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The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully

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Consulting may be defined as the art of influencing people at their request. The Secrets of Consulting takes you behind the scenes of that art, explaining in detail why the world of consulting seems so irrational, and some very practical steps you can take to make it more rational. Topics Gaining control of change, marketing and pricing your services, what to do when they resist your ideas, and more.

The Secrets of Consulting has been used in dozens of different fields. If you are a consultant, or ever use a consultant, this book is for you. The author draws on his 50+ years of consulting experience to share his secrets about the often irrational world of consulting. "This is a great book. Period! ...this advice is clearly applicable to more than just consulting; it is applicable to life in general." "The book is truly wonderful. A must have!" - Amazon reviews

228 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1985

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About the author

Gerald M. Weinberg

96 books349 followers
Gerald Marvin Weinberg (October 27, 1933 – August 7, 2018) was an American computer scientist, author and teacher of the psychology and anthropology of computer software development.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 84 reviews
Profile Image for Ryan.
274 reviews18 followers
November 26, 2008
A quick read and actually pretty utilitarian. Weinberg has that peculiar sense of humor of older "systems" (i.e. computer science) guys - an unhealthy love of puns, alliteration, riddles, goofy parables, etc - but it doesn't interfere with the clarity of his messages. This is not "consulting" as a methodology or a framework akin to what one may expect from a McKinsey or HBS alum. By his own description Weinberg sees the role of the consultant less as a problem solver and more as a "jiggler"; someone that disturbs a system just enough (critical point - JUST enough) so that the system and the people within it become more robust at solving their own problems or, even better, at anticipating and preventing problems. He's just cynical enough to maintain a realistic stance, which is refreshing to those who balk at the latest book touting 5 steps to global domination. Recommended for anyone in a managerial role or overseeing any process improvements or work involving structural aspects of a "system."
Profile Image for Cori.
610 reviews17 followers
December 27, 2012
This book is a very quick read because it is a bunch of ProTips smashed together. I had a co-worker tell me that this is a book from the point of view of an old school consultant. I think the consulting work I will be doing will somewhat relate to what Weinberg has written, but it will also be more structured as well.

Profile Image for Alan.
939 reviews46 followers
June 15, 2011
One of the best and most enjoyable business books I've read. Certainly on my top 10 list.

I came across this in some IT book club -- it was a $30 paperback and I was aghast. Have since probably bought and given out 50 copies (Gerry, you can send thanks) to engineers, auditors, and others who need to bring humor and sense to situations.

It has sayings: "Things are the way they are because they got that way." Remember it.
Profile Image for Ushan.
801 reviews68 followers
December 13, 2012
The author has been a consultant since age 13, when he worked at a local supermarket as a substitute stock boy, noticed that no one was buying the rutabagas, and suggested to the produce manager that they be thrown away, and their shelf space be utilized for something with greater turnover. The produce manager told Weinberg that this was a great idea, did as he was told, and asked him, "Now, what is the least popular vegetable?" Weinberg learned the lesson for good: if a consultant solves the customer's number one problem, he promotes the number two problem to be the new number one. This book consists of about a hundred anecdotes like this, from which the author derives universal rules. Weinberg worked as a consultant for Ford on the Edsel, a famous failed product (strange: in his blog he says that around this time he worked on the operating system for the space tracking network used by NASA's Project Mercury). He says that the Edsel was a failure because Ford tried to put too many new features into one product; the rule is that new features should be introduced into products one at a time. I easily came up with a counterexample; the Toyota Prius was a radical redesign of the car: it was the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle; it has a planetary gearset instead of a transmission; it has an Atkinson cycle engine instead of the ordinary Otto cycle - and it has been a great success for Toyota. I must say that the rest of Weinberg's rules are equally problematic. One is "If you can't fix it, feature it;" I have read this rule before as, "If at first you don't succeed, redefine success." Maybe someone can in fact fix it, and will put you to shame.
Profile Image for ahmed mansour.
7 reviews4 followers
July 25, 2019
The book gives a good overview of what it means to be a consultant and the skills needed to give advice to your clients. It discusses in details the necessary attitudes and analytical methods to define problems and solve them.
It also highlights how people typically deal with change and different strategies to successfully start a change process. Towards the end of the book the author shares how consultants should market themselves, price their services and win their client trust.

Overall it was a good read, however the style of writing wasn’t the easiest for me to follow.

