Another strong article by Annmarie Geddes Baribeau which fits well with Protagion’s enthusiasm for active career management. Focused on consulting, particularly actuarial consulting, and the skills needed, it originally appeared in Spring 2018. It formed part of a supplement to the Contingencies magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries, called Actuarial Job Seeker.
We particularly appreciate the style of personal stories and views Annmarie uses, and the insights of those who’ve experienced consulting underlie its authenticity. While this post concentrates on her discussions with consulting actuaries, readers may recall we previously shared our takeaways from 8 wider-fields General Insurance actuaries who spoke with Annmarie about their experiences.
Consulting is a topic we at Protagion have written about before, although those articles have been broader than one profession. They include:
[The] skills and even personality traits required for success [as a consultant] often do not come easily for those attracted to quantitative work. Actuaries who want to become part of the consulting world need to know themselves – and the expectations of the firms they join. Fortunately, there are a variety of consulting roles available and infinite opportunities to improve the skills necessary for climbing the consulting career ladder.”
For her article, Annmarie spoke with a range of actuaries:
As the world changes at speed and continues to get more complex, we’ve seen the rise of concepts like agile (initially in a technology context and now more broadly) and multi-disciplinary teams. We’re all working to become more responsive and more connected, keep up with and capitalise on digital advancements, and thrive in this dynamic and collaborative world.
These themes have been explored further in two different formats we’ve come across which this post shares with you: a TED talk by Martin Danoesastro and a book by Rod Collins. Both reference the example of a flock of birds to illustrate how a collective can be fast and flexible because each member makes autonomous decisions based on a set of simple rules. They argue that this leads to far more adaptability than a centrally coordinated approach would allow.
In the insurance world, we’ve seen these challenges commonly faced when established organisations set up digital garages to encourage innovation across their wider organisation. Given the radically different cultures (and definitions of success) between the innovator and the established, integrating them (or even learning from each other) can be fraught with difficulty. Martin alludes to this with: "we felt like strangers in a strange land, surrounded by beanbags and hoodies and lots of smart, creative employees".
One of our mentors shared with us a personal example of a challenging situation he faced at work. Responsible for the financial aspects at his company (among other things), he found himself in an ongoing debate with a senior member of the business development team. It is natural for those responsible for sales to focus on building relationships with their prospects and conveying positive messages to the potential clients (whether on timelines, quality, costs, or all three). The danger arises when these assurances overcommit the business, and run significant risk of client disappointment or anger later. However, it is also true that ambitious goals can inspire the operations and delivery teams to greater heights.
In general terms, this was the situation that they found themselves in: the business developer had made grand promises in an effort to make the sale, and our mentor felt that he had misrepresented what was possible to the institutional client. He challenged the business developer privately. The conversation didn’t go well, partly because they were approaching the situation from entirely different paradigms, and at some point the business developer exasperatedly exclaimed: “You’re so logical!”.
Our mentor has a professional outlook on this heated situation, helped by the passage of time, but he remains amused that being logical is a bad thing… And so, this impression has inspired this post.
“The Logical Song” begins:
“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily
Oh joyfully, playfully watching me
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh responsible, practical
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable
Oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical”
So, it is possible that the business developer was referencing all of these: logical, sensible, responsible, practical, clinical, intellectual and cynical... Many of these would be seen as positive traits for someone charged with overseeing the finances of a business however. Part of the clash between them would have been as a result of personality differences, including the business developer’s excitability and his nonchalance about the risks and long-term impacts.
Nevertheless, it isn’t good to rely solely on logic either, especially as a leader. Protagion has touched on this topic previously in Celebrating our Humanness where we share insights from Blue Ocean Shift on how tender and vulnerable we all are, and how managing this is an imperative for leaders. This includes building our confidence to act by arousing emotional engagement so that we relax and feel secure enough to explore the unknown.
To close, we’ll share with you a video which in our view gives a sense of the power of logic in forming, here, a business strategy that has proven hugely successful. It’s a short five-and-a-half minute interview with Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, in June 1997 – yes, over twenty years ago. As Jeff explains early on in the interview, he saw that “web usage was growing at 2300% a year, so I decided that I would try and find a business plan that made sense in the context of that growth. And, I picked books as the first best product to sell online after making a list of twenty different products… Books were great as the first best because books are incredibly unusual in one respect: there are more items in the book category than there are items in any other category by far… There are more than 3 million different books worldwide active and in print at any given time across all languages. More than 1.5 million in English alone. So when you have that many items, you can literally build a store online that couldn’t exist any other way”. Jeff goes on to describe their approach to inventory, effectively describing the concept of the ‘long tail’, way before the term was coined. Without his logical approach, it is unlikely that Amazon would have grown as it has, from what Jeff calls “day one, the very beginning, the kittyhawk stage of electronic commerce”...
What are your views? Is logic overrated?