Nelson W. Aldrich Jr. attempts to discredit the integrity and motivation of some of today's most insightful writers ("How to Read a Business Best-Seller," Books, February). Aldrich says that the writers were biased because they were consultants to the clients they praised in their books, creating a conflict of interest.
What better credential could a management writer have than that of consultant? Does The New England Journal of Medicine refrain from using physicians as writers because they collected data while treating the patients on whom they based their research?
The author replies: Mr. Smith's analogy between business consultants who write management books and physicians who publish research findings is false. Medical research is subject to the discipline of scientific method and to rigorous peer review, all in advance of publication. These procedures usually serve pretty well to protect the medical community, including patients, from the quackery of cooked data. Alas, no such institutional safeguards operate in the management book trade. It must rely on humble reviewers to protect the consumer.
Mr. Smith's remarks are well taken in one respect, however: there's often no better way to find out how businesses really work than to ply the consultant's trade. Thus the conflicts of interest I wrote about pose a clear moral choice for consultant-writers: to face the conflict or not to face it. Mr. Kuhn's book, To Flourish Among Giants: Creative Management for Mid-sized Firms, does in fact face it. One can only hope his forthrightness is rewarded in the marketplace.
Nelson W. Aldrich Jr.