Tuesday, December 01, 2015

When Life is a Term Paper

I wonder how many business reports are simply a more sophisticated version of the high school term paper. You'll recall the formula: Do a bunch of research and then throw in the kitchen sink. The more footnotes, the better. Have frequent citation of "authorities." Analysis is secondary and a scattered approach to sources is admirable. Focus can be deadly because you may, just might, perhaps, be wrong..

Later on, in college, another technique is added: Vagueness. Arcane analysis. If the prose is almost unreadable, then it must be deep. [It's deep all right, only we won't say in what.]

I recall a law school exam where, in one of the essay question answers, I launched one of the most prolonged bits of hallucination I've ever written. The professor loved it.

That should have been a warning.

But I digress.

Two items to remember:

  1. Don't write a term paper unless a term paper is needed.
  2. Recognize that some people mistake loose reasoning for creativity and passion.


Daniel Richwine said...

I'm in an MBA program right now. Lots of smart people are in it, which leads to what I now realize is a problem. We're being trained as we have been since grade school to show the teacher how smart we are.
This is a real problem as I'm currently in a class where we are offering consulting advice to a real non profit. We are trying to resist the urge to simply demonstrate our intelligence to the client, instead fighting to actually give useful and valuable help to them. It's been a struggle, partly because most of the team doesn't understand that's the problem.

Michael Wade said...


You've identified a very real problem. The consultant should be strengthening the client and the "here's the advice from the wizard" approach may foster dependency. At the same time, some clients want dependency.

My approach is to outline options from vanilla to rocky road so the client can decide.