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The Secrets of Consulting by Gerald M. Weinberg

by Sheldon Nesdale on 17 March 2009

in Business Book Summaries, Business Strategy, Marketing, Sales

My Notes on “The Secrets of Consulting” by Gerald M. Weinberg:The secrets

    • The first law of consulting: In spite of what your client may tell you, theirs is always a problem.
    • The second law of consulting: No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem
    • Never promise more than 10% improvement (so the client doesn’t get embarrassed about how crap they were)
    • If you happen to achieve more than 10% improvement, make sure it isn’t noticed
    • Whatever the client is doing, advise something else (because what they have been doing hasn’t worked so far)

  • You’ll never accomplish anything if you care who gets the credit
  • If they don’t hire you, don’t solve their problem
  • The Law of Raspberry Jam: The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets. Alternative: “Influence or affluence; take your choice”. One on one advice is very powerful for initiating change, an email newsletter or a book is weaker at influencing chance. But with the latter, with leverage, you can make a lot of money
  • Most of the time, for most of the world, no matter how hard people work at it, nothing of any significance happens
  • Once you eliminate your number one problem, number two gets a promotion
  • The Hard Law: If you can’t accept failure, you’ll never succeed as a consultant
  • Inverse of the Hard Law: Some people do succeed as consultants, so it must be possible to deal with failure
  • The Harder Law: Helping myself is even harder than helping others

Cultivating a Paradoxical Frame of Mind

  • Paradoxical because jiggling gets things unstuck
  • Don’t be rational; be reasonable
  • People who think they know everything are easiest to fool
  • The business of life is too important to be taken seriously
  • Tradeoffs: Moving in one direction incurs a cost in the other
  • The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be (based on the Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection)
  • Don’t get upset when clients are so conservative about implementing your great ideas, especially when they seem to promise great future payoffs for small present risks. Your risk as consultant are quite different from theirs. If your ideas keep being ignored, you will love your consulting contract. If they are implemented, you might be a hero, but even if they flopped, you would just lose the contract that you were going to lose anyway. The clients risk is different: If he did nothing, he wouldn’t be any worse off than he was now. If he did what you suggested he might be better off, but if your ideas flopped, he would be much worse off.
  • Consultants tend to be most effective on the third problem you give them
  • How to pass the Orange Juice Test: “I want freshly squeezed orange juice for 500 people at my conference tomorrow morning”. “That’s a real problem. I can help you with it, and this is how much it will cost”.  Let them decide whether to accept, it’s not your decision to make for them.

Being Effective When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

  • The First Great Secret of the Medical Profession: 90% of all illness cures itself with absolutely no intervention from the doctor. Each of us, after all, is the direct descendant of innumerable unbroken lines of survivors
  • Deal gently with systems that should be able to cure themselves
  • The First Law of Engineering: If it aint broke, don’t fix it
  • Second Great Secret: Repeatedly curing a system that can cure itself will eventually create a system that can’t
  • Third Great Secret: Every prescription has two parts: the medicine and the method of ensuring correct use
  • Fourth Great Secret: If what they’ve been doing hasn’t solved the problem, tell them to do something else
  • Fifth Great Secret: Make sure they pay you enough so they’ll do what you say.  Alternative: The most important act in consulting is setting the right fee
  • Sixth: Don’t give up the treatment too soon, don’t stick with the treatment for too long
  • Seventh: Know-how pays much less than know-when
  • The Bolden Rule: If you can’t fix it, feature it. Eg “our hot dogs are made with special cuts of meat” when they are off takes that nobody wants.  Eg2 “luxury heat lamps in all hotel bathrooms” when they can’t provide a window and the extra fan doesn’t work very well. Eg3 “A drug with a side-effect that lowers blood pressure is released as blood pressure medication”

