Gurus and the art of gibberish

As a former editor of Punch magazine, William Davis is no stranger to the "light touch" when it comes to writing. And since he has also served as a financial journalist and run a business, there can be few people better equipped to demolish a few business myths.

Accordingly, his new book - Great Myths of Business (just published by Kogan Page at pounds 18.99) - is likely to prove a welcome antidote to all those worthy but exceedingly dull tomes that float across the Atlantic with the aim of stirring executives into radical change programmes once they return from their summer breaks. Chances are they will chuckle into their suntan lotion or fall off their beach chairs as they read Mr Davis's attack on such ideas as "banks know best" or that "numbers don't lie". But what they are likely to enjoy is the sustained assault on management gurus and the consultants who in effect act as bag carriers.

Gurus, he says, "have a passion for convoluted theories and fancy jargon accompanied by incomprehensible diagrams. It often turns out to be pretentious waffle, but it impresses the people who pay the bills." Consultants, meanwhile, have become almost as essential to many business people as "a psychiatrist to a Hollywood star".

This is not to say that he views the two groups as completely worthless. He has a lot of time for Peter Drucker, who sees his contribution to clients as "basically to be very stupid and very dense" in contrast with most experts who delight in clever-clever bamboozling.

But it is clear that a lot of what he calls "the consultancy game" fails to impress him. Acknowledging that it is unfair to blame gurus or consultants for the fact that nothing is certain in the world, he nevertheless argues that the coming in and out of fashion of such ideas as downsizing and re-engineering only points up the fact that "one should not take everything the gurus say at face value".

And then there are the "expert MBAs" of whom he warns business to beware. In pointing out that "consultancies feel that MBAs help to convey an aura of professionalism and many corporations like them", Mr Davis, to say the least, his doubts.

As such, he has more than a little sympathy with the business people who argue that students should be taught "practical skills that employers want" rather than have their heads crammed with "interesting but unusable facts".

But then he also accepts that business executives also have a lot to answer for. Gurus and consultants can attack complacency and the established order, but "the ultimate responsibility for improvement lies squarely on the shoulders of the audience".

A simple truth, but one which - unlike a few myths - merits close examination.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'