Working on client projects, she began to run a parallel exercise in her own mind, ignoring the McKinsey toolkit and just asking herself what she thought the right answer was. “Very rarely, if ever, did the step-by-step, perfectly linear process of ‘here’s how we’re going to conduct this exploration’—very rarely did that actually surface the right answer,” she said. Often, that process—the thing for which McKinsey was famed—was “used primarily for communicating the answer, rather than generating it,” she said. The answers were derived through intelligence and common sense, and then the team would make them look more like trademark McKinsey answers: “We would backfill them into the template,” Cohen said. Given what she felt to be the fallibility of the methods she was learning, she was amazed at the hunger for them outside the precincts of business. In our age, many domains lack confidence in their own methodologies and are often desperate to inject business thinking into their work. So successful is the belief in business as the universal access card for making progress, helping people, and changing the world that even the White House, with its pick of the nation’s talent, under Republicans and Democrats alike, grew dependent on the special talents of consultants and financiers in making decisions about how to run the nation.
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