We are now nearing 2012. If you look at the list of classics, it is clear that almost all of them are fictions. Dale Carnegie's How to win friends and influence people is an exception in that it is a classic that is a non-fiction. Now jump to 2112 and have a look at the list of classics again. Harry Potter will surely become a classic. Perhaps Kite Runner will be too. But I am not so sure about non-fictions. Will Pragmatic Programmer be a classic? Difficult to say. But I have no such doubt about Secrets of consulting. I am this much confident because my copy was printed 26 years ago and it is as relevant in 2011 as it was in 1985. Quite a few of the books that I have read in the last several years mentioned it at least once (Another such frequently referred book is Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenance). So "Secrets of consulting" is poised to become a classic. Despite all these, I was quite hesitant about reading "Secrets of consulting" as I am neither a consultant nor have met a lot of them. The only thing I know about consultants is that they spend a lot of time in meetings and write a lot of reports :-) So I had all sorts of hesitation about reading this book. I do not know why I bought it and started reading it. But the first chapter is so hilarious that there was no way to put it down afterwards. The third paragraph of the book removed my confusion about consultants when it declared
consulting is the art of influencing people at their request. People want some sort of change - or fear some sort of change - so they seek consulting,and then
few people request influence when their world is behaving rationally.
This book relates some of my discoveries about the rationality of seemingly irrational behavior that surrounds requests for influence. These are the secrets of consulting.This hinted that the book is attempting to explain human behavior. I happen to find human behavior a highly interesting topic, perhaps more interesting than the behavior of sub-atomic particles as humans are lot more unpredictable than particles. I am glad that the book has not let me down. There is another great quality hidden in this book which is the clear presentation of information. This alone makes it a must-read for all non-fiction writers. The main points are presented so clearly that I was wondering why do I even need to write a summary of this book! But I am just as irrational as anybody, so I went ahead anyway and what follows is the product of my irrationality.
The summary[In the following text, all direct quotes from the book are wrapped in quotations
like this. The rest of the words are based on my understanding.]
Consulting is the art of advising people at their request.
- People do not hire consultants because they love them. Consultants are brought in only when people are unable to solve the problem themselves. Admitting defeat takes a lot of courage.
Only the best managers and consultants are big enough to admit that they can't do it all by themselves.So try to give clients the illusion that it is they who have solved the problem, you were only the catalyst.
- Resist the urge to provide unsolicited help, for example to the client's coworkers.
No matter how it looks at first, it's always a people problem.
- Fixing one problem usually unearths another problem. So learn to live with problems. If you want to solve all problems, problems will drive you mad.
- If you cannot accept failure, you will never succeed as a consultant.
- The Law of Raspberry Jam:
The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.This law is talking about the spreading of ideas or messages.
- The more adapted you are, the less adaptable you are. Maybe that is why some people are still programming in Cobol. They just could not adapt to what came after Cobol.
- Orange juice test - this one is actually quite famous - when choosing a service provider, make a complex demand. If they say that
we can do it but this is how much it will cost.you are at safe hands. An unscrupulous service provide will say something like "no problem" just to get the business.
- Consultants usually hit the rhythm on the third problem you give them.
Hatters in the 19th century were subject to mercury poisoning, which affected their brains; hence, the expression "mad as a hatter."
- Trade offs, all good things in life involve trade offs.
If you cannot fix it, feature it.There is a brand of low quality soap available in the Bangladeshi market called "No. 1 bad soap". It is highly popular partly because of its funny name.
- The problem with specialists is, they usually see things from one angle which can easily hide the problem from them.
Figure: How a specialist looks at the wrong direction and misses the problem.People with broader knowledge are hence always better equipped than specialists even if their knowledge has lack of depth.
Ninety percent of all illness cures itself - with absolutely no intervention from the doctor.
Make sure they pay you enough so they'll do what you say.
- Do not brag. It can put off the client even if every bit of what you say is true.
If you use the same recipe, you get the same bread.So if you see a suboptimal software, there must be a good reason why it has been made that way. Find out the reason by studying the history and do not repeat it. Microsoft should be a good study subject IMHO :-)
- Be patient and listen to your client. Do not hesitate to ask lots of questions, but do not sound as if you are running an interrogation. Clients usually know the solution to their problems and will mention it themselves soon.
Attaching an emotionally charged label to direct attention away from one aspect of a situation is called The Misdirection Method.If the client is using such a label, it can be a good clue to spot the actual problem.
- The author has used the term "jiggler" to describe something similar to the Rubber duck method. In the rubber duck method, somebody talks about his/her trouble with a rubber duck or another person and in the process of talking, finds the source of the trouble and goes on to fix it. A jiggler, on the other hand, sits with the person in trouble, starts a conversation and in the process of the conversation, solution to the trouble becomes apparent. Good consultants are good jigglers.
- Even if a consultant has been brought in for problem solving, they should arm their clients for problem prevention as well.
Before people can communicate effectively through words, they must have shared experiences.
Elephants and organisations are so big that it's hard to experience them whole. Sometimes, it helps to experience a scale model, such as a carved elephant or a simulated small organisation,
the best way to speed a meeting's progress is simply to keep quiet:-)
Tabulating complaints is part of the process of producing quality software.
Effective problem-solvers may have many problems, but rarely have a single, dominant problem.
