By Will Bachman
Consulting Bootcamp by Will Bachman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 U nported License.
Based on a wor k at www.i nnovationbootc amp.net .
What is a management consultant?
Case: Pedraza Pellet Company
Defining and structuring the problem
Analysis skills and tools
Running effective meetings
Creating effective presentations
Influencing for impact
Business development for consultants
About The Bachman Group, LLC:
The Bachman Group, LLC, is an operations and strategy consulting firm founded by Will
Bachman in 2008. It has served over 12 clients on 4 continents, ranging in size from $10 million
to $50 billion in revenue. Read more about Will Bachman on his LinkedIn profile here:
Will Bachman posts daily on his blog. Topics covered include managing your career,
how to expand your own creativity, technology tips, observations on the built environment, book
reviews, ideas on opportunities for businesses, and more. Visit:
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What is a consultant?
The statement “I‟m a consultant” tells you as much about someone does as the statement
“I‟m an employee.” The term “consultant” can mean many things to many people.
In this manifesto, I‟m using the term to refer primarily to management consultants, that
is, advisors to managers. Some characteristics:
+ Consultants serve clients. If they work in a firm, consultants may also have managers and
subordinates. But if there are no clients, you don‟t have a consultant.
+ Consultants are outsiders. There is the special class of internal consultants: roving, internal
problem solvers. In most cases, though, the term implies someone not employed by the client
+ Consultants create impact through influence techniques other than positional authority. In
some cases, a consultant may be placed in a role with positional authority. Usually, though, the
consultant achieves impact not through giving orders, but through some other influence
+ Consultants pollinate. One of the greatest advantages of the consultant is pattern recognition:
she has seen a similar situation at another client. A regular employee probably works at least
two years at a company, and so might see the insides of five companies in a decade. A
consultant might see the insides of thirty or more. The consultant can bring a fresh perspective
not because she is smarter than the employee, but simply because she has seen a lot more in the
+ Consultants go deep. Managers get pulled in a dozen different directions every day.
Consultants often have the luxury of escaping the fire of the day to focus on a particular problem,
and go deep on that.
+ Consultants aren‟t constrained by organizational hierarchy. They can talk to the folks on the
shop floor, or the CEO. They can talk to folks in Marketing, or Accounts Payable, or IT. Nothing
really stops regular employees from reaching out across the organization to talk to the right
person, but somehow, it is just easier for consultants to do it. This is a huge advantage that
Case: Pedraza Pellet Company
As a case example to use throughout this guide, we‟ll introduce the case of the Pedraza
Pellet Company. Alejandra Ema, the executive currently in charge of the company, has been
introduced to your consulting group by Margarita, a mutual friend who highly recommends you.
You‟ve had a brief discussion with Alejandra on the phone, in which she explained some of the
challenges at Pedraza, and you agreed to invest a few days of your time on a quick diagnostic.
Alejandra has followed up with this email:
May 5, 2011
From: Alejandra Ema <email@example.com>
To: Will Bachman <will@BootcampConsultingGroup.com>
Subj: Looking forward to your thoughts on the Pedraza Pellet Company
I’m looking forward to meeting in person and hearing the results of your initial diagnostic
on the Pedraza Pellet Company. I’ve already let the folks there know that you’ll be coming
in, and I’ve asked them to cooperate with all your requests.
When we spoke this morning, the connection wasn’t great, so I wanted to just lay out the
facts in case you missed anything.
The Pedraza Pellet Company was acquired in October 2009 by Soto Supplies. Soto Supplies
is a conglomerate of B2B businesses that supply industrial manufacturing companies across
the globe. We’ve been doing an aggressive series of acquisitions over the past several
years as we had significant reserves of cash and multiples were very favorable after the
market was depressed in 2008. Given the rapid spate of acquisitions, we haven’t yet
integrated the acquired companies, and they’ve been left to operate independently. We
generally prefer to acquire niche businesses that aren’t subject to significant competition
and have a large market share with comfortable margins.
The Pedraza Pellet Company fit this profile very well. They produce abrasive pellets that
are used in a variety of industrial processes. They have four major product lines, which I
don’t have the details on, but the department heads can fill you in there. The former owner
and President, Juan Pedraza, stayed on to provide continuity per the acquisition
agreement, and he left in March of this year after that period expired. In order to activate
the full acquisition price, Juan had to achieve a 15% growth in sales in 2010, and he hit that
target. Sales in 2009 were $14.3 million, and sales in 2010 were $17.0 million. Soto
Supplies has top line growth targets of 15% per year, so we need to keep hitting that
Unfortunately, the overall profitability of the Pedraza Pellet Company, now the Pedraza
Pellet Business Unit, has gone down. Cost of goods sold has gone from $7.5 million to
$10.6 million, and SG&A has gone from $2.9 to $3.4 million. So EBIT has dropped from
$3.9 to $3.0 million. The acquisition thesis depended on EBIT also growing at 15% per year,
so this is a major setback.
Since Juan left, the 4 department heads (Sales, Marketing, Finance, and Operations) have
been reporting directly to me while we search for a General Manager for the business unit.
I haven’t had a ton of time to get into the details, but what I’ve heard from Juan is that the
cost of raw materials has gone up, and there isn’t much they can do about that.
Maybe we need to think about developing some new products where we could charge
higher margins, or would perhaps use less expensive materials. I’m really not an expert in
the industrial abrasives area, so I’d be interested in your thoughts on whether there is a
gap in the market we could fill.
I’m afraid I’ll be totally out of pocket until our meeting – I’ll be at an executive team off-site
this week and completely tied up. So please use your best judgment to proceed with the
diagnostic as you think best. Our mutual friend Margarita highly recommended your
group, and so I have full confidence that you’ll come up with an actionable set of
Your point of contact is Ricardo Palma, head of Finance. You can reach him at
Defining and structuring the problem
The best-written guide on a management consultant‟s approach to problem solving is
McKinsey Staff Paper #66, “The McKinsey Way of Problem Solving.” McKinsey doesn‟t
publish the paper on its own website (they should), but you can find it posted elsewhere w ith
Google. I‟ve read this paper a dozen times, and I continue to re-read it annually as a personal
I also highly recommend The Minto Pyramid Principle, by Barbara Minto, for guidance
on both problem solving and how to communicate your findings. In the late 1960s, Minto created
the method that McKinsey still uses to structure problems and communicate results. The ideas
presented in this section are just a very brief introduction to the concepts in these two classics.
Define the proble m. If you haven‟t defined a problem, you won‟t know when you‟ve
It is often helpful if the problem definition is phrased in the form of a question. A good
question attracts solutions with the force of gravity.
Instead of: Sales have increased at Pedraza but profit has gone down.
Try: How can Pedraza continue to grow sales while also growing profits?
Or even better: How can Pedraza continue to grow sales at 15% per year while
also growing profits at 15% or more annually?
If possible, include some specific numerical targets in your problem definition. Having a
specific number to shoot for provides an aspiration for the team working on the problem. It
drives you to estimate the impact of your ideas, and if the impact isn‟t sufficient, to keep
Not bad: How can we increase throughput on Line D?
