This is part one of a two-part series exploring important insights Dan Calpin shares about the research prowess developed by consultants and how to leverage that expertise for powerful career shifts.
In my highlight of Ken’s conversation with Dan Calpin in the Beyond Consulting episode “From Consulting to Enterprise AI,” I list five key takeaways for consultants making the move to tech leadership. Here, I focus on Dan’s advice regarding the intellectual force and strategic rigor that a consulting background provides.
When Dan joined Hive, an AI company that provides cloud-based AI solutions for content understanding, he was tasked with growing the company on a cross-functional team. He also needed to know how to find the right strategic partners. His experience in consulting helped him approach the task with the question: “what is the problem we’re solving not the product we’re selling?” He knew how to ask the right questions here—and find the most successful answer—due to his experience with research in his consulting work.
Calpin soon realized that something additional he needed first was literacy around the more technical skills of cross-functional team members. The work Calpin describes being done at Hive is cutting edge AI solutions for things like advertising insights in a highly disruptive market. This means that he needs to be able to keep an eye on the big picture of client needs, track the trajectory of projects, and get in the weeds to discuss best next steps with the engineering team.
As he says, his own training was not in the more technical knowledge that comprises the bulk of work done at Hive. What Calpin needed was a flexible competency that allowed him to be a key communicator and intermediary between Hive’s engineers, designers, sales team, and many more cross-functional team members. He needed to find that, “middle space between writing code and talking to the client.” All of this highly specialized knowledge demanded a great deal of heavy lifting when Calpin first shifted into his leadership role.
While consulting didn’t provide those technical skills, it provided him with a powerful skillset and approach that allowed him to acquire those necessary tech skills. A major factor that allowed Calpin to pivot to tech so successfully was his ability to absorb a large amount of relevant new information.
Calpin’s career trajectory reveals a profound degree of cross-functional experience coupled with intense immersion into different fields such that the ability of this former Bain & Company partner to make that shift comes directly from his years of research. His moves within his consulting career reveal a practice that removes any hesitancy around diving into new industries because delving headlong, and strategically, into new areas of expertise is a key part of the job for a consultant.
Ani Govjian, Ph.D. is a Project Manager at TalentCompass. She can be reached at [email protected]