I once attended a meeting at a consulting company where a video was played featuring the president of one of the firm’s largest clients going on glowingly about the computer work the firm was performing for his company.
The consultants at this meeting (no strangers to happy hogwash themselves, actually) looked at one another in bafflement. The firm’s main project with this client was far behind schedule, and almost astronomically over budget. What in the world was the CEO talking about?
At the conclusion of the executive’s accolades, another video was played, without introduction or explanation of any kind. This second video chronicled the swapping out of the personal computers in the client company’s executive suite for newer models—a routine, low-cost task typically performed by junior IT personnel with skills considerably below those of actual programmers.
Not this time, though. To ensure that there would be none of the minor annoyances and rough edges normally associated with a transition of this type, polished consultants were brought in during evening hours to perform a series of carefully-scripted actions, including painstakingly replicating all the executives’ personalizations and prior settings on each and every piece of software on their machines. As a result, when the execs turned on their machines the next morning, everything worked as flawlessly as a Swiss watch.
Since the experience of using generic packaged software like Microsoft Word and Outlook on their own desktop machines was as close as the top brass ever got to their corporate computer systems, what was in essence just a concierge presentation of a routine task wowed them so much that the consulting firm got a free pass on all the problems plaguing their main efforts, the design and development of a multi-million-dollar custom software system to handle the company’s real work.
In the mega-scale of today’s corporate world, experiences like this are unfortunately not rarities.
Traditionally, a degree of disconnectedness from direct experience has characterized large corporations simply because of their size.
In almost any large organization, the higher we look on the ladder, the more dependent people are on information from indirect sources: what their staffs tell them; what’s said at meetings, conferences, seminars and presentations; what’s written in reports and studies and analyses and white papers; what consultants find; what the increasingly influential business press reports.
Unsurprisingly, the people tasked with serving up the official reality of businesses have ways of arranging it to meet their own needs. When the operative reality is presented by internal sources, problems have a curious way of disappearing, except those for which somebody safely outside the report originatots' team is to blame. If the information comes from external sources like consultants, quasi-mystical problems like "paradigm shift" have a way of assuming surreal scale.
The cumulative result of all this information interpretation and "styling" is that at the uppermost reaches of the corporate hierarchy, direct and reliable knowledge of what’s going on can become quite a rarity. Those who still have a bit of it may come to fancy themselves iconoclastic savants—perhaps even going so far as to use trademark names for their business techniques, like Management by Walking Around.