Better: How can we increase throughput on Line D by 25%?
You won‟t always have such a specific numerical target, and if you don‟t, don‟t sweat it.
The problem definition will focus your work and it will also constrain the universe of
potential solutions. For example, in the Pedraza Pellet Company case, let‟s say that you take the
cue from Alejandra‟s email and define the problem as “How can Pedraza develop new products
with higher profit margins that will appeal to customers?” This problem definition would lead to
activities such as identifying unsatisfied customer needs, surveying the competitive products on
the market, developing formulations for new products, and so on. You‟d be guided away from
investigating sales force effectiveness, opportunities to reduce the cost of purchased raw
materials, manufacturing performance improvement, etc. If you are building a team, the way you
staff your team could be affected. Instead of seeking out lean manufacturing experts, purchasing
experts, or sales force effectiveness experts, you might build your team with a product
Advanced problem definition: (Optional). Depending on the situation, you may want to
further specify other constraints such as what specific solutions are off the table, what resources
are available, within what timeframe the problem needs to be solved, etc.
Structure the proble m: Once you‟ve defined the problem, start breaking it down into
smaller pieces. One way to do this is to draw an issue tree. Start with your problem definition
on the left hand side, break it into 2 or 3 or 4 pieces in a column to the right. Then break down
each one of those issues into smaller issues. Keep going until you have specific iss ues that you
can go and research or test.
There is no one right answer, and it is worth trying several approaches to see what feels
right for the situation.
For example, with the Pedraza Pellet Company, we might consider the first- level set of
issues as 1) Increase profits of existing products, and 2) Increase profits with new product
introductions. At the next level we could consider price increases, volume increases, and
changes in product mix.
Or we could take the first level issues by department 1) Operations department actions to
improve profits, 2) Finance department actions to improve profits, etc.
Here is an issue tree in-process:
STRUCTURE THE PROBLEM
Shift mix to
Existing products higher margin
How can Pedraza Reduce cost of
improve profitability Reduce costs raw materials
to achieve the target
of 15% year-on-year
profit growth? Reduce labor
MECE. (Pronounced “mee – sea”) As much as possible, you want your issue trees to be
“mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.” In other words, your issues don‟t overlap, and
you‟ve covered all your bases.
Determine analyses required. Now that you‟ve got your issue tree done, yo u have a
whole host of ideas on how you might solve the problem. Now you‟ve got to test these ideas, to
figure out which ones are most likely to work, and which would have the highest impact.
Consultants work opposite to how we‟re taught to do a researc h paper in school. In
school I was taught to go do a bunch of research, take lots of notes, and then the night before my
paper was due I‟d come up with a thesis and try to organize all the notes into a paper.
Consultants turn this around. Be hypothesis driven. Instead of doing the research first, we start
by writing up a summary of the story we‟d like to tell at the end of the project.
Here is an example of how to work from a hypotheses to the analysis needed:
Hypothesis Issues Analysis/research required
Pedraza could shift the mix of • Assumes that the four product • Get the price and cost of each
products to its higher margin lines actually have different profit product
products margins – need to get the profit
margin of each product line
• Get annual sales of each product • Get breakdown of revenue by
line over time to see how the mix product line
• Understand reasons that the mix • Interview sales force to
has shifted, and what factors drive understand what drives sales
the product mix
Pedraza could reduce the cost of • Pedraza could reduce the unit • Determine current state of the
purchased raw materials price on raw materials by purchasing process (RFP
negotiating better rates with an conducted?)
• Pedraza could use a lower volume • What percent of raw materials are
of raw materials by, e.g., reducing wasted in the manufacturing
waste process? Could this be reduced?
• Pedraza could change the • What do we specify today? Could
specification and purchase we relax any of the specifications
different raw materials to make it less expensive for our
suppliers to comply?
This story will be full of hypotheses. Once we‟ve drafted the story we want to tell, we identify
these hypotheses, and then figure out what analyses we can do to prove or disprove the
hypotheses. That leads us to know what data we need to collect.
This is somewhat analogous to how scientists work, but it wouldn‟t be correct to say
consultants use the scientific method. The standard of proof in business is far lower than in
science, because in business time is at an absolute premium. There is never time to do all t he
analyses that we‟d like to be able to do. And unlike the unchanging laws of the physical
universe, the business environment is constantly changing.
So in consulting, we ask, “What would you need to believe?” in order to select a course
of action. The answer to that question could be a list of hypotheses. Some of them your client
will want you to prove. But some other ones the client may be willing to believe, and doesn‟t
want to pay for the time it would take to prove them. So prioritize efforts based on what
hypotheses are the most critical and the most uncertain.
Most projects ought to start with a data request to your client. No sense re-creating the
wheel. No sense coming up with a recommendation to create a report that they already have.
When I create a data request, I always emphasize that I just want whatever they have off-
the-shelf. Don‟t create any fresh reports just for me, at this stage. If it doesn‟t exist, or isn‟t
readily available, that it itself is interesting.
You‟ll want to tailor your data request depending on the specific project, of course, but
here are some standard items that are often worth including in addition to the specific data
relevant to the project:
Organization charts: summary version at the company level to show interfaces with other groups,
and as detailed as possible for the department – ideally including all employees in the department
Employee data: list of all employees in the department with name, title, group, age, start date,
salary, supervisor name
Management reports regularly created in the department including current targets
Department budget for current fiscal year
Process: Any standard operating procedures,
Systems: list of IT systems involved with a brief description
Description of any previous performance improvement initiatives
Incentive plans; blank copy of a performance evaluation
Training: copy of materials used in training new employees
Customer data: who are the customers, revenues by customer, name of assigned sales rep
Product/service data: description of products and/or services provides, with revenues and profit
margin by SKU
Competitors: competitive intelligence
Current strategic plan
Inte rvie wing
One of the most common ways of gathering information as a consultant is by
interviewing someone. Unless you study journalism, anthropology, or one of the other social
sciences, you don‟t get much training in school on how to do an interview, so learning how to
interview will be mostly on-the-job. A background as a reporter would be quite helpful for a
management consultant, and if you have the chance to write for a paper where you‟ll get good
mentorship, take that opportunity.
Here are a few tips on conducting interviews.
Whom to intervie w: Whom to interview depends on the nature of the project, of course,
but some groups to consider include: the front line workers; internal customers and internal
suppliers; external customers; suppliers; competitors; industry experts; executives affected by the
Front line: On any project related to internal operations of the company, it is essential to
interview the front line, who are closest to the action. By the front line, I mean the place where
work actually gets done – the chemist in the quality control lab, the call center rep taking orders,
the salesperson who visits customers, the machine operator who runs the tablet press. One of the
greatest assets of the consultant is the ease with which we can move across an organization and
get information from those who have it and bring it to those who need it. Unfortunately, it can
be very difficult for a senior executive to go have a conversation with someone several layers
below them in the organizational hierarchy. The CEO might feel awkward sitting next to the call
center rep who is taking inbound sales calls; and that call center rep might be terrified and not
give straightforward answers. That sales rep‟s supervisor, the call center manager, and the SVP
of sales would all want to be in the loop and get debriefed.
