The Dark Side of Consulting

The Dark Side of Consulting

Awhile back, I was contracted to guide the final stage of operations for an endeavor.  The venture sounded interesting and the sales pitch was a good one.  They knew how to sell their startup and they had a great message. It sounded like a pretty sweet deal.  It was also supposed to lead to a longer contract on the back end.   

I signed up and off the signature line, there were problems…


The Start Down the Path

We’d had agreed that I’d be there first of the following month.  Initially, the owners asked me to help them locate other potential contractors.  At first, this wasn’t a problem because they only asked for a suggestion.  But that tuned into a whole slew of additional projects that consumed quite a bit of time. I had to remind them I wasn’t on contract at this point, and I was midway into another project.  Unfortunately, that reminder went unheeded.  Their requests continued until it was time for me to head to their office.

During my drive, I received a text asking me to detour to another city to attend a conference they were at.  I declined since there wasn’t accommodations in place for when I arrived.  This city was a couple hundred miles away from location and my destination.  By now, all of their ‘favors’ we’re costing me in time, which translated to money for my business.  Not to mention the few hundred dollars for attendance to the conference. This one was another red flag, but I ignored it and continued the trip. 

Kneecapped on Day 1

It’s here I’ll tell you I should have seen what was coming next.

The morning of my first day on location, I was told I didn’t have any “power”.  Being contracted to guide the project, the owners thought that meant I worked for them as an employee in their flat organization.  I didn’t realize it at first, but that quickly changed. The owners were explicit in directing everything; from where the contractors sat to working hours.  Everyone, except the owners and one contractor, were new to the project. Each having arrived within a few days of one another and only two months from delivery. This meant, their work hand’t even begun, let alone come close to being anywhere near ready for a client to see. 

Help! The Project is Lost Without a Map

To make things worse, there wasn’t any kind of project plan.  Warning the owners about the obstacles they had created; their response was to create more roadblocks.  No one was authorized to send emails as communication.  As project manager, I wasn’t supposed to talk to the team.  The owners went so far as to say, “I’ll know you’re doing your job when you never speak to them.”  The crew was fifteen steps away in the workshop.  The owners wanted everything on a chat platform to monitor what we were saying. 

With restricted communication, the next few weeks became a mess.  The owners continuing their micromanagement of the crew.  Which changed nothing about the rate of progress.  As the deadline loomed, the owners railed against everything, singling out something they’d ‘get pissed off about’.  Then they’d use it to batter members of the team.  With their constant tirades, the owners managed to create silence and fear in the workshop.  Each meeting, the owners would criticize everything, reminding people that they “worked for them and had to do things their way”.  

New issues arose, each was promptly ignored or argued about.  To further complicate things, one of the owners was continuously changing the mechanical design.  On the flip side, the electrical work was reliant on a single individual who was rapidly approaching burnout.  I tried to coach them through, to no avail.  At one point we left to go pick up my car and have dinner.  We wanted to talk about the project and some other things.  The owners called, belittling us for leaving. The engineer was told that it was important that he stay and work.  Even going so far as to tell him that there wasn’t communication because he left for dinner at 5pm. 

The End is Nigh!

Without actual authority or free ability to manage my own working conditions, I was not able to stop the forth coming problems.  It took about a week for the venture to slam to a halt.  We were less than two weeks away from departing for project delivery. The electronics engineer terminated their contract on their way to the airport. 

With their slipshod management, the owners chased off the previous electronics engineers.  Now they were doing the same to this one. The company had been working on the project for several years.  Without pass down information, all previous iterations were lost to time.  The lack of a conclusive project plan, a concrete mechanical device to work with, or assistance with build, the electronics engineer simply had enough.  That left the current engineer feeling overwhelmed.  They had worked over 300 hours to redesign the electronic systems from ground up in three short weeks.  

Total Chaos

Chaos ensued. A meeting was called, instantly becoming a one-sided barrage of personal attacks.  The company owners berated the departed engineer as though they were the sole cause of all their woes.  In the same slapdash manner, they arrived at this point, they forced their beliefs about the importance of their ‘win’. 

By now, I’d spent the duration of the contract listening to the owners berate the team, investors, myself, and others that crossed their path.  Whiplashing between fawning over an outside advisers while slandering departed crewmen, the spectacle was nauseating.  They failed to comply with agency regulations governing their business and the project.  It wasn’t like they were unaware of the broken system they had created. That was the worse part. They knew but brazenly continued.


