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What does it mean to "get smart" at McKinsey?To "get smart" means to quickly learn the most important aspects of a new topic. You can apply a t-shaped approach and learn a little about a lot, then go deep on your specific workstream, but it's not enough to just pick up the basics that you can find on Wikipedia.
What are the critical areas for getting smart?You can make the most of your time and effort by applying the 80/20 rule and focusing on the vital or critical few subjects when getting smart. There are a handful of things you can learn that will give you the biggest bang for your buck...
1. Lingo and acronymsEvery industry has a language that all of the participants use. Each client also has client-specific terminology that you'll have to learn. Think about the places you've worked before and all the obscure terms and TLAs (three-letter acronyms) that you used without even thinking about them. It's not enough to know what these terms mean - you'll also have to add them to your working vocabulary and be able to "talk the talk" of your clients.
2. Organizational ("Org") StructureEach client is organized differently and their organizational (aka "org") structure colors the way they see the world and conduct business. Even if your workstream is focused on a single business unit ("BU"), you'll need to understand how your client's BU fits into the bigger picture. There might also be differences in how people are organized - no two companies org charts look the same. For example, in many companies, "Directors" are the layer between Managers and Vice Presidents. But at McKinsey, Directors are Senior Principals and the most influential people at the Firm.
3. Company Culture & NewsCompany cultures are not just unique - they are often sources of tremendous pride for clients. As a result, missteps in this area can damage credibility and/or the relationship with the client. It's important to understand what's important to the company, your clients, and other employees. It can be any number of things including company history, reputation for excellence in something, how they treat customers, or how they treat each other.
Especially if a company is currently in the headlines, current events are going to be top-of-mind for many clients. Even if there hasn't been big news, you should familiarize yourself with whatever the company has been going through - good and bad.