House of Lies



Book Authors: Martin Kihn

Book Review by : S.S.George
Director, ICMR (IBS Center for Management Research)


top tier consulting firm, careers, higher performance bar, recruitment process, McKinsey, egalitarianism, McHarvard, industry

In House of Lies - How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time, Martin Kihn describes his experiences at a top tier consulting firm. While his book is not quite the exposť promised in the title, he does provide an interesting, and at times funny, take on the profession and on his fellow consultants - and one that is certainly different from popular perceptions.

House of Lies is a book that delivers less than it promises. The full title of the book is House of Lies - How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time, and the blurb speaks of "men and women who knew next to nothing, trashed businesses and destroyed careers, and at best only wasted time, energy, and huge sums of money". You open the book, expecting to read of villainous management consultants gloating over ruined businesses and ruined lives. But, there is little of that in the book.

Ultimately, the consultants in the book, though slimy and devious, seem cast more in the mold of small time crooks, than grand criminals. Rather than debunking the profession of management consulting and exposing management consultants as charlatans, the book has the effect of making them appear somewhat pathetic and ridiculous. The consultants in the book are ineffectual, unhappy, and harried - and more scum of the business world than masters of the universe. The jargon used by consultants - of which a fair number of terms are explained in the book - is also a pointer to the nature of the business. While geek jargon is often imaginative and almost always funny, consulting jargon seems pompous and boring.

The author of the book is Martin Kihn, a former script writer for television shows. The author's background can be seen in the style and tone of the book.

After chancing on a business book by a consultant ("You read the book and wondered how a book so simply written could be sold in the grown-ups' section; it seemed to for curious fourteen-year olds.") Kihn decided to acquire an MBA and become a consultant, even though he was doing well as a writer. After completing his MBA from Columbia University, he joined one of the top tier consulting firms. His entry into the firm coincided with the bloodbath that followed the dotcom bust, when the consulting industry seemed to implode after years of heady growth, and hundreds of consultants were laid off from all consulting firms.

Kihn however survived, and in fact, was still in the firm when better times came around. And when he was at Columbia to attract new recruits to his firm, the firings of the past were explained away, in a somewhat weasel-like fashion, as a consequence of the firm having applied a "higher performance bar" in its performance appraisals that year.

According to Kihn, management books are "bloated compendiums of half-baked ideas committed in fourth grade prose. Their purpose is to transform a common sense concept into a consulting career through the catalyst of hollow jargon". So, he tries to write a different kind of business book - one that is less boring - but, in the process, seems to have veered too much in the opposite direction. The book contains too many flourishes, and at times, seems too self-consciously clever.

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