Over the years, consulting has given birth to some of the world's most unusual fads. But now, as we approach the 21st century, the millennial silly season has officially begun. Today's exhibit: a breed of consultants who claim that the secret to achieving success in business is really quite simple — redecorate.
The product comes between covers — book, that is, not slip: There are a slew of volumes written by consultants who want to introduce you to feng shui (pronounced "fung shway") — the Eastern art of placing objects in space. Think of this new idea as the ultimate marriage of East and West — the Dalai Lama meets Martha Stewart, presented in a tidy consulting bundle. The fundamental feng-shui proposition: Shift your fortunes by shifting your furniture.
It sounded like a job for the Consultant Debunking Unit (CDU). To begin the investigation, the CDU picked up four recently published books by feng-shui consultants. The four books have suspiciously similar titles. And, in varying degrees of detail (all of it couched in varying degrees of New Age-speak), the four authors all encourage businesspeople to improve their bottom line by getting in touch with the invisible energy flow — the chi — in their offices. The goal of feng shui, writes Simon Brown, author of "Practical Feng Shui for Business" (Ward Lock, 1998), is to "place yourself in a position where you immerse yourself in the most favourable chi energy for the kinds of goals you wish to achieve." In "Feng Shui Strategies for Business Success" (Three Rivers Press, 1998), author T. Raphael Simons claims that using feng shui will give you "a unique advantage in your quest for success." And Kirsten Lagatree, author of "Feng Shui at Work" (Villard Books, 1998), writes, "With proper feng shui you can tilt the balance in your life toward financial success, improved relationships, enhanced creativity — whatever goals you may have."
The fourth feng-shui-er, Richard Webster, the author of "Feng Shui for the Workplace" (Llewellyn Publications, 1998), cites the role of feng shui in the East. He writes, "All over the East, business people regularly consult feng shui practitioners because they know that the proper use of feng shui gives them an edge in business." On the other hand, if the proof is in the koi pond, then the current economic state of most Asian countries argues for leaving your furniture right where it is.
Sofa or divan? Mirror or window? How important is it to promote a positive flow of chi energy in your office? Find out by gathering your compass, crystals, and mirrors, and taking this multiple-choice feng-shui quiz.
1. Your company's third-quarter results just came in, and profits are down 20%. The first step you should take to reinvigorate the business is
a. Convene a meeting of top managers to devise changes in your key practices.
b. Visit your top customers, and ask them what it will take to win them back.
c. Install a large aquarium in the wealth sector of your office, and stock it with eight goldfish and one black fish.
2. Office politics are getting the best of you. The best course of action is
a. Grab The Complete Idiot's Guide to Office Politics, and play hardball like everyone else.
b. Find a new job at a company where the politics will work more in your favor.
c. Move your desk so that you're not sitting with your back to the door. If you can't move the desk, then hang a mirror in a place that allows a view of the doorway.
3. You've just joined the growing ranks of free agents. To get clients, you should
a. Network, network, network!
b. Pour some cash into advertising: You need visibility in order to get more business.
c. Hang a small crystal over your telephone. If you don't have a crystal, then hang a chandelier, a mobile, or any other glittery glass object that catches the light.
4. Turnover and absenteeism in your department have suddenly skyrocketed. To get to the bottom of the situation, you
a. Implement a bonus-incentive program that rewards longevity and attendance.
b. Add a cappuccino bar to the office.
c. Place white china bowls filled with sea salt under the windows in your department.
5. You're in charge of planning the annual sales meeting — and the stakes are high. You should hold the meeting
a. When you know that you won't be bogged down with other mission-critical projects.
b. On a Friday, when everyone is likely to be excited about the weekend.
c. During the days leading up to a full moon.
6. You're starting your own business — in your cramped studio apartment. To prepare the space for your solo venture, you should
a. Head to IKEA and invest in the perfect desk, filing cabinet, and chair.
b. Call the phone company and get the studio wired to the max.
c. Buy four large quartz crystals. Wash them in cold water while visualizing a bright, blue-white light. Then put the crystals under your bed, with one at each corner.
7. You haven't been promoted in a long time, and you just missed out on a big project. The best way to jump-start your career is
a. Go back to graduate school.
b. Remember to compliment the boss on his recent hair transplant.
c. Reorganize the route of your commute: Head in your "career direction" as soon as you leave home — regardless of where you actually work. After a few minutes, turn around and head to work.
