Friday, January 11, 2008

Consultants

We learned the other day that the ministers in Fillon's government will be evaluated by the private consulting firm Mars & Co. Now, Mars is a spin-off of the Boston Consulting Group, so it's interesting to discover that BCG also played a key role in developing Sarkozy's presidential campaign strategy. This emerged from the article I cited yesterday by Jade Lindgaard and Joseph Confavreux. Emmanuelle Mignon, Sarko's idea person, had enlisted the advice of some 250 experts and academics on a range of topics, but after a series of colloquia the problem remained of how to turn the ideas derived from the discussions into "political arguments" that it was hoped would resonate with the public. Mignon felt she had lots of material to work with but no method. The UMP's political cadres apparently have little patience for seminars. This is where BCG came in. Its suggestion was role-playing: the pols were to imagine that they were editorialists or local politicians or union leaders or whatever, reacting to proposals on a variety of issues distilled from the expert advice, much of it gleaned from intellectuals of a left-wing stripe (because, Mignon says, "la gauche est moins conne" and, unlike the right, has a long tradition of invoking ideas in defense of its politics).

To see ourselves as others see us: good advice, it seems, in politics as well as in everyday life. Still, there are limits to the use of such pop-psychological methods to break down the ingrained but counterproductive habits of groups of professionals. My wife, a psychiatrist, heard recently from a patient a story about a consulting group that was brought in to "change the culture" of a certain research laboratory. The consultant told a roomful of Ph.D.'s that they were to improve their "capacity for empathy" by staring into their neighbor's eyes for three minutes without looking away. Half of them walked out of the room.

This aversive response resembles François Hollande's reaction to what he sees as the "narcissism" of Sarko's press conference. Hollande said he'd had enough of "le président moi-je." Perhaps the PS should hire a consultant to improve its capacity for empathy.

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