Here are some of my notes:

- People find it difficult to admit there is a problem and refuse to take responsibility as it threatens their competency.

- Big sudden changes are not welcomes.

- Whatever the client is doing, advise something else.

- Don’t care who gets the credit.

- People are ready for advise only when they ask for it.

- The more scale in terms of people you achieve the lower the magnitude of your service.

- Most of the time nothing significant change.

- Second order thinking is critical since resolving most critical problem uncover the second critical problem.

- Accepting failure mindset

- Problems never finish

- Always highlight the tradeoffs and let them decide

- The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be.

- Establish trust by recommending low risk alternatives first

- Always point out the price of solving the problem, even if its really hard problem with a really high price.

- Complex systems sometimes just cure themselves.

- If it aint broke, don’t fix it.

- Make sure they pay you enough so they’ll do what you say

- Know-when is much more valuable than know-how.

- Its not a bug, its a feature.

- Specialist always have a limited view point

- Same solutions = same results

- Learn the history to understand better why something is the way it is.

- Things are the way they are because they got that way

- Avoid asking who created the problem.

- Study for understanding, not for criticism.

- Complement the current situation.

- Align the way you dress up with the message you want to deliver.

- Look for the principles underlying the facts.

- People tend to know the solution and share it quickly, its the execution that they struggle with.

- Fear sometimes work as a catalyst for small changes.

- We find it difficult to see what is missing due to human bias.

- Aim for collaborative meetings with no 1-dominant person.

- Every process/checklist has to include a couple of unreasonable items.

- Borrow ideas from other systems, Biology, Psychology, engineering, etc..

- Develop tools to help you look for things that are missing from the picture.

- Trust your intuition when something doesn’t make sense.

- Unthinkable disasters (black swan events) do happen and must be prepared for.

- When dealing with implementing processes or new systems, look for triggers to ensure the processes are followed.

- Problem prevention is always desired over problem solving.

- One of the tasks of a consultant is helping organizations get their systems unstuck.

- People tend to see a part of the whole and identifies the whole with that part.

- Seeing feelings is more important than seeing thoughts.

- The less you actually intervene, the better you feel about your work.

- One of the tasks of a consultant is helping solving problems in such a way that in the future it is more likely to be solved by the organisation without any external help.

- First steps include help people to see their world more clearly and then to let them decide what to do next.

- Your methods are always open for discussion with your clients.

- Being in an environment long enough affects you whether you like it or not.

- Give your customers what they want not what you think is best.

- A small system that tries to change a big system through long and continued contact is more likely to be changed itself.

- Minor differences add up quickly and suddenly there is a bigger difference.

- People make better decisions when they have skin in the game.

- As people grow older, they learn about how change works, which could easily cause them to be discouraged.

- Avoid introducing too many new things at the same time to a system.

- New things seldomly work the first time, so failure is inevitable.

- Accepting failure is extremely important.

- Improvement is easter than perfection.

- Consider how your new system might fail and create a backup.

- New things require time to work properly, however people always seem to be in a hurry to get new things working.

- When you create an illusion, to prevent or soften change, the change becomes more likely - and hard to take.

- When difficult changes being, truth is always a scarce commodity.

- Resistance is good to test ideas.

- You can’t force anyone to do anything or avoid anything unless they have the desire themselves.

- Ask - what they don’t want to happen & if we can change one thing, which one would make main difference to you?

- Most of resistance comes form uncertainty

- Insurance against the risks are always helpful to reduce resistance.

- Its hard to resist when nobody is pushing

- The best way to get clients is to have clients

- Spend at least one day a week getting exposure

- Diversify your client portfolio

- Best marketing tool is a satisfied client.

- Give away your best ideas

- Allow one-fourth of your time to doing random things

- The more they pay you, the more they love you

- Price is not a zero-sum game, think of value generation for both parties.

- If they don’t like your work, don’t take their money

- All prices are ultimately based on feelings, both yours and theirs.

- Trust takes years to win, moments to lose.

- Avoid all tricks if you want to win trust

- People are never liars - in their own eyes.

- Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it

- Never promise anything and if you promise something, keep your promise.

- Get all agreements in writing, always.
Profile Image for Sergey Shishkin.
158 reviews41 followers
March 13, 2012
Very thought provoking and humorous book. Although it leaves the reader with more questions than answers it definitely contains numerous advice on the subject. I only wish I read it before I started to be a consultant.
Profile Image for Khalid Hajeri.
Author 2 books19 followers
July 26, 2021
This is a review of the kindle e-book edition published by Smashwords.