While senior executives ought to get more unfiltered information directly from the front
lines, it tends not to happen very often. As a consultant, though, it is much easier to move
seamlessly up and down and across the organization and talk to anyone you want to. You aren‟t
pegged in the hierarchy, and people figure that is what consultants do. Hearing the truth from
the front lines and taking that to senior executives packaged in a form they can digest is one of
the easiest ways a consultant can add value.
An understanding of what is happening at the front line follows an inverse square law
based on the number of steps away from the work. So the supervisor of the front line worker
(two steps away from the work) knows 1/4 th of what is going on. That supervisor‟s manager
(three steps away) knows 1/9th of what is going on. The group‟s director knows 1/16 th , etc.
Don‟t discount the wisdom and intelligence of the front line worker because they don‟t
have a fancy degree. They often will have a more realistic understanding of the opportunities
and threats facing the company than other people in the company. They live it.
Inte rnal customers and internal s uppliers : On any kind of operational project, you‟ll
probably want their input. Let‟s say you are working on a project related to improving
manufacturing operations. You might want to talk to the maintenance department that supports
manufacturing – they can give you a perspective on whether manufacturing supports their
requests for downtime to do preventive maintenance. You‟ll want to talk to the sales team, who
will probably be full of complaints about how the lead times are too long, or how manufacturing
gets the orders wrong. Other groups with a useful perspective could include the IT department,
accounting, finance, order scheduling, quality control, marketing.
External custome rs: Interviewing external customers can be a lot more politically
sensitive, and you‟ll need to get permission from whoever owns the customer relationship.
Depending on the nature of the project, you‟ll want to choose the customers carefully, and
discuss the interview guide with the appropriate people. But the input fro m customers can be
worth the administrative hassle required to get to them. It is especially helpful if you can talk to
“friendly” customers – those who have a longstanding relationship with your client, those who
have a strong bond of trust. They are the most likely to be willing to take the time to do an
interview, and they‟re also likely to be willing to give tough, honest feedback. If you are
planning to do a broad survey of customers or a broad set of interviews, start with this group to
test out your questions.
Suppliers: It can be helpful to talk to suppliers to understand what it is like to do
business with your client. What does it take to respond to their RFPs? How many people need to
sign off on purchasing decisions? How hard is it to get paid? When mistakes are made, how long
do they take to get resolved? Suppliers may be quite willing to give frank answers to these types
Competitors : Someone in the same industry, facing the same challenges as your client,
can offer very useful information. While it seems strange to believe, you can sometimes get
competitors in the industry to open up and discuss their perspective on your client. This is
particularly true if the companies collaborate in some areas and compete in others, such as
Or if the nature of the questions is delving into information that is openly discussed
within the industry. For example, you might be able to get an investment banker to give you her
perspective on other investment banks in her secto r. Everybody knows who is doing what deals,
and they sometimes team together.
Or if the two competitors are both relatively small compared to the universe of the
industry. For example, the manager of one sushi restaurant might provide useful insight on a
sushi restaurant across town. In this case, it might not be perfectly correct to label them
competitors, since they are competing in different markets.
Industry experts: All sorts of experts may be willing to speak with you, such as analysts
at investment banks, the staff at industry associations, consultants who serve the industry, and
executives in the middle of a job search. If the timing is right, you can consider attending an
industry conference. This often isn‟t feasible given the tight deadlines o n a consulting project,
but on a few occasions I‟ve attended a conference during a project and gotten great input by
roaming the halls and talking to attendees and exhibitors. You can also find industry experts on
LinkedIn. Join an industry group on the topic in question, and then you can scroll through the
group‟s members and check their titles to find relevant expertise.
If your client is regularly served by a consulting firm, you could ask to speak to experts
within that firm. While it seems odd that they would spend their time helping you, they might do
it just as a favor to your mutual client or as a way to find out what is going on at the client in this
area of their expertise. Obviously, if you are working within a large consulting firm, you can
turn to experts within your own firm. You can use your own personal networks, including alumni
networks, to find folks with relevant insight. And there expert broker firms, such as the Gerson
Lehrman Group. With these firms, you‟ll need to pay, generally $300/hour and up. If your
client has a budget for it, this can be a quick way to find experts.
Aside from the expert broker firms, you generally don‟t need to pay for interviews. Most
people rarely get asked questions about their areas of professional expertise, so they‟ll do it as a
favor or as an ego boost. One exception is physicians. They already have huge demands on their
time. Pharmaceutical and medical device companies often want to interview them, and
physicians are used to getting paid for giving their feedback. Rates can start at $150 per hour
and range upwards depending on the type of physician. I suppose lawyers would be the same,
but I‟ve never interviewed one for a project.
Choice of location: An interview in person beats a phone interview, and an in-person
interview in the interviewee‟s office is the best of all. Always try to do the interview in the
person‟s office if at all possible. By going to the person‟s office, you‟ll learn a lot about them.
What sort of environment do they create for themselves?
If there are family photos on their desk, do the photos face outward towards the world, or
inwards towards themselves. If outward, they are telling the world about that their family is
important to them. If inward, the family could almost be a barrier to the world of work.
Do they have certificates from training programs on the walls? Then they might be more
susceptible to the opinion of others.
Is their office orderly, with every paper carefully filed away? Or are there stacks of
papers on every available surface, including the conference table?
Do they check their email during the interview? Then they are telling you that they don‟t
think the project that you‟re working on is that important – they have better things to do.
Often, you‟ll see something in their office that can help you establish some rapport with
the interviewee. Perhaps they have a photo of their k id in a baseball uniform, and you coach
your own son‟s Little League. Or they‟ve got a photo of themself holding the champion marlin,
and you love deep-sea fishing. Or maybe they have a degree on the wall from the university
where your spouse went to college.
It can be helpful to break the ice with some small talk about something you observe, but
avoid being transparently mechanical about it. (“Established rapport…. Check. OK, now let‟s
move on to content.”)
Meeting in the person‟s office is also particularly helpful because the interviewee can
immediately pull up a computer file and you can look at it over their shoulder. You can ask them
right during the interview to forward you the file. Or they can pull a paper copy right out of their
file cabinet. Maybe they even have a project plan pinned to their wall that is relevant to your
There are some situations where meeting at their office isn‟t the best location. Perhaps
the interviewee doesn‟t have an office. Or if the person works in a c ubicle, and you are going to
be asking about sensitive topics that you wouldn‟t want co-workers to overhear. In cases like
this, find a quiet place where you can close the door.
Preparing for the intervie w. Review the hypotheses you are trying to test and write up
an interview guide with all the questions you want to ask. The exercise of creating an interview
guide is very helpful, but once you conduct the interview, it generally makes sense to set the
interview guide aside.
