M a r t i n K i h n
can't believe it's not butter.
Excised excerpt from the Work -
"House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Soul & Then Tell You to Dream" by neo-Celtic bravo Marty Kihn has been called many things, but not yet late for dinner. But whet your appetite for business blood in this scandalous, deleterious, perhaps even onerous special section you will not see in the book, for good reason? -
of a Pack of Lies"
a business parable with mammals
Once, long ago, in a land far away, there was a dog named Mr. Wiggle. The other dogs just called him Wiggle. He was a pretty ordinary dog - neither fat nor thin, big nor little, aggressive nor timid, fluffy nor short-haired. He was a mutt of the kind sometimes called the Brooklyn Terrier, although he had no terrier blood in him and had never been to Brooklyn.
Wiggle lived in a town called Doghattan. It was a dark and dangerous town, particularly in those days before Mayor Chihuahua cleaned up all the poop off the sidewalks. The streets were ruled by packs of angry yorkies campaigning for a flat tax.
Far above the yipping of the yorkies was a very different world. A world of lofty tree-houses built of the finest woods from Peru. These tree-houses were the international HQ's of important businesses such as the Multinational Canine Corporation and Top Dog, Inc. The dogs who toiled away their days making doggie deals and puppy profits from the snarling pack masses were certainly better-looking than their customers down on Boneway or Hamsterdam Avenue. They had beautiful shiny manes due to diets high in saturated fat.
Despite their riches, these Big Dogs lived in constant fear. They were afraid of competition from other Big Dogs. They were afraid of the current Canine-in-Chief down in Barkington, D.C., and his inept fiscal policies. They were afraid of attacks by packs of well-behaved akitas from Japan with superior technologies. But mostly, they were afraid of themselves. Of making a stupid mistake and having to spend their old age in a pound down in Tuscaloosa.
That's where Wiggle came in. He and his personal pack of bright, college-educated pure breeds were hired by the Big Dogs from time to time to advise them on their business. Sometimes it would be a specific problem - like, Should we expand into the Lower Beast Side? How? And sometimes it would be a more general problem - like, How can we cut costs at our dog biscuit factories around the world?
Wiggle and his pack would trot into the Big Dog client, sniff around for ten or twelve weeks, and bark out their report. The client would listen with tongues hanging out, woof their thanks, and urinate on the report.
It was a living. Wiggle's main job was to make friends with as many of the Big Dogs as he could to drum up business. His other main job was to manage his personal pack of apprentices. This was a task he enjoyed, but if you asked him he would have to admit it was made a little harder by his partner, known as the Arfmaker. Arfmaker was different from Wiggle - tough and little and thin, with a high-pitched squeal some took to be a bark but was actually the beginnings of apoplexy.
One day the Wiggle/Arfmaker pack were standing around the dog-food bowl on a break having a vegetarian delight, when Wiggle noticed there was a new Lhasa Apso among them. She was a shy dog who hung to the back of the pack, which is why he hadn't seen her before. Wiggle trotted over to her and introduced himself.
"Hi there," he said. "I'm Wiggle."
The Apso barked something unintelligible, stuttering with nerves. She was very young.
"Where are you from?" prompted Wiggle.
Again, the Apso's response was garbled.
Wiggle thought he'd try another tack.
"You're new to the pack, aren't you?"
The Apso nodded, beginning to calm down a little. There was something very calming about time spent with Wiggle. She was getting the feeling that he wasn't judging her for her nervousness, simply trying to make her feel more at home.
"What business school did you go to?"
Here the Apso had no problem. She was proud of her education. "HBS," she barked.
"Are you from the East Coast?"
But before Apso could answer, Arfmaker stormed into the feed room, froth bubbling up around his crooked, callused mouth. He was making quite a racket as he beelined right for Wiggle, bumping the Apso out of the way with his withers.
"Did you hear about Dogerpillar Industries?!" he fumed to his partner. "They're doing an end run around General Pet-lectric! We have to get the team together right now in the war room to paw out a proposal. McCrapsy and Bane are already marking the Dogerpillar board with their spoor. We've got to get woofing!"
Wiggle noticed that Arfmaker's ass was directly in the Apso's nose. She was too scared at this point to move away, but her pinched incisors showed she wasn't enjoying the experience.
Wiggle nudged Arfmaker a bit and spoke softly to him, so the pack couldn't overhear.
"Calm down, buddy," he said to Arfmaker, whose frothing mouth had become a mini-jacuzzi of saliva. "You're alarming the troops. Let's go to my cubi-kennel."
"You don't understand what's going on!" choked out Arfmaker.
"We'll talk about it in the kennel, okay?"
Eventually, Wiggle managed to calm his partner down and herd him toward the door of the feed room. As he was leaving, he detoured over to the Apso. She was pouting in the corner.
"Sorry our conversation was interrupted," he said. "We'll continue it later, okay?"
The Apso nodded.
