Consulting and other shameless party tricks

now he’s blowing the whistle, telling entertaining and slightly shocking stories, like the one about how his boss taught his twenty-something trainees—Stewart reports that one in six graduating seniors at élite colleges is recruited to work in management-consulting firms—how to conduct a “two-handed regression”:

“When a scatter plot failed to show the significant correlation between two variables that we all knew was there, he would place a pair of meaty hands over the offending clouds of data points and thereby reveal the straight line hiding from conventional mathematics.”

Management consulting isn’t a science, Stewart says; it’s a party trick.

Jill Lepore, Harvard history professor, reviews Matthew Stewart’s indictment of the management consulting industry in the New Yorker.

I spent three years in consulting before becoming an academic. I don’t recall a two-handed regression as one of the tricks of the trade, but I do recall feeling like a bit of a fraud most of the time.

(If it’s any consolation to the consultants out there, not much has changed now that I am an academic and blogger.)

I would not have predicted this would be one of the best New Yorker articles I’d read in some time. Lepore looks back at the roots of scientific management, business consulting, and the MBA. There are too many good, quotable bits for a single blog post. For instance, I learn Frederick Taylor, father of business consulting, was a shameless fraud.

Read the article. A podcast with Lapore is here.

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