In Search Of Dwarfs

Our Consultant Debunking Unit shows, with the help of the Seven Dwarfs, why three of the most popular management books are really just hi-ho-hum.

Ask great execs to rank their favorite management books, and chances are three will appear near the top of their lists: In Search of Excellence, Built to Last, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. These tomes reside within the realm of undisputed classics — business wisdom that is not about cheese yet somehow manages to move.


So it is with genuine pride that the Consultant Debunking Unit returns, after some court-ordered bed rest, to report that these books — all written, incidentally, by consultants — are actually the same book. Although their authors labored separately, poring over masses of data, they all arrived at pretty much the same seven “insights.”

But these seven ideas weren’t even original to begin with. One has to go back to the origins of learning, to the earliest moments of childhood, to reveal the true authors of seven-based business theory. We refer to Snow White’s sidekicks, those rascally Seven Dwarfs.

What does Dopey have to do with excellence? Not much, of course. The Dwarfs are a cautionary tale — examples of what not to do. They demonstrate the seven habits of highly ineffective people.

Concept In Search of Excellence Built to Last 7 Habits Cautionary Dwarf
1. Take action “Bias for action” “Try a lot of stuff, and keep what works” “Be proactive” Sleepy
2. Focus on the customer “Close to the customer” “Good enough never is” “Seek first to understand” Bashful
3. Have a mission “Autonomy and entrepreneurship” “Big, hairy audacious goals” “Begin with the end in mind” Dopey
4. Be who you are “Stick to the knitting” “Preserve the core, stimulate progress” “Put first things first” Grumpy
5. Believe in your team “Productivity through people” “Cultlike cultures” “Synergize” Doc
6. Work on yourself “Simple form, lean staff” “Homegrown management” “Sharpen the saw” Happy
7. It’s not about the money “Hands-on, value-driven” “More than profits” “Think win-win” Sneezy


brain dump (n.) process in which a person who actually knows something imparts information to a consultant

Martin Kihn is the author of House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time (Warner Books), due out in March 2005.