Don‟t send the interview guide to the interviewee ahead of time if you can avoid it. They
might instead just want to email you their answers, which will usually not be very helpful. And
you want the flexibility in person to adapt the questions in light of how they respond.
Do send the person some sense of what the interview is about. Keep it relatively short so
as not to bias their assumptions about what you want, and give them a reason to talk to you
(other than their boss is ordering them to.) For example,
“I‟d like to get your perspective on what roadblocks you face in getting your job
Who should go to the intervie w. If you have a partner and can spare the time
investment, two interviewers are better than one. One of you can focus on asking questions
while the other one takes notes. The note-taker can function as a back-up question-asker,
following up on interesting hints that the primary interviewer misses. And the two of you can
debrief afterwards. If you are serving the client without another consultant on your team,
consider taking a client along with you to the interview. This can be a good way to role model
and transfer the interviewing skill, plus a way to get your client to hear the information first-
Taking notes. Fairly obvious, but don‟t take notes on a laptop during an in-person
interview. If doing the interview on the phone, I take notes on the laptop, but beware of
interviews via Skype where they‟ll hear you pounding on the keyboard. Take notes by hand, and
then immediately afterwards go type up the main points.
You‟ll find that, with practice, if you type up notes of the conversation immediately
afterwards, you can capture many quotes nearly verbatim. In college, a writing teacher of mine
told me he could transcribe a one- hour interview after the fact, a skill he had built up after much
practice. Memory of these quotes rapidly decays, so if at all possible type them up right away.
Raw quotes from interviews can be very powerful evidence to influence your client. I don‟t
spend too much energy formatting the notes or organizing into some categorization scheme – I
find it more efficient to just type them up in Word. If you are doing a massive set of interviews,
however, it might be better to capture quotes in Excel so you can categorize them and then do
some analysis later on the frequency with which people mention different topics.
As a general rule, I suggest avoiding recording interviews. It makes your subjects
nervous, and less likely to speak plainly. And you don‟t want to be spending time later listening
to the audio again. If you record phone interviews, you should of course inform your subject and
get their consent.
Where to sit. Think strategically about seating arrangements. If you are going to the
interview with a partner, the two of you sitting across the table from your interviewee makes it
seem like “us-against-them.” If possible, try to sit around a round table, or if it is a rectangular
board-room type table, try to have one person sit at the end of the table.
If I‟m doing the interview alone at a rectangular table, rather than sitting across from the
interviewee, I try to sit at the end, adjacent to them. That makes it easier to look at a paper
together, or to do a quick sketch in my notebook and show the person. It also subtly suggests
that we are on the same team instead of opponents across a negotiating table.
Keep your introduction short. When you start the interview, it is helpful to give the
interviewee a quick overview of the project and why you are there, but keep it short. Give them
a chance to speak within the first sixty seconds if you can. Introduce yourself, but don‟t give
them your full bio or try to justify what an expert you are. Also, it is helpful to open the agenda
and ask the interviewee if there is anything on her mind that she would like to add to the agenda.
Let‟s say you are working on Project Odyssey. If you don‟t give the interviewee the opening,
she might never tell you, “Well, I think we should also discuss Project Iliad that I‟ve been asked
to work on, since there seems to be a lot of overlap between the two.”
Often, I‟ll open with something like, “I‟m an external consultant working with John on a
performance improvement effort within the __ group. I‟m glad to give you the context on that,
but before I dive into the details, what have you heard about this project already?”
An opening like that is useful because you‟ll hear what is the word on the street about
your project. You might uncover some anxieties or some hostility, which can be helpful to know
about. E.g., “I‟ve heard that you guys are looking to increase productivity so you can let some of
us go.” Or “I hear you‟re collecting all our ideas so you can take credit for them.”
At this stage, if you encounter hostility, don‟t try to argue or reason your way out of it.
Instead, set your agenda aside and listen for a bit.
For example, if you get, “I don‟t know why I should bother talking to you guys. Last
time, we told the consultants all the problems we face, and nothing happened.”
Don‟t try to counter this with, “Oh, well, this time is going to be different. We‟re really
going to drive change this time.” [Yeah, right.]
Instead, try, “Tell me about that last initiative. Why do you think it didn‟t lead to lasting
Ask open-ended questions. Don‟t lead the witness. Monitor yourself and try to avoid
asking any yes or no questions during the interview. Also avoid any multiple choice or either/or
questions. Just about any question can be reworded to an open-ended question. For example:
Instead of, “Have you already heard about this project?”
Try “What have you heard about this project?”
Instead of, “Do you agree with the proposals?”
Try “What is your perspective on the proposals?”
Instead of, “Would this recommendation save you time?”
Try “How would this recommendation affect you?”
Maximize the possibility that you‟ll be surprised by what you hear.
Use silence. Get comfortable with silence. Use it to your advantage. People hate silence
in a conversation and will fill it. Possibly with useful information. If someone says something
interesting, pause for an extra couple beats to see what they might add.
Use open-ended prompts. It is a cliché, and overused, will make you sound like a robot.
But a handy phrase to have in your arsenal is “Tell me more about that.” The beauty of it is that
it gives your interviewee permission to go in the direction they care about. You don‟t know what
you don‟t know, so let them surprise you. Also good is, “Hunh?,” “Hm?,” and repeating the last
couple words they said with an interrogative intonation.
Test the source of their knowledge. Useful phrases: “Why do you believe that to be
true?” “How do you know that is true?” “How does the company track that?”
Don’t argue. When you are doing an interview, stay within your ro le as a reporter.
Don‟t try to interview and influence in the same discussion. You can come back later and try to
convince them to implement a set of recommendations, but today you are here to listen.
Action ite ms. The interviewee might promise do send you stuff during the course of the
interview. They‟ll probably forget. So keep track of all these promises, and then review them at
the end of the discussion so you both agree. Then send them a follow-up email with the list of
what they promised to do. Same goes if you promise to send them anything.
Be stupid. One of the best parts about being a consultant is that you have permission to
admit ignorance. Ask people to explain terms you don‟t understand.
Learn the acronyms. In my days in the nuclear Navy, I wasn‟t allowed to use any
spoken acronyms. While we used all sorts of acronyms in our written logs, we always had to use
the full phrase in oral communication, partly to avoid the possibility of confusion during a
casualty when you are wearing an air-breathing apparatus and there is the din of fire, flooding, or
a steam rupture in the background. Perhaps as a result of my Navy training, I have a particular
sensitivity to acronyms. I always want to know what they stand for. At the beginning of every
project, I make a table of client- and industry-specific acronyms and what they stand for. Despite
the “Be stupid” rule above, there are limits. You don‟t want to walk into an interview with a
pharmaceutical executive and ask what “OTC” stands for. So as much as possible, learn the
acronyms before the interviews. But if an acronym does come up, ask about it. There is a 50/50
chance your interviewee won‟t know what it stands for.
Don’t claim expe rtise you don’t have. If the client says, “You‟ve probably seen this
before in other projects in the industrial abrasives industry,” it is best to admit (if true),
“Actually, this is my first exposure to the industrial abrasives industry.”
