Education Society

Is the “10 Year Old Test” a valid way to measure value? has a piece today by Lucy Kellaway in which she argues, with tongue not so in cheek, that anyone who can’t explain his job in plain English to a “brightish” 10-year old either has (a) a not very worthy occupation or (b) has lost track of his basic function in society.


As the author notes:

If you apply the 10-year-old test to business in general, it quickly becomes clear which practices should be kept and which eliminated. Why do the bosses of big US companies earn almost 400 times more than the average worker? Try answering that in a way that a child would accept. It can’t be done.

Many of the things that most of us spend our days at work doing fail the test, too. Sifting through the emails that have arrived in my inbox in the past hour or so, I’ve found one from a management consultant telling me that “the next evolutionary change in business requires a paradigm shift in thinking, involving a grassroots revamp”.

A 10-year-old could never see the sense in that, so it deserves to be eradicated. As, perhaps, does the entire management consultancy industry. Just imagine the following Q and A:

10-year-old: Why do we need management consultants?

Consultant: To tell companies what to do.

10-year-old: Why can’t they work that out for themselves?

Consultant: Because we’re smarter.

10-year-old: Who says?

Game, set and match to the 10-year-old.

So is she right? Have we lost the plot if we are unable to explain what we do or why we do it to a child? Let’s apply this test to some more complex professions and see how we fare:

10-year old: “What do you do for a living?”

Quantum Physicist: “Mostly, I try to figure out how the universe works and, in lighter moments, why it exists at all.”

Aircraft Carrier Captain: “I drive a ship full of airplanes that mostly fly around for no reason but once in a while kill people.”

Symphony Conductor: “I keep time while musicians play music — I’m sort of like a human version of the metronome on your grandmother’s piano.”

President of the United States: “Mostly, I pretend to be either happy when things go well for us or sad when they don’t.”

So far, so good. In fact, it’s the wooliest jobs, notes the author, that are the first to fail her test: management consultant, HR executive, even FT columnist. But she forgot to mention the best example, which is, of course, internet blogger.

FT subscribers can read the full piece here:

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