Martin Kihn, a Columbia Business School graduate and Emmy-nominated comedy writer for the MTV networks show Pop-up Video, serves up satire to convey his provocative and absolutely cynical view of the management consulting profession. He should know: He spent time as a consultant for a leading firm, whose identity is disguised here.
Kihn relies on his proclivity for comedy writing, and at times House of Lies reads like a script for Saturday Night Live. While the theoretical purpose of management consulting is to analyze businesses and help them succeed, in reality, says Kihn, management consultants spend most of their energy scouting for new business. After reeling in their clients, they charge enormous fees yet offer very little in the way of valuable insight.
The book is arranged into four sections, but the logic behind the structure is somewhat unclear. "Top-Tier Management Consulting for Absolute Blithering Idiots" describes the supposed importance of the power that is embedded within the hierarchical organizational structure of large consulting firms. "Consulting Craft Skills for a Well-Stocked Tool Kit" focuses on tips for effective communication as a management consultant and outlines some consulting lingo. Kihn is particularly amusing in a scenario on giving and receiving "erroneous" feedback from colleagues and partners. Another section, "In the Client's Own Godforsaken Town," describes a day in the life of a top-tier consultant. Finally, the section "Analyze This: A Minute History of Classic Consulting Texts" contains a survey of popular consulting texts such as Michael Porter's Competitive Strategy as well as Kihn's sarcastic condemnation of the business book industry in general.
Managers might find it difficult to take House of Lies seriously, but it may give them second thoughts the next time they consider spending thousands of dollars to hire a consultant to solve their organizational woes.