I know that I take myself and my profession far too seriously. After all, managing projects for other people is how I pay for the roof over my family’s head and the food they eat. However, during the Christmas season even I take a step back to ponder the absurdity of it all. In that vein, I present for your consideration the following idea:

Consultants are almost exactly like Santa’s elves.

Here’s how it works.

The Big Man makes all of the decisions

Say you are the elf responsible for making sure some number of households get their toys this year. What decisions do you make? None, really. The jolly old fat man checks off who has been naughty and who has been nice. He decides whether to give them a plane, a train, or an automobile. Heck, he even decides whether the elves will do the work or whether to outsource it to some off-Pole electronics outfit.

The elves responsible for tools, wrapping paper, and ribbon control the raw materials of production. The craftsmen elves are the ones who get to exhibit some creative initiative, making things interesting for themselves and putting a personal stamp on the toys. Even the loader elves have more control, since they decide which bag gets stuffed and in what order.

The managing elf? Not so much. He’s just the one the not-so-jolly fat man yells at when things go awry. Which, naturally, they always do at the worst possible time.

The elves stay up all night, every night

The jolly old elf stays up one night a year. Admittedly, its a long night and he has to become a quantum phenomena in order to make it to every house on the planet in 24 hours. Still, the other three-hundred and fifty some-odd says of the year, the big guy sits on his duff working on the list while the elves slave away 24×7 to get things done.

The logistics are mind-numbing. Millions of toys, some outsourced, some in-sourced, some drawn from stock, some custom created for particular boys and girls. All of it has to arrive at the ‘Pole on schedule, in good order, and then be packed for shipment in a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer.

None of which is actually under responsible elf’s control. See the above for a quick outline of who, exactly, makes all the decisions…

On the big day, no one thanks the elves

So. The elves stay up all year. They work their fingers to the bone. They once again pull of a logistical miracle.

And who, exactly, gets the credit?

Santa, that’s who.

Elves? Not so much. But that’s okay. The big guy left them some ‘nog for their brief time off, so they can have hangovers when they head in to work the next day.