By Steve Rivkin
Obvious ideas or solutions to business problems often suffer from being too simple. Executives say, “We know that.” They seem to prefer answers with a high degree of sophistication and complexity. And business consultants only reinforce these perceptions.
In the beginning of the consultant era there was Peter Drucker, quietly dishing out sound management advice. Andy Grove, the former Intel CEO, put it this way: “Drucker is a hero of mine. He writes and thinks with exquisite clarity – a standout among a bunch of muddled fad mongers.”
Then in the 1980s Tom Peters exploded on the scene with his book about excellence. That was the dawning of an era of Tom Peters wannabes. You could call them modern-day Robin Hoods, because they rob from the rich — and keep it.
But instead of bows and arrows, this crowd is armed with complex buzzwords and ideas that they use to nail their prey. Some have dubbed this “Solutionology” – the art of responding to specific questions with ambiguous babble.
Buzzwords and babble, you ask? How about osmosis marketing, or cross-platform skills transfers, or network virtualization, or economic value management? Not to mention …
- Alterconscious … a combination of unconscious impressions and Freudian subconscious repression, from which creative ideas emerge. (Not be confused with “altercocker,” which is an old Jewish person.)
- Exlectics … those creative, compromising, non-judgmental souls, prone to pull out of every challenge, ideas of value — regardless of their own personal biases. (Not to be confused with “ExLax,” which is something else entirely.)
- Creative Dreaming … the process of using contented dream sleep to process information and come up with big ideas. (Not be confused with “California Dreaming,” which was a song by the Mommas and the Poppas.)
To quote an article in Fortune magazine:
“Quietly, without fanfare, the advice business has been hijacked. New gurus armed with nothing more than pens, podiums and tremendous shamelessness have co-opted what used to be a nice, wholesome calling: dishing out good advice to business men and women.”
Rupert Murdoch was a little more blunt when he was asked whether there was any management guru whom he followed or admired. His response, as quoted in a dandy book titled The Witch Doctors:
“Guru? You find a gem here or there. But most of it’s fairly obvious, you know. You go to the bookstore business section and you see all these wonderful titles and you spend $300 and then you throw them all away.”
Even Tom Peters once admitted, “We’re the only society that believes it can keep getting better and better. So we keep on getting suckered in by people like me.”
Consultant counsel? Caveat emptor.