Not Very Thoughtful Thought Leadership

Terrible Visuals From Consultants

I enjoy examples of terrible visuals, especially when they are used by consultants. Alex Usher (@http://higheredstrategy.com/) is brutal in criticizing a recent Deloitte report doing “big thinking” about the future of the workforce.

The Deloitte consultants are compared to Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, i.e. not that bright. I’d like to be able to defend them but Usher seems to have a point. He highlights a couple of fun graphics which are typical of the fare served in business presentations. Think of the Powerpoint slides made up of gears but it isn’t clear that there is any process being described. Such cool visuals look great but they don’t really mean anything. In the Deloitte report there is a brain with random lightbulbs in it. There is also a picture of a business executive evolving from a chimp-like creature. This picture is smooshed together with the phrase “9x more data has been generated in the last two years than in all of humanity” (Usher, 2017). Even assuming the random stat is verifiable I really want to know whether the authors think we have evolved in the last two years. I’m also curious what graphic they would have used if it had been 8x or 10x the data generated.

Best/Worst Graphic

The best/worst graphic was of course the “What is really happening” chart. Because it has an x and y axis it looks like it derives from data but can’t possibly. 4 curves are drawn all getting higher over time from the 1970s to the future. This is supposed to illustrate increasing rates of change. The fact that the curves are nicely spaced suggests the plots are just made up. The four curves are labelled “public policy”, “business”, “individuals” and “technology”. How do you measure these? How are individuals changing at an ever increasing rate of change? Does it relate back to our evolution from chimp-like creatures? Is this a resurrection of some sort of Malthusian prophesy? If so big thinking about the future involves going 200+ years into the past.

Usher makes a great point about the plot for “technology”, the highest of the curves, which is curving upwards and approaches vertical around the year 2000 and disappears into the ceiling. “”Technology” never made it into this decade, having asymptotically approached a rate of infinite change about ten years ago”. (Usher, 2017). Deloitte should be ashamed if the consultants thought these graphics were convincing and we all should be ashamed if they are right.

Usher also has some of the most practically useful advice I have ever seen. “Just remember: when a consultant starts talking about “exponential change”, hang onto your wallet” (Usher 2017).

Read: Alex Usher (2017) A Report So Stupid Only a “Thought Leader” Could Have Written It, October 30th, Higher Education Strategy Associates www.higheredstrategy.com, http://higheredstrategy.com/a-report-so-stupid-only-a-thought-leader-could-have-written-it/