Seeing What’s There

  • Law of the Hammer: The child that receives a hammer for Christmas will discover that everything needs pounding or “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”
  • If you use the same recipe you get the same bread
  • Things are they way they are because they got that way
  • The chances of solving a problem decline the closer you get to finding out who was the cause of the problem
  • Keep it simple and not too detailed; you’re a consultant, not a district attorney
  • Study for understanding, not for criticism
  • Look for what you like in the present situation, and comment on it. If you have the knack of getting information that other people can’t get, you’ll never starve.  Encourage clients to hire you as a mirror – a tool for seeing themselves
  • We may run out of energy, or air, or water, or food, but we’ll never run out of reasons. Keep asking “why”, and “why not” to get information to poor out.
  • Most of us buy the label, not the merchandise. It’s a rare skill to be able to detect different types of snow
  • When you point a finger at someone, notice where the other 3 fingers are pointing
  • Clients always know how to solve their problems, and always tell the solution in the first 5 minutes
  • Effective problem-solvers may have many problems, but rarely have a single, dominant problem (start with the worst, solve it, and move on to the next)

11 Characteristics of a Powerful Consultant

  1. Your task is to influence people, but only at their request
  2. You strive to make people less dependent on you, rather than more dependent
  3. You try to obey The Law of the Jiggle: The less you actually intervene, the better you feel about your work
  4. If your clients want help in solving problems, you are able to say no
  5. 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
  6. More satisfying is to help them solve their problems in such a way that they will be more likely to solve the next problem without help
  7. Most satisfying is to help them learn how to prevent problems in the first place
  8. You can be satisfied with your accomplishments, even if clients don’t give you credit
  9. 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
  10. Your methods of working are always open for display and discussion with your clients
  11. Your primary tool is merely being the person you are, so your most powerful method of helping other people is to help yourself

Gaining Control of Change

  • Most of the time, for most of the world, no matter how hard people work at it, nothing of any significance happens.
  • Inverted: Some of the time, in some places, significant change happens, especially when people aren’t working hard at it
  • Cucumbers get more pickled than brine gets cucumbered
  • Alternative: A small system that tries to change a big system through long and continued contact is more likely to be changed itself.  You are a small person with big clients. That is why so many consultants get pickled. Eg Psychiatrists go crazy. Police get very cynical.  To avoid getting pickled, don’t spend too much time with one client.
  • The best way to lose something is to struggle to keep it
  • No difference plus no difference plus no difference plus… eventually equals a clear difference (eg putting less and less caraway seeds in the meat pattie)
  • According to legend, Henry Ford was once interviewed by Congress on the question of how to prevent river pollution  caused by industrial plants. Ford pooh-poohed all the complex legislation that Congress was considering, proposing instead a single law that would “end river pollution once and for all”. Congress didn’t pass the law, but its too parts are worth remembering:
    • People can take any amount of water from any stream to use for any purpose desired
    • People must return an equal amount of water upstream from the point from which they took it.
    • In other words, people can do what they want with water, as long as they themselves have to live with the consequences.

What to do when they resist

  • Every consultant complains about resistance, but consider the alternative: It’s frightening to encounter a client who doesn’t resist your ideas, because that places the full responsibility on you to be correct at all times. Since nobody’s perfect, we need resistance to test our ideas.
  • You can make a buffalo go anywhere, just so long as they want to go there
  • You can keep buffalo out of anywhere, just so long as they don’t want to go there. Principle: Frame ideas to motivate the client to move there