Consulting secrets revealed in this book...or is it?

"The Secrets of Consulting", a book written by the late Gerald M. Weinberg, is a mixed bag of sorts. On the one hand it is a cleverly written work featuring amusing snippets from the author's own experiences in the consulting business. On the other hand, it is a bit too secretive a book to be of much use to actually learning about the profession of consultancy.

Don't get me wrong, though. Mr. Weinberg manages to provide readers with the do's and don'ts of consulting via carefully placed metaphors in his life experiences as an early consultant himself. At the end of each of his experiences he reveals a one line sentence of the rules to be followed, as well as the things to be avoided when providing consulting services. The only problem here is, although readers will remember the stories, it is difficult to remember the rules and such. The consultancy secrets appear to be scattered about in each chapter which may cause readers to forget them pretty fast.

I would have liked to at least see a glossary of the secrets at the end of the book but, alas, this is not the case. Instead, readers will find references to further reading on the topic of consultancy which is something to look forward to at least. Also, as I stated earlier, the author writes about his experiences with good humor, and manages to keep the sarcastic writing tone from going overboard by emphasizing the secrets at the end of each story. I have to admit that it was fun reading about his experiences even if I probably learned only the very basic aspects of consultancy.

Weinberg's "The Secrets of Consulting" will appeal more to real consultants than the average book reader, but the book does have its charm. It manages to be an interesting reading on its own even if readers are less likely to remember the consulting secrets. Perhaps the book will fare better upon a second reading, but for now I have to prioritize other books that I want to read. Overall it was an okay reading experience.
215 reviews16 followers
April 17, 2016
The Secrets of Consulting by Gerald Weinberg is a book about the learning and wisdom of Weinberg's consulting career.

The Secrets of Consulting from the outset seems like it is specifically aimed at consultants or perhaps employees in larger corporations but as soon as you read it, you instantly become aware that this book contains advice and wisdom for your life. While all of the advice usually centers around consulting cases it is most of the times applicable for your life as well. As a result this book becomes a lot more than advertised.
The style of the book is also delightfully conversational. It never becomes a bore to read due to Weinberg's ability to illuminate his learning in a funny and personal way. It however also backfires sometimes where I was not sure how true an anecdote was. Somehow it bothered me a bit, if I can't trust the author, how can I trust anything else in this book.

All in all a good book on consulting, on work and on life. The lessons from this book are applicable to most situations in your life and in your work.

Profile Image for Teddy Zetterlund.
8 reviews4 followers
December 21, 2017
Finished the book in three days and enjoyed it very much.

Afterwards I wish I’d read it earlier, and I’d like to compare it with How to Win Friends and Influence People. Both books introduce a lot of principles, backed by enjoyable and memorable stories, that you can apply to your life—for great effect—right away.

Also, it finishes off with a great list of other books you might enjoy reading on different subjects; one of them being the book I just mentioned.
November 11, 2014
Best
Sanity
Checklist
Ever.
If something going wrong, probably it's you. If it's not you then it's definitely other people. But never tools or situation.
Read and check yourselves.
Profile Image for Andres Barreda.
73 reviews
July 21, 2021
I don’t love old books and this one was written 40 years ago, so I was kind of skeptical at first. Although I expected the book to be a lot more business oriented, I did like the content.

The book is filled with advices and laws (some are pretty weird haha). Don’t visualize a technical, formal book. It’s more of a practical, casual and fun way to convey ideas of counseling in your work and your everyday life.
Author 2 books109 followers
June 9, 2015
Этот тот редкий случай, когда мои ожидания от книги не оправдались.
Прочитав первую главу я был просто в абсолютном восторге! Вся глава в заметках, столько мыслей и эмоций! Автор не просто жжот, он познал мир, корпоративную культуру и явно узнал ответ на вопрос Вселенной и всего такого.

Но дальше что-то пошло не так. Да, законы консалтинга применимы в жизни, они интересны, из них можно почерпнуть чего-то полезного. Рассказанные истории поучительны, хотя возможность применения на себе немного сомнительна.

Восторг пропал ... и так и не вернулся. В конце книги количество заметок на полях сошло на нет, что для меня является главным показателем падения интереса к книге.

