The Practical Value of the Polymath

Look, plenty of companies will change the rates they charge for their services. It happens all the time. It’s the reason that a $10 oil change from 25 years ago now costs $40. It’s why babysitters are now upwards of $10/hour. Things change. Got it. No problem.

And companies can (and should!) re-evaluate the cost of their services, too. They should be allowed to raise their rates some to reflect an increase in personnel costs, travel, etc, especially if those rates have been static for most of a decade.

When a company undertakes such a massive change, there’s obviously a lot of internal communication that needs to happen: what is changing, why is it changing, how do make the changes internally, what to communicate to our customers, when will updated costs be in our system, and many, many other execution-level details.

There are two management styles around these questions:

  • One is to hold the changes as close to the vest as absolutely possible to minimize leaks, and get every answer lined up ahead of time to release all of the infomation at once.

If you’re holding your changes close to the vest, then the advice you get from those that are in-the-know becomes even more important anyone realizes. With a limited pool of knowledge to draw against, the breadth of experience of those in that pool becomes even more important. Enter the polymath.

Sometimes people have already been down the road you’re traveling, and even if you’re not bothering to ask them for directions, maybe you ask them what to watch out for.

So yeah, you can randomly jack prices anywhere you want on projects that haven’t started, but if you’re on a Federal Government IDIQ contract vehicle, your prices are set upon the award of that contract. And depending on the length of that contract, there may very well be language written into it to allow you to bump prices incrementally from year-to-year, so long as you provide the government with written notice within the guidelines laid out in the contract. Failing to adhere to a federal contract is a crime, as is overcharging the government for your services as specified in the contract. These aren’t state secrets. They are literally the purview of the entire public sector / government contracting practice in your company. But again, when you’re holding all your info close to the vest, and never consult the people affected by the price change, they’re unable to properly advise you on the second- and third-order effects of your hasty changes.

That polymath on your team, who used to be a product manager and client partner and worked on multiple federal government contracts but is now helping manage internal communications for your team? It’s a good thing you’ve got a polymath in your crew, who holds up a big, bright red STOP sign to keep you out of jail, by pointing out that federal contracts are affected by your shenanigans.

Broad-based experience pays off, people. Be nice to your friendly neighborhood polymath. And if you don’t have one, get one. Every neighborhood needs one.

I’ve covered the challenges of the polymath a whole lot: here, here, here, here, and here. If you enjoyed this, please hit that magic clap button down there on the left, so other folks get a chance to see it, too. And please feel free to share your feedback — it’s great to read your reactions. Thanks!

Dad, husband, game commando, veteran, Army brat, writer, teacher

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