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June 16, 2005



"What I know about statistics could be written on a gnat’s scrotum."

Some gnat.

Some scrotum.

... sorry, couldn't resist - but, your point's bang on the money - and it all comes back to our old chum Positivism. Rationality means facts and not values, and so nobody's prepared to put their ass/pecker/whatever on the line and say what they prefer. That's not just market research, but most of consultancy: a lot of consultancy assignments are post hoc rationalisations of client decisions, so they can justify what they wanted to do anyway ("the consultants say we've got to fire you - I don't want to, but...").

Another example is the 'creative' trade: creativity being a pretty sub-rational thing (ex nihilo nihili fit...), all very much on the Values side of Weber's dichotomy. Managers therefore can't be seen to be randomly choosing - they need to hire somebody with 'creativity' to do that for them.


a lot of consultancy assignments are post hoc rationalisations of client decisions

You're far too kind to the people who employ consultants, Blimpish, with that sentence. In my experience, most people who hire consultants are not in the habit of making decisions themselves. Hiring an expensive consultant is just a way to transfer the risk of those decisions onto someone else (after all, when it all goes tits up, you only get it in the neck for wasting money on the consultant, rather than making the wrong choice - and that could be the difference between losing your annual bonus, and actually losing your job...). Amazing to think that people have turned this weirdly rational job calculus into an entire industry.

Angry Economist

As a Director of a consultancy I worked for used to say - there are two types of jobs we do - "those that the punters can't do (too technical or they are bloody useless at their own jobs so ask you to do it for them) and those that they don't want to do (too hard, too risky, too unpleasant)"

I think management/marketing consultancy can be useful if it is commissioned for a good reason that can be clearly defined, they are briefed and managed well, and final recommendations are the punter's to make. That doesn't happen often though. I do practice what I preach - I must be special.


Andrew: yes and no there - my experience is that (often, but I grant not always) they broadly have an idea of what they want to do, even if they can't or won't articulate it.

A.E.: on the last, precisely so - and I must be special too, because I've only ever sought them out to do narrow jobs.


Anybody like to add anything:

Common pitfalls in using consultants http://econdevuk.blogspot.com/

This will be used to enhance guidance in a public sector organisation!

Term papers

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