State the wrong numbe r to get the right one. Use this tip sparingly, once per interview
maximum. If you want to know a fact or number that people might not want to reveal, then
instead state it as if it were a fact, and then check their response. Feel free to be way off. For
example, “I understand the profit margin on this product is about 3%.” People like to be smarter
than the consultant, so they are likely to correct you with the right number if they know it. “Who
told you that? That number is way off. The profit margin is much closer to 11%.”
If you make up a number and they correct you, it tells you they have confidence in their
number. But if you ask and they give you a number, they could be guessing.
Go and look at it. If the person tells you it takes forever to log into the XYZ system, ask
them to log in and show you. If the person tells you the raw materials are hard to access, ask to
go to the stock room to take a look. Don‟t feel constrained by the conventions of sitting across a
table. It is your time. Go on a field trip.
Getting past objections to unde rstand assumptions. If you hear, “This proposal will
never succeed,” try asking, “What would have to be true for this proposal to succeed?” Phrases
from the same section of the toolkit are:
“What would you need to believe in order to support…”
“What would it take for the company to…”
“Assuming the company decided to do ___, what would it need to do…”
“What roadblocks would have to be removed in order to…”
Final questions. “What question should I have asked you?”
Final final questions. Consider saving your most politically sensitive question for after
the interview is officially over. You‟ve put away your notebook. You‟ve shaken hands. You‟ve
stood up. They are walking you to the door. And you say, as if it were an afterthought that just
occurred to you, nothing important, just curious, “Oh, one final question just occurred to me.
What do you think about….” The interviewee is disarmed, and it doesn‟t feel like they are being
interviewed any more.
In a different context, when being interviewed for a job, one of the best final final
questions to ask is, “What challenges do you think someone with my background might face in
this role?” This can help reveal the interviewer‟s concerns about you as a candidate, t hat you can
then later address in a follow- up email. Similarly, your final final question can help uncover
what they really believe on the topic related to your consulting project.
Follow up, don’t thank. Don‟t be effusive in thanking the person. It just diminishes
you. If the person is an employee of your client, it is their job, after all. If the person is external
to the company, they had their reasons for granting you the time. Maybe it was a favor to their
friend, maybe they hoped to learn what you are up to, maybe they‟ll want to talk to you some
day. It is a two-way street. Try a simple, “Thanks, this input will be very helpful in shaping the
recommendations….” Plus, thanks mean nothing. Instead of thanks, you can pay back the favor
of the interview with an appropriate follow-up. If appropriate, you can brief the person on your
findings. Or you can email them to let them know a particular recommendation of theirs made it
into your report. (“I mentioned to the SVP our conversation and your idea on streamlining the
onboarding process for new customers.”)
Keep track of interviews completed. This sounds like common sense. But if you are
conducting many interviews over the period of weeks, it is very easy to lose track. Often,
executives will want to see a list of whom you‟ve spoken to. So keep track, and plan to include a
backup page in your document listing the interviewees. You might also want to include
information such as their role, their region, their seniority, etc., so you can show that you can the
appropriate mix of viewpoints.
Remembe r this is likely to be the first round in a multi-round interaction. Don‟t be
transactional. Establish a relationship of trust. If you are going to be coming up with
recommendations and then responsible for implementing them, at some point you‟re going to
interact with this interviewee again. Even if you‟re just doing a quick diagnostic and don‟t expect
to be implementing anything, chances are you‟ll interact again. It is a small world.
Exercise: Next time you have a chance to conduct an interview and can bring along a
teammate to take notes, ask your teammate to provide you feedback afterwards. Here are some
questions you might ask. It is best to have someone else observe you, but if you can‟t arrange
that, then answer these questions about your own performance:
Deciding to do a survey. Don‟t offer to do a survey lightly.
A survey takes a fair bit of time to design and run through multiple levels of approval.
People won‟t care to review your interview guide (usually), but several folks might want to
review and approve a survey.
A survey can consume a large amount of employee time to fill out. If 100 people fill it
out and it takes 30 minutes each, there goes 50 person- hours. If you use that much
organizational time, there better be a good payoff. So plan to invest some time in analyzing and
drawing conclusions from the results.
A survey does have some advantages that makes it a useful tool in your toolkit. Since
you can touch more people than you can easily interview, you can have more quantitative results,
and you can get them much more quickly. You are more likely to surface issues that only a small
fraction of the population faces.
Start with intervie ws. Before designing a survey, try to start with some qualitative
interviews. Usually after 3-4 conversations you have at least some sense of the issues, what is
worth testing in a survey and what hypotheses can be clearly discarded without one.
Choose your survey tool. There are a variety of online tools. I‟ve used Survey Monkey
several times and it works well. I‟m sure there are others that work about the same. Your client
may already have an account with one of the survey tools and want to use that, so ask. For
simple surveys with folks that don‟t necessarily have ready computer access (e.g., assembly line
workers, or attendees at a conference), a paper survey can be the most efficient.
Include some quantitative questions. The beauty of a survey is it allows something you
can quantify. But of course you‟ll need questions that allow that.
I try to avoid “Rank on a scale of one to five” type of questions. Instead, where possible,
I like to make a statement such as “This functional area responds to my requests in a timely
manner,” and then as responses have
Strongly disagree Disagree Agree Strongly Agree Don‟t
interact with this group
I try to avoid a “neutral” rating and force either an Agree or Disagree. People usually lean
one way or the other, but a neutral rating doesn‟t say much.
Include free text responses. A multiple choice response is much more helpful to you if
you allow for free text responses to clarify them. If you do allow free text responses, plan to
spend time classifying them.
Test the programming logic. In even the simplest surveys, you are likely to find some
programming mistakes when you first test it. Perhaps the multiple choice allows more than one
answer when you want to force just one, or perhaps you can skip questions when you want to
force each one to be answered. Be sure to test several times, testing every possible permutation
of what someone might do. If the survey is complicated and includes multiple branches, such as
questions that get skipped depending on the answers to other questions, then you can be virtually
guaranteed that there will be mistakes. Spend the time to test and debug.
Decide on confidentiality rules and let people know. State up- front the confidentiality
promise. If answers along with the identify of responders is going to be shared with
management, then let people know that. If you are going to sanitize responses and o nly share
summary statistics with management, then say that, but stick to it.
Get people to fill it out. Give some thought into how you will get people to actually fill
the survey out. Should you be the one to email people a link to the survey? Should it be your
primary client? The CEO? The head of the business unit of the target respondents?
Controlling the links. With Survey Monkey, you can upload a set of email addresses
into the tool, and then the tool send each email a unique link. That is helpful if you want to
carefully control who responds and be sure who filled it out. Or you can have Survey Monkey
create a generic link that you can email to anyone. That makes it easier for an executive to email
the link to her department, but you‟ll then want to ask for the name of respondents, or else you‟ll
have no idea who responded.
