in Business Design

Addressing management consulting’s flaws

Question: What’s the difference between a management consultant and a used-car salesman?
Answer: A used car salesman knows when he is lying.

The common perception of management consultants is that they’re smart and sometimes necessary, but too detached from the responsibility of running an organization. The Wikipedia entry on management consulting mentions the established stereotype:

Management consultants are often criticized for overuse of buzzwords, reliance on management fads and a failure to develop executable plans that can be followed through. A number of highly critical books about management consulting argue that the mismatch between management consulting advice and the ability of business executives to actually create the change suggested results in substantial damages to existing businesses, see, for example Dangerous Company by James O’Shea.

Consultants who practice business design — or at least my company — want to do things differently.

  1. Change by doing means not delivering a giant report and walking away, it means finding what works by experimenting, building prototypical situations and iterating.
  2. Avoiding buzzwords is a little easier since business design is not about having domain expertise. But any group of people will naturally form a common language and I’m sure we’ll be no exception (example: for non-American or English speakers of English the word buzzword is unfamiliar).
  3. Avoiding management fads is less of an issue when one focuses on a general approach, and has many tools in the toolbox. We add design thinking to the scientific thinking that Arthur D. Little brought to consulting 100 years ago, adding to and integrating with what came. Design thinking is not a fad, it’s a way used by scientists, inventors and designers for hundreds of years.
  1. One of the challenges, of course, is that clients too often insist on numbers 2 and 3. MCs often try to deliver value that is eschewed in favor of the latest management fad served up in HBR.

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