The Mechanics of Surveys and Consultants’ recommendations

A topic that I seem to come across more recently are strategy and management consulting firms creating great surveys and reports about the transport (or any other industry). These reports, often including fancy graphics and pointing out towards a generic recommendation offer great layout, great haptics and a wonderful simplified view of the world.

In principle, that is not an issue at all, since we all know the limitations of these reports and surveys – at least that is what i thought. Recently I came across some top executives that used these surveys to argue for a specific decision they made after which we had a discussion on the merits of these reports.

Although the McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte & co put a lot of effort into making the surveys and resulting reports as stringent and according to academic standards, they cannot change the underlining flawed mechanic of these products. Which is about as follows:

  1. Top-Execs observe the real world through their organization, and the competition and reading reports about it.
  2. Consulting companies ask top-execs in surveys how they think the real world looks like – This creates a summary of answers. While researchers often think that the aggregation of such a set reflects the truth, the opposite is the case: Most respondents have undergone similar education, run in similar circles and read the same reports (sic) and thus are pruned to have a similar world view…
  3. Within the consulting firms, the survey results are used to consult their customers and create reports as a marketing instrument or for the general public.
  4. The reports are further distilled to give good enough generic recommendations and depict a view of the real world as clear as possible. The survey responses are often augmented with relevant statistics (e.g. trade or industry growth) that suffer their own respective biases.
  5. These reports are then read again by the top-execs, forming their opinions and driving the circle…



How to get out of this self fulfilling prophecy spiral?

This question has actually a very simple answer: Stop orienting yourself on these reports, make up your own mind. The long answer could go into the direction to build an efficient and effective flat organization, send out scouts, dedicated to recognizing trends and possible tipping points in your industry, talk a lot to your customers, your suppliers and even more to your own staff.


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