Remembering Jerry Weinberg: The Secrets of Consulting

It’s been four years since – sadly – Gerald M. “Jerry” Weinberg passed away. Ever since then, I struggled with some public mourning about him, until recently I had just the right idea. On a weekly basis, I will publish a review of a book I read that Jerry either wrote himself or is about some of his work. Today, I picked the classic The Secrets of Consulting – A guide to giving & getting advice successfully published by Dorset House in 1985.

The Secrets of Consulting is a classic book of Jerry’s. As the subtitle suggests, it’s not merely just about giving advice, but especially more so about receiving advice from someone else. At first thought, I notice, I hardly remember anything attributed to this book. While going through the table of contents and especially my reminders document, I come to realize how many of the Secrets of Consulting lessons I internalized and no longer attribute to the book per se.

“No matter how it looks like, it’s always a people problem.”, Rudy’s Rutabaga Rule, when you solve the number one problem, the number two problem gets a promotion to the new number one, and the like are all lessons I regularly notice, re-visit, and cite.

Jerry has collected a thoughtful set of lessons for everyone in this book, it seems. Not only does he cover the consulting business, but also the everyday advice that we might find ourselves offering. Of course, there is also a strong connection to the consulting business, but don’t fool yourself into the trap of thinking you won’t take away anything from this book if you are not a consultant at your current job. If you are, you will be surprised to find lessons about marketing and sales here as well.

My personal stories include one occasion when I reached out to Jerry and asked him about the 9th law of marketing:

Spend at least one-fourth of your time doing nothing.

The Secrets of Consulting, page 177

I had reached out to ask him how he meant that. He replied explaining that he meant that as a consultant we should take our time to re-process our engagements before jumping into the next consulting engagement. Rather than keeping us too busy to reflect on what is happening, we should dedicate time aside to do exactly that.

Another deep lesson I had was during PSL when I went for dinner with Jerry and Esther Derby. Over the course of dinner, I brought up my current coaching engagement. Both pointed out a lesson from Secrets of Consulting to me, that I did not incorporate back then. In essence, it had to do with the psychological contracting towards the client. I was glad to learn that early in my career, yet, I continue to learn this lesson with improvements from engagement to engagement.

So, no matter where you find yourself, in a consulting job or not, to some extent we are providing advice to our outside world. If you want to see pathways to improve here, this book is a great starter, and I strongly recommend reading it.

Some personal gems

Jerry signed my copy of Secrets of Consulting when I met him back in May 2011 during my Problem-solving Leadership course.

Similar to the Quality Software Management series, I created a document with a listing of rules, laws, and principles from the consulting series of books for my own reminders and easier reference. Typos are mine, not necessarily Jerry’s.

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