Deciding to do a focus group: Your client may suggest that you run a focus group as
part of the research. In many cases, this suggestion should be resisted, for several reasons:
- Dominant personalities in the focus group will affect what others say
- In a group of X people, each person can, on average, speak only 1/X of the time. So a
focus group wastes people‟s time since most of the time they will be sitting around,
- In a group setting, when one person says something interesting, it is tough to release
the agenda to follow that topic
- Focus groups take longer to set up and get on the calendar than a set of one-on-ones
Focus groups are extremely expensive. I served one client that insisted on running a
focus group with potential consumers. We used an external firm that specializes in focus groups.
I was shocked at how expensive it was. We did three panels lasting 90 minutes each, each one
with 5-8 consumers. So we got input from about 20 regular people. The cost was $60,000. We
had 20 consumers sitting in the room for 90 minutes each, but we didn‟t get 30 person-hours of
input. We got 4.5 person- hours of input, since during those three 90- minute sessions only one
person could talk at a time. That ran to over $10,000 per person- hour of input. You can get a top
tier independent consultant to do an awful lot of one-on-one interviews for that kind of money.
Focus groups have high administrative overhead. If you are doing an interview, you
can knock out an interview guide in twenty minutes. After a couple interviews, you‟ll get a
sense for what the big issues are and refine the interview guide so you can then start asking the
same questions each time to get quantitative results. But if you are going to run focus groups,
you need to design the interview guide very carefully, because you need to anticipate ahead of
time exactly what you want to quantify. Plan to spend a couple person-days iterating the focus
Running effective meetings
Decide on the purpose. Write down the purpose of the meeting. If you aren‟t doing
anything more than a one-way update, would a simple email suffice?
What kind of meeting is it? There are basically three types of meetings run by
consultants. Understand what type of meeting you are about to have:
Working meeting: During the course of the meeting itself, the attendees will
create some new content, e.g., a map of the current state of a process
Decision meeting: Special case of the working meeting, in which the output is a
decision, by either the group or a subset of attendees
Update meeting: Status report on your project. Clients often want to have one of
these every so often. Try to convert these into a working meeting or a decision meeting.
There are at least two additional types of meetings to be aware of:
Staff meeting: Try to avoid agreeing to attend these. As a consultant, you are
probably focused on a very specific problem, and attending these can be a time-waster. But if
you need to present a recommendation to your client‟s senior staff, it can be useful to get on the
agenda of the staff meeting, since they are generally already on everyone‟s calendar, rather than
trying to create your own meeting.
Daily operational meeting: In any kind of operational environment (e.g.,
manufacturing facilities, service factories such as hotels or call centers or car rental agencies)
there should probably be some type of daily stand- up meeting in which the supervisor reviews
metrics from the day before and quickly lays out the game plan for the day ahead. Even if you
aren‟t working on an operational matter, see if you can attend one of these to get a flavor of the
real work being done at your client.
Limit the numbe r of attendees. Now that you‟ve stated the purpose and know what type
of meeting you want, invite only those people who have to attend. The fewer attendees, the
Stand up. A meeting has more energy when at least one person is standing. Stand up and
go to the white board with marker in hand. There isn‟t a white board? Then get one. Or even
better, one of those giant Post-It pads that you can tear off and stick on the wall. When you stand
up, you can better control the course of the meeting.
Be thoughtful about the setup of the room. Get there early and rearrange the furniture.
Is there a white board or pad for notes up front? If not, get one. Re-arrange the desks to support
the type of interaction you are looking for. For example, if you‟ve got a large meeting space with
three dozen chairs set up classroom style, but only a dozen people attending, you might want to
put a dozen chairs in a circle and stack the rest at the back of the room.
If you are working with other consultants, think about where your team is going to sit.
All on one side of the table? Makes it seem like us against them. Consider spreading out, so you
can each see each other‟s facial expressions.
Test out the conference call number, the video hook-up, your laptop displaying on the
overhead, and any other technology. Nothing kills the mood like fiddling with AV.
Decide on how to share the document. If you are using a document, will you distribute
paper copies, or show it on an overhead projection screen. The projection screen can be effective
for large groups when you want to ensure that everyone stays on the same page. But they are
more formal and the subtext is “We are now presenting the Answer.” If you want to do problem
solving with a smaller group, paper is usually better.
Use fewer pages. However many pages your document is, fewer is probably better. Zero
can be the best of all. I‟ve used exactly zero pages for some of the most productive meetings I‟ve
run. For example, at one client I was asked to lead a day- long kick-off session to surface the
issues we wanted to tackle. One approach would have been to lay out in tedious detail the
approach we would take to map the current state process, identify bottlenecks, design a future
state, etc. Yawn.
Instead, we started with a blank sheet of poster-size PostIt paper. For five hours straight,
the attendees listed issues facing the organization, and we worked together to organize these
issues into several themes. At the end of the session, they owned the solution.
Open with a discussion of the agenda for the meeting. Present the agenda of what you
want to cover. Then open it up and ask if any other topics need to be covered. If your client
really wants to talk about X and your meeting is about Y, then you‟ll be getting only a fraction of
Be prepared to release your agenda. In some cases, you may need to set your agenda
aside completely. After you‟ve spent days or weeks getting ready for the big meeting, this takes
mindfulness to the emotions and attention levels in the room.
Track next steps. On the white board, or one of your big Post-It sheets, track the action
items that people agree to. Include the action, the responsibility assigned, and the due date.
Every action should have just one owner – one throat to choke. If multiple people have to work
on the action, fine. But put down just one name – the person who is on the hook to get it done. If
you can‟t clearly point your finger at who is responsible, then no one truly is.
At the end of the meeting, review the next steps that have been agreed to. Then send out
the list to all attendees by email afterwards to confirm. Start your next meeting by reviewing that
status of action items from this one.
If no action items come from the meeting, then why did you have the meeting?
Keep a parking lot for issues. If important issues come up, keep track of them on a
“parking lot.” The issue is important to whoever raised it. If it doesn‟t rise to the level of
releasing your agenda, agree on how you‟ll follow up separately on this item. That way, whoever
raised it won‟t be able to focus on what you want to talk about.
Creating effective presentations
Tell a story. Your presentation is not a random collection of facts. Think of yourself as a
storyteller. One of the most common ways to structure your story is: Situation, Complication,
Situation: Client has seen steady growth and become the industry leader through a
strategy of X.
Complication: New developments challenge the effectiveness of X, and growth
has stalled as competitors offer Y.
Resolution: Client can build on its strong foundation and challenge Y by doing Z.
Recommended reading. I‟ll just offer a few tips on presentations in this section. For a
grounding in how to create an excellent presentation, I recommend study of the follo wing:
The Minto Pyramid Principle, by Barbara Minto. This is the Bible of how to structure
thinking, writing, and presentations for consultants.
All four books by Edward Tufte. (Envisioning Information, etc.) These books are
beautiful objects, and you can get all four of them by attending one of Tufte‟s day-long
seminars, which I highly recommend. Check his website to get the schedule.
