On Bullshit

Andrew Quinn
5 min readFeb 28, 2022

During my first job interview, the interviewer made it a point to tell me what made my prospective company stand out: “What makes us different,” he explained, “is that we stick with our clients all the way through the implementation of a solution whereas others will leave once they’ve pitched the solution.”

I thought it sounded nice to work for a firm that wouldn’t leave people hanging.

Sometime later I sat through a business school presentation by a consultancy that had come to recruit. “What makes us unique,” the recruiter said, “is our commitment to seeing our work through to the end rather than packing up after a short strategy phase.”

Later still, I heard about the unique value posed by a new Cloud Strategy offering that a new firm wanted to bring to market. What do you think the unique differentiator was for this offering? “It spans the full gamut of our clients’ needs,” (of course). “We go beyond the traditional “Strategy” approach offered by our competition and see things through to delivery.”

This is a clever bit of bullshit. If you know anything about the consulting world, you know one of the biggest knocks on the industry is that it thrives on know-it-all punks who set up shop for a couple months, lay out a grand vision, then disappear never to be seen again. This “we’re different because we stay till the end” line has been perfectly crafted to address this complaint. That’s why everyone adopted it.

Is any consulting firm truly different in their willingness to stick around? Not really. They’re all perfectly happy to latch on and keep the revenue coming in. But it sounds so irresistibly good when they assure you they’re not like the other boys.

The business world has a special relationship with bullshit, which has come to mean something like “noble lie” but is different in one key aspect: lies mostly involve saying things you know aren’t true, bullshit involves saying things you don’t know are true as if they were facts.

The reason bullshit thrives in every nuance and crevice of business, from interviews to sales pitches, is that it often passes a basic test: Can this person say something that sounds smart when put on the spot?

The interviewee who says smart-sounding things when pressed by the interviewer is more…

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Andrew Quinn

Business & Tech | Reassembled memories | @ACQuinn_