That night, while the pack was feverishly pawing out the Dogerpillar proposal, the Apso found herself eager to do whatever Wiggle asked her to do. Not given to introspection, she didn't ask herself why. But if she had, she would have realized it was because Wiggle had noticed her and had taken note of her feelings.
It was as simple as that.
* * *
A few months later, Wiggle/Arfmaker, LLP hit a rough patch in the track. The Canine-in-Chief had turned out to be as dumb a dog as anyone had ever seen, and his ass-inine economic policies - Free dog-biscuits for Lutherans! No sales tax on Boxer Day! - were causing more harm than good. Plus there was his truly canine proclivity for getting into third world wars with every pooch who so much as squinted at him funny. The policies plus the fear of unrest had settled over the doggie business world like a cloud of fleas. Nobody was buying.
Arfmaker was in a panic. Even more than usual. He would come in mornings after a sleepless night at his spacious Fifth Avenue kennel, eyes rimmed with exhaustion and wail at his staff. Some suspected that in the evenings, alone in his cubi-kennel, he was drinking. He insisted on getting half the pack assigned as "his dogs" - he picked the ones he thought had "pitbull instinct" - and regularly berated them in front of their peers.
He called this "Winning Through Intimidation." And since nobody was selling any work those days, including himself, he had to berate each and every one of them at least once per day.
"Get to work, lazy dogs! You're a bunch of sleepy dachshunds! Why don't you take a puppy upper!"
Still, nobody sold any work.
Wiggle was also worried. Who wouldn't be? He marshaled his half of the pack together every morning for an 8 a.m. strategy session. They were a mixed and motley crew, lacking in pitbull instinct. Nonetheless, together, they would comb through their list of leads and try to think up new and creative ways to go to market. Wiggle would challenge them to come up with one new service or product every week - and five target clients every single day. Then he would check to see if they were following up: making the calls, putting together the proposals, hitting the street.
The pack didn't mind too much. Morale was low, of course, but doing something was better than doing nothing. Plus, Wiggle did everything he was making the team do, including the painful stuff. When there was a cut in the turkey-snack budget, Wiggle took one fewer treat per day, like the rest. (Arfmaker had negotiated his own treat chef as part of his contract when he came over from McCrapsy; he refused to give him up.) And he was right there every morning with his list of target clients and new service or product offerings.
There was one difference, though. Instead of five target clients, Wiggle thought of ten - double what he required of the others. This inspired some dogs to try a little harder, with six or seven targets. It also made coming up with fewer than five seem pretty darn lame.
For a while it didn't seem like either Wiggle's or Arfmaker's approaches were doing any good. No clients were biting. After putting it off for too long, the partners made the tough decision to let some doggies go. Wiggle insisted on delivering the news himself (he didn't trust Arfmaker's skills in this area).
One of the doggies on the "cut list" was the Apso. Her name was Hola; she came from Bayonne. Although Wiggle liked her personally, she didn't have the experience or abilities of other members of the pack. She had to go.
So one day, Wiggle's assistant Malcolm barked that Mr. Wiggle wanted to see Hola in his cubi-kennel. As she entered the modest lair, she pretty much knew what this meeting was about. Layoffs were a fact of life in the business right now, and Hola knew she was a sitting duck. Still, she was extremely nervous - she had never been fired before.
"Sit down," Wiggle said, kindly.
"Thank you, sir."
After a moment, he said, "There is no easy or right way to say what I have to say. When we hired you, we made a commitment to you. A commitment to develop your talents and skills and networks to a level where you could make an even greater, more sustained contribution to the pack than you did coming in. And we're about to fail in that commitment. We can no longer keep you in the pack."
Once she actually heard the words, Hola was strangely relieved. The suspense was over; the next part of her life was beginning.
"The problem is," continued Wiggle, "the economics of this business have just fallen apart. It's out of our control, out of everyone's control. I'm eleven years old and I haven't seen anything like it before."
Hola looked at him more closely. She was shocked to hear he was so ancient - practically a dead dog. But the worry lines and white hairs were more and more evident on his puss.
"We just have to get smaller, that's all," he said. "And that means we have to betray puppies like you. I'm sorry."
That was it. Hola left the cubi-kennel, afraid but a little excited. Who knew what was next? It could be something better. And she also felt grateful - grateful to Mr. Wiggle. He had not blamed her for her own bad luck. She believed his explanations; they rang true.
Meanwhile, Arfmaker was firing staffers by e-mail. "Grab your chew toys and go," he wrote. "You're history."
Arfmaker's half of the pack descended into chaos and madness. They became terrified and took that terror out on one another. Some suffered breakdowns and had to be muzzled and shot up with tranquilizer darts. Others chewed their own limbs into bloody stumps. Still others hit the streets and began killing small rodents for no reason at all. Arfmaker had a heart attack one night in his office and took a leave of absence.
Morale shot up immediately.
