Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Notes on The Secrets of Consulting

I finally found time to read The Secrets of Consulting by Gerald Weinberg. With all books with titles like, How to Win Friends and Influence People, I very reluctantly start to read them, because, they sound like books on learning how to be manipulative and I don't want to be like that. But when I finally start reading them, after many independent recommendations from people I trust, I find them to be very down-to-earth and not at all manipulative. They are more about how to become a sympathetic human being and because you are, to become successful in other areas too.

The book is full of good ideas and I am going to mention a few that I like from every chapter in the book.

Why consulting is so tough?

The quotes I like best in this chapter are

You'll never accomplish anything if you care who gets the credit.

This is very true. I've seen this many times. People who care about credit, usually, wants a little more than they deserve and this will piss of other people who also wants the credit. Meanwhile, the people who don't care about the credit, just keep on working, making things happen.

When an effective consultant is present, the client solves problems.

And the funny part is that it does not matter as long as I feel that I am doing a good job.

Cultivating a Paradoxical Frame of Mind

The answer to Get it done in the shortest time possible is

What are you willing to sacrifice?

This implies that everything is a tradeoff. The most common tradeoffs are Now versus Later and Risk versus Certainty. Another good reply when someone wants to get something done is

We can do I it - and this is how much it will cost.

This is a very good reply since it shows that you know what you are talking about and that you are not just saying something to get the contract.

Being effective when you don't know what you are doing.

The most important thing to remember is that:

It is always a people problem.

People always want to catch a consultant with a lie, so:

We ought to bend over backwards to understate our qualifictions, but    insecurity makes us all victims to occasional exaggeragtion.

Seeing what's there

If you use the same recipe, you get the same bread.

Learn from history. If you don't listen to the mistakes the client has made you are likely to make the same mistakes.

Study for understanding, not for criticism.

A client is not very likely to help you, if you criticise everything he has done. Look for what you like in the present situation and comment on that. Someone will always comment on what's bad.

We may run out of energy, or air, or water, or food, but we'll never run out of reasons.

People never run out of reasons. We can think of a million reasons to rationalize our behavior and none of them may be the true reason. We may not even know it ourselves.

The name of a thing is not the thing.

This is so very true. Naming is really, really important! But we should always be aware that a name is just a label and there is always more to it than that. If we think the name is the thing, we may miss important points.

When you point a finger at someone, notice where the other three fingers are pointing.

It is always easier to blame someone else.

Seeing what's not there

It is as important to see what's missing as it is to see what is there. Use laundry lists to remember what to look for.

If you can't think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there is something wrong with your thinking.

It is easy to become to narrow-minded when it comes to your own thinking.

Words are often useful, but it always pays to listen to the music, especially your own.

Be aware of congruent words and emotions.

Avoiding traps

What you don't know may not hurt you, but what you don't remember always does.

Set triggers to help you remember. Triggers may be anything from songs to one-liners, jokes and mental pictures.

It ain't what we know that gets us into trouble, it's what we know that ain't so.

Never be too sure of anything.

Amplifying your impact

Characteristics of a good consultant:

  • Your task is to influence people, but only at their request.
  • Your task is to make people less dependent on you, rather than more.
  • Try to Jiggle. The less you actually intervene, the better.
  • If your client wants help solving problems, you are able to say no.
  • If you say yes but fail, you can live with that. If you succeed, the least satisfying approach is when you solve the problem for them.
  • More satisfying is to help them solve the problem in such a way that they will be more likely to solve the next problem without help.
  • Most satisfying is to help them learn how to prevent the problems in the first place.
  • You can be satisfied with your accomplishments, even if the client don't give you credit.
  • Your ideal form of influence is first to help people see their world more clearly, and then to let them decide what to do next.
  • Your methods of working are always open for display and discussion with your clients.
  • Your primary tool is merely being the person you are, so you most powerful method of helping other people is to help yourself.

Gaining control of change


Fords Fundamental Feedback Formula
1. People can take any amount of water from any stream to use for any purpose desired.
2. People must return an equal amount of water _upstream_ from the point from which they took it.

Believing in what you do

Would you place your own life in the hands of this system?

How to make changes safely

Nothing new ever works.

I have come to this conclusion myself and I heard Joel Spolsky mention a harsher version of this on the Stackoverflow Podcast. He said Nothing ever works! not just new things.

Trust everyone, but cut the cards.

Fundamental skepticism is necessary.

If you must have something new, take one, not two.

When trying out something new, try one thing at the time otherwise you will not now what fails when it fails.

It may look like a crisis, but it the end of an illusion.

When a crisis occurs it is a sure sign that something has not been right in the first place.

What to do when they resist

The first thing to do with resistance is to appreciate it. If you get no resistance something is clearly wrong. When facing resistance Get it out into the open. Name the resistance in a neutral way. * Locate the nature of the resistance.

You can make a buffalo go anywhere, just so long that they want to go there.

Clients tend to overestimate unspoken negative factors and to forget positive ones.

Good questions for defusing potential resistance are:

  • Is there anything you would like to change about this plan?
  • What do you like best about this plan?
  • What is the one thing that you want to be sure does not change?

    People who are realistic about risks don't become consultants.

  • Step away, if you feel the fight cannot be won.

Marketing your services

  1. A consultant can exits it two states, Idle or Busy.
  2. The best way to get clients it to have clients. It is best to look for new business when you have business.
  3. Spend at least one day a week getting exposure.
  4. Clients are more important to you than you can ever be to them.
  5. Never let a single client have more than one-fourth of your business.
  6. The best marketing tool is a satisfied client.
  7. Give away your best ideas.
  8. It tastes better when you add your own egg.
  9. Spend at least one-fourth of your time doing nothing.
  10. Market for quality, not quantity.

Putting a price on your head.

  1. Pricing has many functions, only one of which is the exchange of money.
  2. The more they pay you, the more they love you. The less they pay you, the less they respect you.
  3. The money is usually the smallest part of the price.
  4. Pricing is not a zero-sum game. My gains doesn't have to be their losses.
  5. If you need the money, don't take the job.
  6. If they don't like your work, don't take their money.
  7. Money is more than price. If the clients have paid in advance they are more likely to be prepared for the job.
  8. Price is not a thing; it's a negotiated relationship.
  9. Set the price so you won't regret it either way.
  10. All prices are ultimately based on on feelings, both yours and theirs.

How to be trusted

  1. Nobody but you cares about the reason you let another person down.
  2. Trust takes years to win, moments to lose.
  3. People don't tell you when they stop trusting you.
  4. The trick of earning trust is to avoid all tricks.
  5. People are never liars - in their own eyes.
  6. Always trust your client - and cut the cards.
  7. Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it.
  8. Never promise anything.
  9. Always keep your promise.
  10. Get it in writing, but depend on trust.

Lessons from the farm

  1. Never use cheap seeds.
  2. A prepared soil is the secret of gardening.
  3. Timing is critical.
  4. The plants that hold the firmest are the ones that develop their own roots.
  5. Excessive watering produces weakness, not strength.
  6. In spite of your best efforts, some plants will die.

All in all, this is book full of good advice that is worth reading for anyone, not only consultants. Worth noting is that the consultants in this book are very far from the resource-consultants that are the common case in Sweden. The consultants this book refers to closer resemble what we know as management consultants, although it is not an exact match.

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