Drawing on the Back of the Napkin, by Dan Roam.
Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds.
_____________, by Gene Zelazny.
Study best-practice charts. To get really good, I suggest Ben Franklin‟s approach. In
his autobiography, Franklin discusses how he taught himself to write well. He took notes on a
series of slips of paper on essays from The Spectator, and then he set the notes aside for several
days. Then he shuffled the notes and tried to re-create the essay, afterwards comparing his work
with the original.
You can do the same thing with charts. Find charts that you find compelling. The
McKinsey Quarterly is a great source. Takes notes on a chart, and then see if you can draw that
chart several days later. You‟ll quickly build up a repertoire that you can draw on. You don‟t
need many. The bar chart, the column chart, the waterfall chart, the two-by-two matrix, the
scatter plot, the “swim lanes” process map – these plus a handful of others form the basic
grammar that will help you communicate whatever you want to say.
Ghost out your document on pape r first. Get away from your screen. Get away from
email and from the phone. Ghost out your document by hand. You might sketch out 4 or 9 slides
per page, or one per page – whatever works. Sketch out the pages quickly; draw far more pages
than you‟ll every actually produce. Don‟t let yourself be stopped by that inner voice that says,
“This page will be too hard,” or “We don‟t have the data for that page.” Let your intuition run
free for an hour.
Be prepared to work in a non-linear fashion. As you come up with an idea for the
opening slides, you may get an idea for a great chart in the middle. Sketch it out and keep
What chart would you create if you had the data? Assume you could get the data.
What chart would you draw? Worry about getting the data later. What chart do you need to tell
So what? After allowing your creativity free reign, review your pages. Every page
should have a “so what?”
One idea per page. Each page should have at least one “so what.” It should also have
exactly one “so what.” You should be able to summarize that “so what” in the headline of the
slide. More than one major idea per page is too hard to communicate. Your charts should be so
powerfully imbued with that one single idea that they reach out and grab our throats. If you‟ve
got more than one “so what,” split it up. Otherwise, your readers will absorb one idea or the
other, but probably not both.
Put the “so what” in the headline. The client should be able to get your message if they
flip through your presentation and read only the headlines.
Bad headline: Sales Results by Salesperson
Good headline: Top 20% of Reps Drive 80% of Sales Growth
No 3-D graphics for 2-D data. Microsoft Excel lets you tilt and rotate your plain old bar
charts. Those 3-D effects just make the chart hard to read. Stick to the plain vanilla charts, and
let the data, not the effects, dazzle your audience.
Use pictures. Your phone has a camera – use it. Photos of the shop floor, photos of the
competitor‟s store display, photos of your client‟s product installed by an actual customer – these
can all help communicate your story.
Avoid pie charts. At least, most of the time. There is usually a better way to
communicate information. Pie charts are terrible for comparisons.
Influencing for impact
Your job as a consultant is not to create a document. The deliverable should not be a
presentation to a steering committee. The deliverable ought to be impact – something should
change as an outcome of your work.
In order to make change happen, you need to influence people. Be thoughtful what
influence tactics you employ. To influence four department heads, you might need to use four
different influence techniques.
A technique that convinces one person to adopt your point of view can have the opposite
effect on someone else. For example, I tend to be suspicious of experts as well as the wisdom of
the crowd. If you tell me that “everyone else is supporting the proposal,” I‟m probably less likely
to think it is a good idea. If you tell me that “the boss wants us to do it,” then I‟m even more
suspicious. It is easier to convince me using either logical persuasion, or a consultative approach.
For other folks, a logical persuasion approach falls flat, but tell them the CEO wants it
done, and they snap to attention.
A natural bias is to use on others the influence techniques that work best on you. You can
work to reduce this bias by intentionally incorporating new influence techniques in your toolkit
and being intentional about which technique you will use. Observe the person you are trying to
influence. Do they regularly make arguments based on logic? Then try logical persuasion with
Or do they mention “The CEO wants this,” or “the boss wants such-and-such.” In that
case, they may be more likely to be swayed by a legitimizing approach. Here is a starter kit of
techniques. Cialdini is a good start for a detailed guide to the subject of influence:
Strategy Description Example
Legitimizing Using authority “The CEO has asked us to...”
Logical persuading Using facts “As you can see with this chart...”
Appeal to friendship Establishing a friendship and asking for a favor “I’d really appreciate your support...”
Consulting Inviting participating in the process, asking for “How do you think we can...”
Stating Making a direct statement of what you want “Please instruct your staff to...”
Appealing to values Appealing to shared goals “We both share the same goals...”
Modeling Leading by example Lead the VP Ops on a tour of factory
Exchanging Giving something of value in return “In exchange, I could help you to...”
Alliance building Getting consensus among a network of “The other department heads are
supporters excited about the proposal...”
Business development for independent consultants
There is no magic bullet. If there is a secret sauce, I‟m afraid that I don‟t have the
It helps if you love to solve problems. Otherwise, being a consultant will be a chore.
A fancy website isn’t required. A fancy website helps provide some legitimacy. It can‟t
hurt, I suppose. But it isn‟t essential. Clients are probably not going to hire you because they
found your website. You are far more likely to get hired because of one of three reasons:
1. The client already knows you and trusts you, or
2. Someone that already knows you and trusts you recommends you to the client
3. Actually, there is no third reason. See #1 and #2
Be willing to give something away for free. I enjoy problem solving, so I‟m glad to
meet with a potential client to do some problem solving for free. I‟ve done a free, one-week
diagnostic on several occasions. Consulting is an experience good – a client needs to try it out to
see if it works for them. Make it a no-brainer to say yes to a free diagnostic, or to a free one-day
problem solving session.
Sign up with an agency. There are several firms started within the past several years that
act as brokers for top tier management consultants. They don‟t require exclusivity, and they are a
great channel for your services. You can‟t rely on them to fill your whole pipeline, but they can
be a very valuable part of your portfolio of opportunities.
Let people know what you are doing, but don’t ask for referrals. Don‟t ask people if
they know anyone who needs your help. If the answer is “Yes,” well, congratulations. But the
answer is probably “No.” And then you‟ve damaged that relationship.
Don’t network. Instead, build relationships. Don‟t try to connect with people because
you think they could be a source of business. That transactional approach is transparent, and
turns people off.
Stay in touch. Once a project is over, stay in touch, even (especially) if there is only a
small likelihood of any follow-on work. Don‟t say that you care about impact – show it by
following up to see what happens once you leave.
Serve clients, not companies. My goal as a consultant is to make individual people
successful. It isn‟t very exciting to me to increase the profits of a corporation. But I can get
excited about helping an executive increase the profits of her business unit, because that will
make her a star.
Build a reputation. There are all sorts of ways to raise your profile and build legitimacy,
and many of them no longer require the permission of a gatekeeper. Write a blog on the industry.
Develop a training seminar and offer it for free to executives in your industry of choice. Publish
a podcast. Write white papers. Present at a conference.
You could interview executives in the industry of your choice for a white paper, and then
offer to brief them on the findings.