The months rolled by ... and then business, as it often does, picked up. Slowly at first, then more and more rapidly. Still, the early morning powwows continued in the dogpatch. Wiggle's half of the pack had carefully cultivated its leads and refined its service offering, and now it was reaping the benefits of the turnaround.
Although outwardly confident, Wiggle still worried about the business. The improvement was welcome, but tentative. He'd been around long enough to see a "dead cat bounce" or two before. He had to think about a way to improve the pack's offerings. Clients were getting better at trimming their own operations, managing their own dog-runs. Wiggle/Arfmaker had to keep pace. He had everyone in the firm read an inspirational book on change called Who Moved My Alpo? - but it only made them hungry.
Wiggle's schedule grew even more frantic, and it was while he was running from the morning strategy session to catch a dogmobile out on Bark Avenue that his assistant Malcolm stopped him in the hallway.
"I have to admit I was feeling kind of scared," said Malcolm. "But it looks like you've got the old spring in your trot again. I've seen it before, and it's a really good sign."
"Thank you, Malcolm. I've been a little worried myself lately."
Malcolm thought about this. He had known Wiggle for five years - half a lifetime. They were very unguarded with one another.
"You know what I like best about you, boss?"
"You always seem to like your job. Even the horrible parts."
Wiggle thanked his assistant and caught the dogmobile. But he thought about what Malcolm had said during the whole ride.
"You always seem to like your job. Even the horrible parts."
* * *
After the dogmobile ride, Wiggle caught a sled to Atlanta and made it just in time for his afternoon meeting with the Dogerpillar board of directors. Wiggle had heard the board had basically rubber-stamped McCrapsy (the chairman had gone to HBS with their managing partner), but one of the board members didn't like McCrapsy and had strong-pawed the board into giving Wiggle a courtesy meeting.
Right away, Wiggle knew he was in trouble. Contrary to the usual etiquette, somebody had invited McCrapsy to the meeting; he recognized them right away, with their sharp black and white markings. Also, his ally on the board was out with canine dysthymia. Rarely had he felt so alone.
The board wasted no time making it clear they were going to enjoy this get-together.
"What exactly does Wiggle/Arfmaker do?" sneered a septuagenarian saluki.
"Yes - what is it exactly you bring to the dog show?" coughed a caterwauling catahoula leopard dog.
Luckily, you don't get to be eleven in the dog-eat-dog world of business without facing a few tough audiences. Wiggle remained composed.
"What we do," he said, "is solve problems. And you have a problem."
This silenced the pack - but only for a moment.
"How do you propose to solve our problem for us?" hissed a hefty havawort.
Wiggle considered the question. Then he said, "That's a very good question. Let me answer it by asking you a question.Why do you think your working capital is so high?"
"That's what we're hiring McCrapsy - I mean, our eventual choice - to answer," barked the havawort.
"But you must have some idea right now?"
A silence told Wiggle he would not be given any help here. The McCrapsy greyhounds settled back in their harnesses.
"It's very simple," said Wiggle. "You have too much inventory and you don't go after the people who owe you money, so your receivables are high. On the other end, you pay your suppliers too fast. Fix these three problems and you're back in business."
The greyhounds ground their canines. The havawort harumphed.
"That's pretty obvious," sneered the saluki. "The problem is - what do you do about it?"
"First, we'd look at product flows to see where we could pare down inventory. Second, make a list of the people who owe you money and call them up, starting with the biggest deadbeats. Third, stretch out your supplier terms as long as you can."
Again, a simple and elegant summary. Wiggle was a master at summarizing complicated problems in a clear way.
McCrapsy barked up, and the saluki, and soon the room became a din of doggie mania. Wiggle pressed his contention that the Dogerpillar working capital problem was relatively straightforward, and eventually the dog mosh-pit subsided into sniffing and sneers.
"So," asked the saluki, "do you have any other thoughts on our company?"
"Just this," said Wiggle. "You're about to embark on a program of change. It will have a major impact on the company and the puppies inside it. It's important to make the right choices. As you may know, Wiggle/Arfmaker has spent four decades sniffing around problems exactly like yours . . . ."
And he launched into a two-minute paean to his own company that nonetheless failed to dislodge McCrapsy from its dogseat. Wiggle left the powwow having done the best he could, and he took it like a big dog.
He may have been a master summarizer - but he was also a salesdog.
"It's true what they say," he told his wife that night after they had done it doggie style.
"It really is a dog's life."
To summarize, the story of Wiggle presents in a clear and elegant form a 2,800 word version of the following list. The list presents the"Three Main Characteristics of a Great Leader at a Top-Tier Management Consulting Firm."
These three characteristics are:
Those who find the above list too complex and abstruse are directed to reread the appropriate sections of the relevant parable, "Wiggle the Great - the Terrier-fying Story of a Pack of Lies."
The truly challenged are directed to read simply those items presented in bold boldface and gently asked what they are doing down here in the first place?