Rule 1: The Best Startups Work a Lot Like Cults

“Why work with a group of people who don’t even like each other? Taking a merely professional view of the workplace, in which free agents check in and out on a transactional basis, is worse than cold: It’s not even rational. Since time is your most valuable asset, it’s odd to spend it working with people who don’t envision any long‑term future together.

Rule 1: The Best Startups Work a Lot Like Cults

In the most intense kind of organization, members abandon the outside world and hang out only with other members. We have a word for such organizations: cults. Cultures of total dedication look crazy from the outside. But entrepreneurs should take cultures of extreme dedication seriously.

The extreme opposite of a cult is a consulting firm like Accenture: not only does it lack a distinctive mission, but individual consultants are regularly dropping in and out of companies to which they have no long‑term connection whatsoever.”

Peter Thiel, Zero to One

After my first reading I agreed. Accenture has a culture problem. There is a lack of excitement, a lack of curiosity, and a lack of a unifying vision. Accenture does not have a distinctive mission.

After my second reading I disagreed with his argument. Consultants often work long hours. They get on a plane on Monday morning, fly to a city they don’t call home, work 12- to 14-hour days, eat dinner with their co-workers, sleep in an impersonal hotel, and then fly home at the end of the week. Is this not a culture of total dedication? We form tight-knit groups and friendships. We make decisions for the good of the team. Yes, people “roll on” and “roll off” projects frequently. The unifying vision is missing but the dedication to something is there.

After my third reading I see Thiel’s emphasis on a long-term future vs. short-term consulting engagement. In bacon and eggs, the chicken plays a role but the pig makes a commitment. But I’ve had three projects that were each longer than 2 years. That’s long-term. I’ve been at my current client for 3 years. That’s long-term. Some people at my current client have been there for 10+ years (not a typo).

After my fourth reading I’m not sure what I think. What do you think?

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  • Jeff Rosenbaugh December 13, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I think it’s good to remember that you are the exception to the rule. Most consultants on my end are in and out within 3 to 6 months, which lines up well with what Thiel is suggesting. It would be interesting research to see which consulting firms have truly strong culture across clients and regions. I’d also be curious to know your perspective on whether or not you exhibit an Accenture culture or that of your long term client. Food for thought.

    • derek December 13, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      Accenture’s bread and butter is systems implementations. Projects that last 2+ years are very common. We put a lot of energy into building long-term relationships with clients and it’s not rare to find clients like mine with people who have been there 10+ years. I think those relationships are beneficial both to Accenture and the client – Accenture gets repeat business, and the client gets consultants who thoroughly understand their business and are able to use their existing networks to get more done.

      Great point about the culture. Different pockets of Accenture have different cultures, and the culture in my group (Communications, Media & Technology > Electronics & High Tech > Boston) has definitely been influenced by my current client. We’ve influenced them as well. If I were to go to a different group I’m sure I would find vast culture differences.

      I’ve worked recently with some of the companies Accenture has acquired, and there is always a culture shock there. They aren’t used to the rigidity of it all.