Чтиво интересное, но дикое количество восторженных отзывов в этих наших тырнетах мне все же не совсем понятно.
Profile Image for Bibhu Ashish.
130 reviews8 followers
January 29, 2008
Why do consultants fail?How do I become a consultant of repute?What are the skills needed to become a consultant? If these and some other questions come to your mind when you think of consulting as a career,here is the book that should be really helpful.In a simple and lucid way the author has drawn upon his rich experiences and the daily lives' chore to make the reader understand the intricacies of becoming a successful consultant.
Good read
Profile Image for Bill Glover.
Author 5 books
March 24, 2009
A book can only do so much, but this book is the closest thing I've ever seen to a howto guide to consulting. A person could do some good, and make a very comfortable living just following Carl Weinberg's advice. This is especially useful for technical consultants.
4 reviews
March 3, 2011
Looks like a lot of advice given in a very approachable and brief format. Lots of insight into human interactions, and not a lot of fluff and sunshine. It is one of two Weinberg books I currently own, and I'm realizing that two is not nearly enough.
Profile Image for Henrik Mårtensson.
Author 4 books2 followers
January 7, 2012
This is a very honest and forthright book about consulting. It is also quite funny.

It's not just a book for consultants, but also for people who use the services of consultants. I think I can get the most mileage out of it if I can entice my clients to read it.
12 reviews
November 16, 2008
Read this book if you are new to consulting, otherwise you may already know much about what you may find here.
38 reviews2 followers
July 22, 2014
Very easy to read. Good advices regarding prices, trustworthiness, and recommended books in the end.
Profile Image for Ekaterina.
57 reviews5 followers
June 28, 2014
Poorly written with self evident consulting half-truths like "don't make any promises" and "it takes years to earn clients' trust but moments to lose it". Gee thanks.
Profile Image for Larkin Tackett.
492 reviews3 followers
June 17, 2020
This is a classic consulting text and has many important lessons for our little company:

It's always a people problem. "Even when it's 'really' a technical problem, it can always be traced back to management action or inaction."

On problems: "The ability to find the problem in any situation is the consultant’s best asset. It’s also the consultant’s occupational disease. To be a consultant, you must detest problems, but if you can’t live with problems, consulting will kill you.
Does this mean you must give up trying to solve problems? Not at all. It means that you must give up the illusion that you’ll ever finish solving problems. Once you give up that illusion, you’ll be able to relax now and then and let the problems take care of themselves.
People who can solve problems do lead better lives. But people who can ignore problems, when they choose to, live the best lives. If you can’t do both, stay out of consulting."

"The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be." (30)

"An even more powerful technique is to learn a principle from a client, then apply the principle to that client's problem." (63)

Chinese Proverb: When you point a finger at someone, notice where the other three fingers are pointing." (67)

"Pose the question, 'what am I missing?' to as many people as you can find." (76)

"Wanting to be right all the time makes it especially difficult to notice what's missing in your own thought process." (81)

"If you can't think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there's something wrong with your thinking." Also see the list of idea-generating techniques. (81)

"Before people can communicate effectively through words, they must have shared experiences." (114)

"Most of the time, for most of the world, no matter how hard people work at it, nothing of any significance happens." (123)

Naming resistance in a neutral way: "In order to keep my own issues clear, I have to find some neutral way to get the problems on the table. I know from Sparks that blaming someone else will only put the solution further out of reach, so scapegoating is out. Instead, I might say, 'I'm having trouble because the subject keeps changing. Can you help me stay focused on one thing at a time?' I've avoided saying that the other person is changing the subject; perhaps it is something I'm doing that I don't notice. Instead of making any accusations, I've stated my problem."

"An excellent way to disclose the unconscious sources of resistance is by testing the attractiveness of alternative approaches." See list of questions (163)

"I've never met a consultant who consistently has exactly the right amount of businesses. If your goal is to have comfortable business, with just enough work to keep you comfortable... stay out of consulting." (170)

"Never let a single client have more than one-fourth of your business." (173)

"The best marketing tool is a satisfied client." (174)

The five-times multiplier - one quarter of time marketing and one-quarter to slack, billable time is only half actual time. Continuing with the calculation, figure that you'll spend about half of what you earn on administrative expenses, and twenty percent as a contingency reserve, giving a billing rate of about five times target salary.

