Industry Technology Analyst Firm: Jazz Band or Symphony Orchestra?

Would you compare an industry technology analyst firm to a symphony orchestra or jazz band?

Let’s focus this a bit more: you have been asked to join an industry (pick the vertical domain of your choice) technology analyst firm. Would you expect this analyst firm to generate IP (intellectual capital) and be more successful competing if it resembled a symphony orchestra or a jazz band?

Both have talented musicians; both have a leader of some flavor; both mandate that the musicians constantly practice to maintain their skills. Musicians of either entity must be respected as experts with their instruments. Switching to the analyst world, the onus is on both the analysts and the analyst firm to ensure that the analysts recieve the training they need or attend relevant conferences to maintain and build their level of expertise.

Both types of musical entities follow a musical score although in different ways. Symphony musicians have the score in front of them and a conductor they follow for guidance of pace and intensity. Jazz musicians rarely, if ever, have a musical score in front of them. They all “know” the music and are guided lightly by a leader who directs the  individual members as to the order of their solos, duets or other combinations within the larger group.

Similarly to the symphony orchestra, jazz musicians select the songs they will be playing for their audience during their rehearsals.  And in the analyst world, analysts know the key themes or issues they will be generating their IP about before their fiscal year begins. 

Two areas where jazz musicians differ from their symphonic counterparts are freedom to experiment and having the ability to blend their sounds together in unanticipated ways in real-time. Jazz musicians are expected to experiment with variations around themes they express with their instruments. They are also expected to blend their sounds together in real-time and usually (in what seems to be to the audience) unexpected ways with other members of the ensemble. (Yes, there are musicians who play their own cadenzas as soloists with symphony orchestras but I would submit they do not have anywhere near the degree of freedom jazz musicians do.)

Another area where jazz musicians differ from their symphonic counterparts is that jazz musicians, sensing their audience, can and do take liberties with new selections not identified during their rehearsals. They can do this because they have a broad library of music and musical explorations in their knowledge set and, as importantly, they know how to blend their sounds together to get the best outcome possible for their audience.

Similarly, analysts must be able to generate IP about new events or issues that have either reached the radar screen of their clients or that are soon-to-emerge on their client’s radar screens. And they must be able to do this even if these issues were not identified for their formal research agenda. Of course, they do have to let the ‘leader’ know so that person can potentially identify other IP streams that might help the new content or that could be helped by the new content.

Because of the differences mentioned above, an analyst firm is more like – or should be more like – a jazz band. Whether I worked for an analyst firm or was a client of an analyst firm, I would want them to be able to experiement around key themes, to blend their skills together and to find new issues that would be impacting me that I didn’t have time to discover myself.

Analysts, like jazz musicians, need an environment that supports their ability to experiment with different perspectives of existing concepts; motivates them to blend their IP or analytic skills together, and permits them to explore new concepts all  in a way that produces a very rich, pleasing, and quite possibly, unanticipated outcome for their clients.

Swing, baby, swing!!


A Few Lessons Learned

I have been fortunate to learn some key lessons from managers and colleagues along my path through the years in the insurance industry, management consulting and industry analysis.

One of the earliest lessons was from my supervisor at AEtna Life & Casualty was CSW or “completed staff work.” After he gave me an assignment and I finished it – or thought that I had finished it – he would look up at me as I was putting it in his in-basket and ask “if it was really completed, was I happy with it, was I sure there wasn’t anything I might have wanted to add?” I almost always kept the paperwork in my hands and took it back to my desk. Later either that day or a few days later I gave him a product that I felt sure met his requirements.

At Arthur D. Little (ADL)  I learned two lessons: one, to always put myself in my customer’s mind. And here I mean more than just wanting to meet our consulting client’s objectives. The main issue is putting myself in the mind of our client’s customers. What should our client be doing to improve their customer’s experience when they did business with that firm? Striving to put the chain of customer’s needs in mind continues to serve me well.

The second lesson at ADL was learning when to declare victory. When in an engagement to say, yes we have accomplished the client’s objectives and take the brush off of the canvas. You might feel this contradicts the first two lessons but it doesn’t. After all, most of our efforts – whatever it is that you and I do – are done in an environment of limited resources (whether time, money, skills, people or some combination). The challenge is to find the optimal solution (and yes, I’m suggesting we think through an Operations Research lens).

The next lesson is also an ongoing one and it applies, in my case as an industry analyst, to think like a VC analyst. No, I don’t mean push to earn as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time, sell out and live on a beach  in Maui. I do mean that my industry analysis will be sharper and deliver better results for my clients the more strategically I approach their situation.

What key lessons have you learned throughout your career?

Published in: on October 10, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (1)  

Guru Spectrum

Where does a technology company supporting the insurance industry go for advice? No, this isn’t the GhostBuster refrain.

Technology firms need to know what capabilities insurers need to keep their business running, to make decisions faster, to comply with state, federal and possibly international industry regulations, or report earnings. Insurers may be thinking of enhancing or replacing their existing software capabilities either with solutions from their existing technology providers or from other firms.  Or insurers may be thinking of piloting new technologies such as cloud solutions for business functionality or possibly storage opportunities.

Who does the technology company call?


There is a spectrum of advisers in the marketplace able and willing to help technology companies identify the issues, challenges, and trends insurers face so that the technology company can better position their existing products and services or develop new ones.

The spectrum runs from analysts at one end to consultants at the other end. Specifically the options are:

  • Analysts – people who focus on a specific technology or industry. (Industry technology analysts are a hybrid model)
  • Consultative analysts – people who are primarily analysts but also do consulting
  • Analytical consultants – people who are primarily consultants but approach or combine their work with an analyst’s perspective
  • Consultants – people who drill down into a situation (whether strategic, tactical, or operational) and working closely with their client, help to bring about change.


There is a basic question that you might be asking yourself as you were skimming the four categories of gurus: what is the difference between an analyst and a consultant?

Some of the differences are sprinkled in the short descriptions. But to me, a consultant – whether an analytical consultant or not – is hired to help a client change from whatever condition the firm was in before the engagement to a condition that enables the client to compete more successfully. I realize there is more to being a consultant than that but to me that is the essence of consulting: enable change.

An analyst, specifically one that does not attempt to also consult, is a person that provides objective, independent insight about a specific issue. The client then uses that insight to make better decisions which themselves could then require change (or not).

What do you think is the difference between analysts and consultants? Or are they really the same animal?

Published in: on August 9, 2009 at 7:14 pm  Comments (6)  
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