Salon has a review of the interesting-sounding House of Lies, by Martin Kihn (subtitled “How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time”). Kihn portrays consultants as hardworking but essentially useless, sounding a rather new-institutional note:
Kihn ultimately suggests in a moment of epiphany that the real reason firms hire consultants is stunningly simple, and ridiculous: It makes companies feel good. For the most part, it turns out, companies using consultants aren’t doing all that badly (if they were, they couldn’t afford the consultants). Firms that solicit the services of consultants are actually some of the biggest, richest corporations in the world, and they’d do fine without extra help. So why do they hire them? Because they can, Kihn says—because consultants, like limos and fancy office parties, are a luxury, and companies like to indulge in luxuries. In Kihn’s telling, consultants are like extremely well-educated corporate call girls. The clients don’t care to listen to what consultants have to say; they just want to see them go through the motions.
Insofar as they can’t actually offer specialized skills or in-depth knowledge, consultants are for Kihn the sort of red-headed stepchild of the business world, hated by workers, dismissed by managers, and demeaned by their own working conditions. In the review, Farhad Manjoo suggests that readers would find themselves feeling sorry for management consultants, the poor misunderstood wretches that they are, but I think that’s going a bit far; the benefit of consulting still seems to be making scads more money than most of the rest of us, and last I checked that did seem to matter—“latent absurdity of the American corporate world” or not.