"The more they pay you, the more they love you." (184)
Profile Image for Scott J Pearson.
591 reviews21 followers
February 10, 2019
Weinberg is a master of extracting the human personality required to run modern business. He describes one of his art-forms in this introduction to consulting practice. This book does not focus merely on short heuristics on how to consult. It instead goes in-depth into the psyche required to succeed as a consultant.

He defines consulting as the art of influencing people at their request. He then describes a rational framework for this practice and how communication can succeed through humility and the proper management of change. This latter topic (the management of change) is where Weinberg is at his best. He distills his advice in rules or laws that govern the enterprise. Often these laws seem paradoxical or unusual at first. Then he supports these laws with interesting anecdotes that bring the truth to the fore. As such, he prepares the landscape of consulting for those new to the practice. Landmines are able to be anticipated and avoided instead of exploded with pain.

At the very least, Weinberg's voice needs to be heard because of his incredible self-awareness. Instead of approaching the matter as mere science and facts, Weinberg artfully describes the human component in consulting - since it is the art of influencing people, at their request. Anyone who wants to get better at navigating the thorny roads of human feelings and human nature would benefit from reading Weinberg's take.
Profile Image for Jean Tessier.
148 reviews22 followers
April 28, 2021
At the suggestion of a colleague, I read Jerry Weinberg.

Like the alternate title says, A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully, the book is more about human interactions than about the business of consulting. And, it is very good.

Weinberg takes us on a stroll through his vast experience as a consultant, sharing bits of wisdom as he goes along. He tries to couch each bit of advice in a catchy slogan, like The Law of Raspberry Jam or The Orange Juice Test. Some of them end up sounding kinda corny: Rudy's Rutabaga Rule.

One of the more interesting ones is The Law of Raspberry Jam: the wider you spread it, the thinner it gets. You can have a lot of influence on one person, or a little influence on lots of people. You cannot have it both way.

Another really interesting one comes in the chapter on pricing yourself. The Second Law of Pricing states that the more they pay you, the more they love you; and that the less they pay you, the less they respect you. I have been thinking for a while now that people care about a thing in proportion to how much they have to pay for it (for a very loose definition of pay). If you give them something for free, they won't really care much for it and will let it wither and die. If they have to spend resources for it, they will look after it much more. It could be a piece of software, or a tool, or a new practice.
Profile Image for Ismayil Aliyev.
13 reviews1 follower
July 3, 2023
"Consulting ain't as easy as it looks."

Absolute gem of a book.
The wisdom contained in this book can be applied to everyday life in all walks of life.

You will understand the essence of consulting and how to strategize your thinking to fit the role of a consultant.

The book is short and written in a very easy-to-read manner.
The humor and wit of the author will make it an enjoyable reading experience.

Amongst other things, this book has a healthy dose of cynicism which helps to clear insight into the relentless world of business.

Above all, the author possess a clarity of thinking in a rather infectious kind of way - after a while you'll start easily deciphering the roots of problems and thinking of effective ways to tackle them.


Greatly recommended for personal development.

PS:
For the pedants out there - check out the reading recommendations from the author at the end of this book - they are quite great as well (if you don't have the book but are interested in the list -> check out the comments to this review).
Profile Image for Josh Clement.
117 reviews4 followers
July 10, 2022
If you work for a big corp™ it's easy to wave off consultants as overpaid with no skin in the game. This book might help you see the reverse – as an employee you are likely dealing with complex problems, don't know what you don't know and are allergic to change.

Consulting is a little less mysterious to me, but still sounds like a tough gig! "Your task is to influence people, but only at their request... You strive to make people less dependent on you, rather than more dependent...clients are more important to you than you can ever be to them."

Although it's dated, the author is clearly a masterful systems thinker and I think there's something to 'thinking like a consultant' - especially when it comes to getting unstuck and looking at problems differently.
Profile Image for John Hearn.
22 reviews3 followers
August 7, 2019
The author presents (management) consultancy as kind of therapy for organisations. Filled with witty heuristics backed by his personal anecdotes. Before reading this book I didn't realise (a) when it was written and (b) that the author was also influential in systems thinking. The former didn't show hardly at all (and was actually the better for it)... all problems are still essentially people problems regardless of management style. The latter became more and more obvious throughout the book, even his rationale for pricing is based on balancing feedback loops! Recommended for anyone with, or who may one day fall into, a consultancy role.
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