Marketing Your Services. The 10 Laws of Marketing

  1. First: A consultant can exist in one of two states: State 1 (idle), or State 2 (busy).
  2. Second: The best way to get clients is to have clients. Everyone likes to go with a winner. There’s no better marketing tool than a sincere refusal to consider additional work. Because consultants spend a lot of time in State 1, prospective clients see most consultants as overly eager to get work. If they happen to encounter you when you’re in State 2, they decide you must be something special. They want you for their consultants, and even if they can’t have you right now, they’ll call you first when they have another assignment
  3. Third: Spend at least one day a week getting exposure (you’ll think of lots of free opportunities). 3 kinds:
    • The kind you pay for (Advertising. “I’ve never known an independent consultant who got a dollar’s worth of business from advertising).  Hand out business cards to professional groups, meetings, people you meet.
    • The kind you get free
    • The kind you get paid for. Cultivate your speaking skills, many groups will pay you to address them. If you polish your writing skills, there are hundreds of magazines hungering for articles. If you develop your training skills, you can conduct seminars in which people will pay to be introduced to your abilities
  4. Fourth: Clients are moe important to you than you can ever be to them.
  5. Fifth: Never let a single client have more than one-fourth of your business. To be able to say yes to yourself as a consultant, be able to say no to any of your clients.
  6. Sixth: The best marketing tool is a satisfied client
  7. Seventh: Give away your best ideas. Do everything possible to encourage your clients to take over the work you’ve been doing. They usually igve me direct credit, but even if they don’t they love you for your generosity. This increases the chance they’ll give me future business, or recommend you to others
  8. Eighth: It tastes better when you add your own egg.  The egg that makes the difference can be almost anything, as long as it’s something consumers contribute for themselves
  9. Ninth: Spend at least one-fourth of your time doing non-billable activities. Reasons why:
    • If your time is solidly booked, you will not be in a position to take advantage of sudden opportunities for new business
    • Be able to respond to genuine client emergencies
    • Keep slack in the schedule incase of physical accidents/sickness
    • You will burn out or run out of ideas
    • Learn not to give your clients too much
  10. Tenth: Market for quality, not quantity

Putting a Price on Your Head. The 10 Laws of Pricing

  1. First: Pricing has many functions, only one of which is the exchange of money
  2. Second: The more they pay you, the more they love you. The less they pay you, the less they respect you.
  3. Third: The money is usually the smallest part of the price. (Eg costs of meetings, times, cost of change, all add to the cost. The higher the total cost, they more they will pay attention, but it may reach their limit for what they will pay you)
  4. Fourth: Pricing is not a zero-sum game. Increase income by selling books, using their services, contra, experiment on their staff for your own research
  5. Fifth: If you need the money, don’t take the job. Why not? If you need the money badly, you may set your price too high in order to get solvent on this one job. Or, you may set your price too low, hoping to sell the job on the basis of price. Both of these occurrences destroy the usefulness of price as a tool in your consulting.
  6. Sixth: If they don’t like you work, don’t take their money. Fee as feedback.  Offer your services on the basis of a fee that will be paid only if your client is completely satisfied with your work. Explain “after we’re finished, if you don’t’ agree that I was worth the fee, they can have their money back”. If they don’t ask for their money back, it boosts your confidence.
  7. Seventh: Money is more than price.  Charge a non refundable deposit if a client wants to book you for a specific date
  8. Eighth: Price is not a thing; it’s a negotiated relationship
  9. Ninth: Set the price so you won’t regret it either way
  10. Tenth: All prices are ultimately based on feelings, both yours and theirs

How to be Trusted. The 10 Laws of Trust

  1. First: Nobody but you cares about eh reason you let another person down
  2. Second: Trust takes years to win, moments to lose
  3. Third: People don’t tell you when they stop trusting you
  4. Fourth: The trick of earning trust is to avoid all tricks
  5. Fifth: People are never liars in their own eyes. They may give you incorrect facts. Simplifying, smoothing, omitting are not lies. You can protect people from information overload.
  6. Sixth: Always trust your clients – but cut the cards. Arrive at your conclusions with information from more than one source
  7. Seventh: Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it
  8. Eighth: Never promise anything. Make contingent promises.  Eg a contract says that you’ll try to do something, and that if I do, they’ll pay you for your service. If you don’t succeed, they don’t pay.
  9. Ninth: Always keep your promise. If your rule is “maximum of 20 people in this class”, and the client wants 2 extras, set a premium price for the additional 2.
  10. Tenth: Get it in writing, but depend on trust

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