Friday, March 23, 2007

Analects of Management XXVI

How to become a consultant

1933 was a frenzied year for Earle. After he earned his Masters in chemistry from MIT he married Dorothy, dropped out of MIT's Doctoral program and got a first job as a chemical engineer for the Union Paste Company.
His first day on the job he got the plant tour with emphasis on the research lab where he would be working.
"Now, here is the problem we really hope you will solve," his boss said. "This is our best new glue. It's brand new. It does every thing we want it to do in terms of application ease, strength and reliability. It is inexpensive to manufacture. There is only one problem. It is green. Every one knows that glue is brown. This stuff is a green so putrid that the sales department won't even try to offer it."
Somewhat diffidently Earle spoke, "Have you tried putting a red dye in to make it brown?"
No they hadn't. Once they did, it worked and the new product was a great success. Earle more than made his first year's salary for the company his first day on the job by applying a knowledge of color mixing he acquired in kindergarten.
Earle told me that a consultant's job is to get the client to restate his question in such a way that it answers itself.
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  1. My grandfather's family owned Union Paste Company, and he, Herbert W. Kelley, was a Harvard trained chemist, too.
    The story about Earle is a good story, but it may have become enriched in the retelling.
    Can you say more about Earle? Last name?

  2. Earle was my father, Earle Langeland. I heard the story from him. How enriched it is I have no way of knowing. My point in telling it is served whether it is specifically true or merely generally true about our species' eagerness to miss the obvious. Such, indeed, as moving to a single currency as your blog proposes.