Growth from Knowledge

Every dark spot in life is a chance for growth.  Reading through the journal I kept for this contract, made it clear each mistake I had made. I feel it also important to say, that I think I saw the worst of business owners in that contract.  Allowing the contract to continue, I had set myself up to endure abusive and abrasive business owners.  Through everything, the owners thought they were right.  They arrogantly justified ignoring laws and regulations.  They thought they were creating something was cutting edge. 

Conversation and communication are a key parts to the working environment.  Understanding past work, previous problems and iterations, plus having clear cut guidelines is imperative to creating a project delivery.  There’s more to project management than just a deadline.

I guess I should tell you that I left the project two days after that meeting. Carrying on, I require the project plan up front.  I don’t work outside of the contract time lines any more either.  I also include a clause for bad behaviors and illegal activities in any contracts.

Seeing the Unseen

Seeing the Unseen

Right now, I’m looking at System 001’s position.  The Pacific Garbage Patch has been in the news since 1997 and System 001 project is trying to clean up the gyre.  While the project is ambitious, it only skims the surface of the problem since 70% of ocean trash sinks.  That leaves tons of trash that requires locating and more complicated cleanup process.

Out of sight, out of mind… 

Do you think about waste?  I’d say most of us recycle where ever we can.  That big blue bin is a hot spot of activity.  What we recycle is barely encompassing what we consume.  Food and beverages are an essential part of our everyday lives.  Americans love their fast lives and their fast foods.  Our mantra is the word ‘Go.’ 

I want you to do me a favor.  Go to your garbage can and look inside.  Imagine the contents floating on ocean waves.  That’s what System 001 is cleaning up. 

Give the bag a lift.  Inside are you hard earned dollars.  We pay for cups and lids from Starbucks.  We pay for plastic grocery bags.  We pay for candy bar wrappers and chip bags. 

See that red solo cup?  It takes about 450 years for that cup to go away after the party.  That’s about the same for plastic drink bottles, six-pack holders, and disposable diapers.  Yup, my poopy baby diapers will out-live me by at least 4x. 

The Harsh Reality

An estimated 80% of ocean trash comes from food and beverages.  The top pollutant in the ocean is cigarette butts.

Recently, there was an article about whale that had over 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach.  This shouldn’t be a surprise as you stare at that garbage can.  Not everything will make it to the land fill.  How long it will take to break down everything you’re looking at.  If you aren’t sure…. read this.

Having worked on the oceans for over 20 years, I can tell you that your garbage isn’t that different than someone in the UK.  It’s also not that different than someone in Australia.   The rate at which we consumes things has significance because it’s in our oceans and inside of us.  Beach cleanups aren’t enough to fix the problem, and neither are litter patrols.  It first must be a social change, demanded through your hard-earned dollars to affect companies. 

The problem is trash is everywhere and most of it is under the waves.  In order to locate it, underwater acoustics and optic systems work the best.  Locating deposits zones of trash is more economical in terms of remediation work.  Ideally, cost reduction can probably be achieved though the platforms used. 

The best platforms for locating trash underwater are unmanned vehicles. 


Anna Pilette is a geophysicist and technologist turned digital consultant.  Anna is a Cofounder of Atomic Dumpling.  You can contact her at anna@atomicdumpling.com.

Social Media for Small Business

Social Media for Small Business

As a small business owner, it’s tough trying to come up with things to talk about daily. It’s even harder trying to come up with conversation starters to get people to notice your business over the noise on social media.

There’s always so much to talk about, but only so little can be said in opening.  That’s the hard part.  Finding the balance of blathering on about a topic, finding the right opener for people to jump onboard and get the conversation rolling.  It feels like walking on a slackline; it’s unstable and the balance is a lot of guess work.

Social media is like a giant hall, filled with music, people, and a place where everyone is trying to be heard all at once.  For someone just getting cracking, it’s both awe inspiring and nightmarish.  Twitter alone reminds me of a room full of sugared up toddlers, each hell bent on getting your attention one way or another. 

I’m not trying to rattle all social media with a level of cartoonish glare.  I’m trying to open conversations.  Whether they be about the Energy industry, awesome ways to film in the air, or about the startup drone idea living in your head. 

I’m looking to use my knowledge to help people and the environment.  Which gives me a lot to talk about, if your willing to jump onboard to have a conversation.   


Anna Pilette is a geophysicist and technologist turned digital consultant.  Anna is a Cofounder of Atomic Dumpling.  You can contact her at anna@atomicdumpling.com.