We talked with Tiago Dias, general manager of Slalom's Silicon Valley office, about what motivates him, the power of software, and the workplace of the future.
How did you end up with a career in consulting?
I’ve always been someone who enjoys challenges, enjoys variety, and likes to tinker with things, so consulting just seemed like the perfect career opportunity.
What do you think makes a great consultant?
Someone who's curious. Someone who has a point of view. Someone with a creator mindset. Someone that sees opportunity in every obstacle and every challenge that is posed to them. Great consultants are able to see opportunities in every obstacle and challenge they face.
What makes a great leader?
At Slalom we believe in servant leadership—that a leader should lead in the service of others. I wholeheartedly think that one of the biggest leadership differentiators is someone who's in that role not because of what it means for them, but because of what it means for their team, the impact that they want to have on their people, clients, and community.
That's something I learned here at Slalom from John Tobin, who embodies servant leadership and introduced it to Slalom from the very beginning.
Can you tell me about an experience in your life that taught you something about leadership, or informed your leadership style?
I have a competitive sports background. I used to sail competitively, and so sailing really taught me a lot. It taught me to never give up. It taught me that talent is important, but hard work is just as important, or more important.
Is there something else that you think you might do for a living if you weren’t in consulting?
Coaching. I love teaching and coaching. It’s incredibly gratifying when I get the opportunity to see others grow. Good coaches don't show others how it's done—they help people through a process of self-realization to get to the answers they’re looking for. Seeing that happen is especially fulfilling to me.
What are some things that motivated you as an athlete, and also now motivate you professionally?
I love Nelson Mandela’s quote, “Everything seems impossible until it’s done.”
When I was on the Portuguese sailing team, I had the opportunity to work with one the best Olympic sailing coaches ever. He used to say, “First place wins, second place loses and everyone else is just watching.” That was his way of saying, “Nothing matters but first place.” And so that motivates me, being the best at what we do.
That’s a great quote.
Yeah, when I heard that quote for the first time from my coach, my initial reaction was: “Seriously???” I mean, I was participating in the world championships, which already represented the top 100 teams from all over the world, so I used to think that placing in the top ten was pretty amazing. So, when he said that I thought to myself, “All right, time to raise the bar.”
That seems like something that kind of embodies the Slalom spirit. Do you think that’s true?
Yes, and I think it’s true of Silicon Valley as well. It's so exciting to be here in Silicon Valley right now. There’s this optimism in the air and sense of purpose among everyone—our consultants and our clients—about about making a difference, about having an impact, and doing what others thought couldn’t be done.
Tell me some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in Silicon Valley over the last few years.
Silicon Valley built its name with the semiconductor industry first, and then with the Internet industry during the dot-com days, but today’s Silicon Valley is not just about tech. It's about financial services, the automotive industry, life sciences, retail... It’s about, quite frankly, challenging the status quo and every assumption we have made.
We've seen Silicon Valley startups disrupt a lot of traditional and very well established industries—and now we're seeing many industry leaders move in here to try to adopt the innovation mindset and ways of working of Silicon Valley as a way of defending their position and learning how to innovate.
In Silicon Valley, you're either a disruptor or being disrupted, and there's a very fine line between the two.
What are some of the big challenges that you think Silicon Valley businesses are facing?
In Silicon Valley, you’re either a disruptor or being disrupted, and there’s a very fine line between the two. It doesn’t take very long to go from being a disruptor to being disrupted.
We have incredible opportunities to work with clients who are clearly disrupting their industries, and we’re helping them make sure that they keep that status of disruption and impact. We’re also working with companies who have in a short amount of time become disrupted, and we’re helping them figure out how to go from incumbent to insurgent and to that status of disruptor again.
One of the challenges that we constantly face here in Silicon Valley is how do we more quickly validate whether something that a client of ours is doing is going to be successful or not? How do we avoid putting a lot of resources, a lot of time, a lot of energy into something that is not necessarily going to work?
You emphasized how quickly the roles of disruptor and disrupted can shift. How can companies know if they're on the right track?
One of the challenges we constantly face is how do we quickly validate whether something a client of ours is doing is going to be successful or not? How do we avoid putting a lot of resources, a lot of time, a lot of energy into something that's not necessarily going to work?
Here in Silicon Valley, people talk all the time about failing fast. I think it’s more about failing smart than just failing fast.
Failing smart is a combination of failing fast and failing cheap. Failing fast, but in a very expensive way, isn't good. There are too many companies here burning through too much money with little to show for it.
It must be very difficult as a consultant to go to somebody who’s got their idea, their baby, and say, “I don’t think this is going to work.”
You’re exactly right. One of the biggest challenges we have as consultants is to have a point of view, a perspective, or a recommendation that is not necessarily in line with what our clients want to hear. But we’ve learned time and again that clients will respect us more, and that we add a lot more value, when we’re not afraid of being vocal in our thinking about their business and put their long-term success ahead of the project at hand.
What else is on your mind these days?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how technology destroys jobs, but not work. Robots may steal as many as 800 million jobs by 2030. Whether you agree with this number or not, few can argue that we will see an unprecedented level of job automation in the next two decades.
This presents a serious challenge and also a tremendous opportunity for our clients and Slalom. Consultants thrive on change. We have the opportunity and responsibility to help our clients create the workforce of the future.