Is 'House of Lies' an accurate portrayal of management consulting?

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Hollywood’s depiction of strategy consulting is sexy: glamorous travel, fine dining, luxury hotels, and a never-ending party. Stories of boisterous clients and attractive colleagues combine to weave a sticky web, leaving many recruits completely unaware of the reality of consulting. No movie or show has done more to stir the pot than House of Lies, a Showtime Original staring Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell as sly, seductive, self-serving partners at a boutique strategy consulting firm. But what is the fact and fiction of management consulting as portrayed in House of Lies?

“Consulting is like dissing a really pretty girl so that she’ll want you more.”

  • Fiction: In my experience, most if not all consultants earnestly care about the success of their clients and will devote nights and weekends ensuring these clients are successful. In fact, the vast majority of consulting revenues come from recurring business, and as such it is in the firms’ best interest to build sincere relationships with their clients.

“Why do people say ‘outside the box’ when the term ‘outside the box’ is inside the box?”

  • Fact: Consultants strive to be constantly on the edge of business innovation. One way consulting firms ensure to stay a step ahead of industries at large is to devote substantial resources and brainpower to identify, analyze, and act fast on business trends. Unlike the content-lite realm of House of Lies, most consultants become experts in their field and develop groundbreaking points of view, methodologies, and action plans for their clients to adopt.

“Survival of the slickest.”

  • Fact & Fiction: There’s no denying that to move ahead in consulting, one must be a skilled player in firm politics. Who you work for, and their commitment to your professional growth and success, can be just as important as the work you actually perform. That being said, I would never use the word “slick” to describe the people in consulting who make their way to the top. After a certain level of “political skill” is achieved, in fact, I find just the opposite – the most sincere, knowledgeable, and authentic consultants tend to outperform those who rely on brown-nosing and self-promotion.

“You never ever trust anyone until you know their angle.”

  • Fiction: Teamwork is one of the most crucial skills in management consulting. Typically, consultants work in conference rooms with their team every day, and a project’s success relies on the collective success of each team member. Therefore, teamwork is weighed heavily when analyzing recruits. Further, trust is a fundamental characteristic of any successful team. It’s absurd to imagine a company where consultants behave like poker players, keeping their cards close to the chest and avoiding teamwork. 

Final synopsis: While entertaining, House of Lies casts strategy consultants in an unflattering, fictitious light that plays on many people’s misconceptions and desire for drama.

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