- It is a bad scenario when
there are no women in an organisation or no people between the ages of 35 and 50, that the project leader shows no regret when talking about people who have left, or that nobody ever talks about the training department.
- Keep a laundry list of problems. This is like a checklist. New clients can be evaluated against this list.
If you can't think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there's something wrong with your thinking.
The thought that disaster is impossible often leads to an unthinkable disaster.This one is aptly named "The Titanic effect."
Computer programmers have had considerable experience with disaster, but they don't take kindly to being reminded by outsiders of the presence of icebergs. That's why they're custom-made candidates for The Titanic Effect.
What you don't know may not hurt you, but what you don't remember always does.I can relate it to what used to happen to me during exams in the University. If I did not know the answer to a question, I would not attempt it. But when I knew the answer, I attempted it. Many a times, failure to recall the answer later cost me valuable times. Same can be said about all the "pilot errors" that lead to fatal air accidents.
- Since forgetting things can cause so much trouble, we need triggers for reminding us important items. One example is the DSSSM (Door-Seat-Steering-Seatbelt-Mirror check) routine used by car drivers when starting a car. The term "DSSSM" is so easy to remember, you can't miss the steps. So it is a good example of a trigger. Another example is songs or poems/verses that have been used since antiquity by almost all religious orders.
A small system that tries to change a big system through long and continued contact is more likely to be changed itself.So consultants should not spend too much time with one client. They should always have more than one client at a time which should prevent them from changing themselves to suit a particular clients habits.
No difference plus no difference plus no difference plus ... eventually equals a clear difference.So small cost cutting measures can eventually add up to disasters.
- Anybody, including consultants, proposing change should eat their own dog food. If people do not taste the fruit of their proposed change, they will not be sincere in what they propose.
- Chapter 10, "How to make changes safely" is a must read for anybody working on a replacement system.
Nothing new ever works.That explains all the hullabaloo every time Microsoft releases a new version of Windows :-)
As people grow older, they learn about how change works, which could easily cause them to be discouraged.
Let them try whatever they like, but teach them how to protect themselves.So there is a nothing wrong in attempting a change, but we should be prepared for the crisis that arise from the change.
- Three tips for reducing the chance of failure arising out of changes:
- Keep a backup system if possible.
Break the newness into parts, and then adopt them singly.
- Make practice runs for the new system.
- Tip about bringing in new employees -
Hire them one at a time, allow a generous breaking-in period of lowered productivity, give them meaningful but not critical work to do, and provide backups for their inevitable failures.
If you really care about "protecting" people, don't ever "protect" them from the truth.
- Lots of people will resist change. When that happens, present the pros and cons of the change to the client. Also ask them
what is the one thing you want to be sure doesn't change?These will reduce the client's uncertainty about the change.
Probably ninety percent of resistance comes from uncertainty,So reducing uncertainty is the key to reducing resistance to change. If nothing works, tell that there is nothing more you can do. Some clients might change their mind at this point.
It's hard to resist when nobody's pushing.
- Spend a day every week getting some exposure.
- There are three types of exposure:
- Where you have to pay, e.g. advertising. Not much of use to consultants.
- Free, e.g. professional groups, meetings, etc.
- Where you get paid, e.g. paid speaking assignments, paid articles in magazines, books, trainings, etc.
- The best time to get client is when you have client. The rich gets richer and poor gets poorer principle is in play here.
The best marketing tool is a satisfied client.
- The best solutions are those where the client/customer gets the feeling that they are also playing a crucial role. Lego is a good example IMO.
- If you want to be happy,
Market for quality, not quantity.
- Anybody who has ever worried about setting the price of his/her service will find the chapter on pricing "Setting a price on your head" useful. The main point is
Price has many functions, only one of which is money.So while setting a price, don't just think about money.
The more they pay you, the more they love you.
The less they pay you, the less they respect you.
- A client can pay in ways other than money. For example, they can let a consultant try an experimental method on them.
- If you are offered an assignment you suspect you may not like working on, you can ask for a higher price. This way, you will not regret if the client backs off.
If they don't like your work, don't take their money.This is a bold one.
- Trust is paramount in the relationship between a client and a consultant, even more than ability.
People don't tell you when they stop trusting you.
I trust the client's integrity, but I don't have to trust their ability.Remember that clients can unintentionally mislead you.
Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it.
trust without a contract is infinitely better than a contract without trust,and I can vouch for that. I have worked several times without any formal contract (which is a bad idea by the way), but the trust level was so high that there never was a problem.
Do whatever you can to get the best ideas before you invest a lot of money cultivating them.
it's the preparation before you plant an idea that makes most of the difference as to whether it works or not.
You might have to protect it a little bit when it's small but the less protection you give it, the hardier the plant is going to be.So a little bit of struggle is not such a bad thing.
In spite of your best efforts, some plants will die.So learn to live with failures and have backups.
every consultant should create and follow a personal learning program.Perhaps this is true for most professions.
- Finally, a few qualities of a powerful consultant:
- Your task is to influence people, but only at their request.
- You strive to make people less dependent on you, rather than more dependent.
- If your clients want help in 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 their problems 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 problems in the first place.
- You can be satisfied with your accomplishments, even if clients 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 primary tool is merely being the person you are, so your most powerful method of helping other people is to help yourself.