favorite weapon.

Ethical foundations

The conclusions and approaches above were developed due to my personal values.

Business is the engine that moves the world. Our ethics are possible because of it. More human flourishing is possible because of it. Free markets and a belief that personal responsibility and worthy conduct can bring a positive bearing in any individual’s life is a rare and fortunate moral advancement. It took civilization thousands of years to get to this point. 

Historically, few made it to old age. Today, virtually everyone does. In fact, our health care system is in debt, thanks to the long and relatively healthy lives of the majority of people in every society.

Historically, few received an education. Today, we are on the cusp of universal primary education. And very recently, thanks to YouTube and a few other technologies, education is free.

Historically, few had any savings or insurance against disaster. Today, a mix of pension, insurance, charities, churches, and GoFundMe, results in a system where even the most tragic events have a strong safety net.

I could continue.

Innovators, executives, managers, and profit. These fix the problems of the world better and faster than anything.

I’m on their team.

Talk with people who tell you where and how you’re wrong and blind, often

I haven’t written anything here in a while.

Mainly because I’m working on a book… So my writing time is generally well occupied.

But after years of doing the thing written in the title, I wanted to jot a few notes in its defense.

I don’t simply mean “get out of your echo chamber” or “find the smartest people in the room and work with them” or “build a team that can disagree.” Of course, these are all good ideas, also. But I’m sure I couldn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said.

I mean exactly what the title says: talk with people who tell you where and how you’re wrong and blind. Do it often, on a schedule, if possible.

I’ve been doing this for two years now, formally. I know I’ve generally done this for several years informally (mainly by listening, instead of participating in any conversation). But for ease of drawing a clear line, I’ll only go from the formal point. For two years I’ve been a part of a weekly “mastermind” group. That’s just a fancy name for a small group of entrepreneurs who get on a video call to talk about their business problems and solicit open feedback, critique, and insight.

I started this while I was in my MBA program (not because of the program, they were unrelated, technically. It just so happened to start at similar times). I mention this because, while my MBA program was genuinely incredible, it’s hard to say which was more valuable to my work and career.

But each week, on the same day, at the same time, I hop on a call with a few other people (all from different countries and in different business industries) and we have an hour-long meeting. The meetings are formatted in a way where there is one person on the “hot seat” each week. The person on the hot seat is the one aiming to explain something they are doing, struggling with, hoping to achieve, etc, and then a discussion unfolds with the rest of the group giving feedback and sometimes even being professionally hostile, in the spirit of providing a challenge in a meeting, rather than having the challenge faced as a surprise in the real world. The person on the hot seat rotates each week, in order.

The meetings are also bookended. At the start, each person briefly states their “big wins” from the previous week and at the end briefly states their “key objectives” for the coming week. This is just a simple way to get the meeting going (and closed) while also creating a baseline goal that you are accountable for.

Group sizes for me have been between 3-5 people. I think that’s a pretty good number. 3 is pretty low, actually. 4-5 is probably the ideal size.

Because of the impact these meetings have had on my work, I started my own group as well – because I wanted two meetings like this a week, and with a different group of people.

Twice a week, I speak with some of the most intelligent people I know, who are all very experienced and successful. And they tell me where and how I’m wrong and where and how I’m blind.

I also do the same to them. This is just as if not more valuable, as we oftentimes more easily learn about our faults through the faults of others.

My advice if you’re reading this: start a group like this. Once a week for an hour. Focus on the type of professional development that makes sense for you and makes sense for the group. In my case, one group is very entrepreneurial focused, and is a group of only entrepreneurs and self-employed people; while the second group is more broadly about self and professional development, where we focus on career and work but also other areas of personal growth like health or even ethical challenges. Find people with similar aims (general ambition/success), but diverse knowledge, backgrounds, and skills. In other words, if you start a group of people in your department who all attended the same university and have a similar degree and are a similar age… it’s not really that good of a group.

If you’re not sure exactly how to start, send them this article? That would at least frame the conversation.

The worst phrase of all phrases

“I’m not trying to make a ton of money.”

This has many derivations: I’m not trying to get rich; I just want a sustainable source of income; I want to help the little guy; I don’t want to be greedy. They are all effectively the same and are being said by the same entrepreneur or aspiring business leader. Some reading this may take issue with the separate phrases I’ve effectively combined into one. I do so because I routinely hear them said interchangeably, from the same sources. The person who says to me, in discussing their business or career development, that they don’t want to make a ton of money, has also quickly shown their virtue and commitment to poetry by wanting to help the little guy or new people get their start, and they are certainly quick to regard anyone on the opposite side of them as greedy until proven generous.

Imagine a tree were to say “I don’t want to grow very tall” or a flower that it “wanted few petals and with dull colors.” We would laugh.

But when a human says this, we applaud. We call this morality. Sentiment, weakness, smallness, to never dream beyond our borders.

The human has been made very calculable, to borrow from Nietzsche, and from his views on the taming of humans, or drift away from instincts and thus our inability to wield them effectively. Morality according to Nietzsche would have read more like thou shalt be strong, adventurous, creative, and independent; and thou shalt delight in others doing the same.

Business should have such a calling. Be profitable, industrious, innovative, and secure in your assets and debts, and shake hands with people and businesses doing the same.

To return to the tree analogy. The tree that grows tall is home to so many, and provides so much life and beauty. The tree that doesn’t grow tall is unable to provide for anyone or anything else. Moral sentiment, therefore, depends upon capability. This is true of trees, professionals, and businesses.

If your goal is profit, growth, and capability, your ability to do good becomes possible. So, please, go make a ton of money. Grow your net worth and your businesses. Develop more professional capabilities. If you do so, you’ll be the one capable of doing good, rather than the one who has spoken, demonstrated, or protested about it.