8. Your company is plagued by poor sales. To reverse that trend, you should
a. Offer big bonuses and incentives to the salespeople who meet their quotas.
b. Fire your sales staff and start from scratch.
c. Find a tall, green plant that's potted in a purple, pyramid-shaped base, and place it in the southernmost area of your office.
9. You're moving your office. What's better — the penthouse suite of the city's tallest, most prestigious skyscraper, or the 10th floor of a smaller building, with lower rent?
a. The penthouse suite: Your new, exclusive address will attract and impress clients.
b. The cheaper office: Save your cash for more important things.
c. The 10th-floor office suite: If you opt for the taller building, you won't be protected by the symbolic tiger and dragon.
10. You've finally decided to feng-shui your office space. The first thing you should do is
a. Go out and buy one of these books, along with a compass and a measuring tape.
b. Hire a feng-shui consultant.
c. Sit on the edge of a chair in your office. Relax your body, and close your eyes. Smile slightly to expand your "third eye," open your-self to the cosmic chi, and fill your office with radiant chi. Now, you're ready to feng-shui!
1. According to Richard Webster, a lecturer on psychic subjects, an aquarium will lure profits to your door. "Water and fish both mean 'wealth' in Chinese symbology," he writes. "The perfect combination of colors consists of eight goldfish, because 'eight' means money in the near future, and one black fish for protection."
2. Writes Kirsten Lagatree: "In the practice of feng shui, the position of your desk is crucial to determining the quality of your life. . . . When seated behind your desk, you must always be able to see the door." If your back is exposed to the door, she warns, "you may be the victim of backstabbing and dangerous office politics. This can put your job in jeopardy."
3. Follow Kirsten Lagatree's crystal-clear prescription: "Because they are such a strong earth element, crystals can be used in the southwest to help you reach your goal of solidifying business partnerships, attracting a spouse, or strengthening the bonds of any important relationship." If you want clients to call, "hang a crystal over the telephone to activate the chi energy."
4. Simon Brown, a shiatsu therapist, macrobiotic consultant, and feng-shui practitioner, knows that a salt bowl a day keeps the bad vibes away. "Sea salt is so yang that it draws energy into it, and it is associated with metal chi energy, which calms and stabilizes the flow of north-eastern soil chi."
5. Put your yang and yin days to work, says Simon Brown: "You must arrange your meetings at a helpful time of the day, month or year. More yang times favour more yang purposes: . . . the days leading to the full moon would be the best time for a big sales meeting," he urges. "More yin times favour more yin purposes: . . . the days leading to the new moon are best for independent thinking, and internal reorganization or a work assessment programme."
6. T. Raphael Simons knows that if you don't prepare your space for the chaotic energy that clients bring in, you'll never succeed: "See the light coming down through the top of your head to the center of your chest, then radiating out so that the light completely surrounds you. Take your four crystals and run . . . cold water over them, saying silently or out loud, three times, 'I will all confusion to run out of these crystals, that they be purified and ready to serve my purpose.' "
7. Follow Richard Webster's approach, and give your career a feng-shui nudge by pointing the compass in your favor. First things first: "Use the Aspirations of the Pa-Kua to determine the Wealth and Career sectors of your home." Next: "When you leave home for work, you should head in your Career direction. . . . Naturally, it is best if your work is in your Career direction, but you are helping your career by heading in that direction for a short while before continuing on to work."
8. Simon Brown suggests that an appropriately potted plant is all you need to make sales skyrocket: "Poor sales, for example, indicate a deficiency of southern fire chi energy. To remedy the situation, place a bright light (fire chi energy) and a tall plant (tree energy) in the southern part of your building. . . . A pyramid-shaped or pointed container will add more of the fire chi energy associated with fame, public recognition and sales. The colour purple will further enhance this."
9. Richard Webster believes that no amount of prestige — or, for that matter, no view, no matter how great — can save you from negative chi. "When the back of your building faces hills or other buildings, you are able to gain support from them," he writes. "However, if the front faces them you will be deprived of any good luck and your venture is likely to stagnate. . . . You always want your back to be protected by the symbolic dragon and tiger."
10. If you relax and let the ambient chi suffuse your body, you'll immediately sense the right answer: As any good feng-shui consultant will tell you, it's "all of the above."
A version of this article appeared in the November 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.