You could create a round-table discussion forum for executives in the function in which
You could create a series of videos, and post them free on Youtube. As a non-consultant
example, Google “Khan Academy.”
Speak to a club at the business school you attended.
Help organize and/or speak at a conference.
Approach targeted clients: If you have a specific functional or industry focus, select
some target clients. Research their current situation. Tell their executive team how you can help
them grow the business / cut costs. My own practice has grown through referrals, not through
pro-active business development of this sort. So hats off to consultants who are bold enough to
make this strategy work.
Don’t call it “freelancing.” Makes it sound like you are writing articles for the local arts
weekly. Say that you‟ve started your own co nsulting firm. If you are going to start your own
consulting firm, it will need a name. If I were starting over, I wouldn‟t include my own name in
my firm‟s name. Makes you sound like a one-person shop. Instead, consider picking a name for
your firm without your name, and call yourself the Managing Director. People will imagine that
there must be Directors, VPs, and Associates running around back at the office.
Get a branded email address: If your firm has a name, it should have a branded email
address. If you've never registered a domain name before, don't sweat. It costs $11 on
www.godaddy.com for a domain and then $50 per year per user to get private- label Gmail via
Get some really sharp business cards. The smaller the firm, the thicker the cardstock.
Discussing price: Don‟t talk about price until the client is convinced that they want you.
Try, “I‟ve found that it is never helpful to talk about price until we‟re both sure I can add value –
it is just a distraction. I‟m sure that we‟ll be able to find a price that we‟re both comfortable
Practice negotiating: It is one thing to sell a widget. Negotiating a price for your own
time is uncomfortable for a lot of people (it is for me.) So practice with an advisor.
The Minto Pyramid Principle: Logic in writing, thinking, and problem solving , Barbara M into. For the last
four decades, McKinsey has been following Minto‟s approach.
The McKinsey Approach to Problem Solving, Staff Paper # 66 . A summary of how top tier consultants solve
Business presentations and communicati ons
Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds. Primarily aimed at overhead presentations to large groups. Use more big
photos and a lot less text. Be like Steve Jobs.
The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam. How to solve business problems by drawing pictures, even if you can‟t
draw more than a stick figure.
Say it with Charts: The Executive's Guide to Visual Communication , Gene Zelazny. McKinsey‟s chief chart
guru since the „60s shows you how to craft a great chart. Hint: keep it simp le, with one message per page.
Say it with Presentations, Gene Zelazny. Ho w to co mbine your great charts into a compelling presentation.
Envisioning Information, Edward Tu fte. The father of statistical graphics. If you can, catch his one-day
seminar, a bargain at $400. Check his website for schedules.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte. A lso check his other two beautiful books. No
publisher would match his standards, so he self-published them.
TED Talks. A mazing speakers – entertainers, writers, musicians, technology execs, professors you‟ve never
heard of, social entrepreneurs, all with an amazing story to tell, in 18 minutes. Availab le free online streaming
or via iTunes.
Power and i nfluence
The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene. As a consultant, you get paid for impact, not a document on a shelf.
Pay attention to sources of power.
Influence: Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini. A highly readable book by a leading academic on the
Creati vity. Consulting is about solving problems that haven‟t been solved before. Good consulting is a
fundamentally creative art. And creativity is a skill that you can develop just like any other. Just takes practice.
Outside Lies Magic: Regaining history and awareness in everyday places, John Stilgoe. St ilgoe is a landscape
historian at Harvard. That‟s right, a landscape historian. His course on the built environ ment of No rth America
taught me how to see, and it alone was worth my Harvard tuition. Not a day goes by when I don‟t make an
observation influenced by him. Th is book is essentially about how to take a good walk.
The War of Art. Steven Pressfield. How to overco me “the Resistance,” stop fearing your own success, and
Creativity in Business, Michael Ray
Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius, Michael Michalko. A toolkit of techniques you can put
in practice to enhance your creativity.
Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques, Michael M ichalko. So me overlap with Cracking
Creat ivity, plus a few new tools.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszent mihalyi. A study of the state when you are
working on something you care about so deeply that you don‟t even notice time passing. Whether that
something is writing a novel, playing tennis, practicing the piano, or solv ing business problems, you‟ll find
many similar characteristics.
The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, Rosamund and Ben Zander.
Observations by a leading conductor who has become a superstar business speaker. As a teacher, Ben Zander
gave all h is students an A at the beginning of the semester. But first he mad e them right down why they would
deserve that A by the end of the course. A wise book I‟ve re-read mult iple t imes.
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, Twy la Tharp. By a lead ing choreographer.
How to be an Explorer of the World, Keri Smith. A series of fun exercises. Take p ictures of paint spots on the
sidewalk. Collect objects fro m the sidewalk and arrange them as if they were a museu m exh ibit. That sort of
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers will Rule the Future, Daniel Pink. The 21st century is all about
Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson. Plenty of practical ways to put yourself in a position to have
The Gift : Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, Lewis Hyde. An artist isn‟t someone who paints. An
artist is someone who creates – who gives a gift. Inspired me to create Consulting Bootcamp and write this
The Feiner Points of Leadership: The 50 basic laws that will make people want to perform better for you ,
Michael C. Feiner. By one of Co lu mbia Business School‟s most popular professors ever. He was the Chief
Admin istrative Officer at Pepsi, responsible for training their executives to be leaders. I‟ve frequently given
this book to clients, and they always appreciate it.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A leadership fable, Patrick Lencion i. What can go wrong, and how to fix it.
Power Plays: Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management , John Whitney. Go back and re-read the
Bard with a new appreciat ion for h is insights into life at work.
Finance and Accounting.
The Analysis and Use of Financial Statements, Gerald White. A good all-around intro accounting text.
Analysis for Financial Management, Robert Higgins. A concise, readable introduction to understanding and
analyzing financial statements.
Career advice and professional development
What Color is Your Parachute? Richard Bolles. The best all-around book on finding a job.
Never Wrestle With a Pig and Ninety Other Ideas to Build Your Business and Career, Mark McCormack. Fun
insights into life at work.
Talent is Overrated, Geoff Co lvin. Message: it‟s all about putting in the 10,000 hours of deliberate pract ice.
Weapons of Mass Instruction: A schoolteacher's journey through the dark world of compulsory schooling,
John Taylor Gatto. Reflections on the school system by a New Yo rk State Teacher of the Year who quit in the
middle of his tenure.
Negotiating Your Salary: How to make $1000 a minute, Jack Chapman. For once you get the offer.
For Executives Only: Applying business techniques to your job search , Bill Belknap. The subtitle says it all.
Attitudes of gratitude: How to give and receive joy every day of your life, M. J. Ryan. Say thank-you, even
(especially) when you won‟t get anything out of it.
Tribes: We need you to lead us, Seth Godin. Create a foru m for like -minded people who want to connect with
each other. And read all of Godin‟s other books, too.
Targeting a Great Career, Kate Wendleton. A concise book on how to do the research to figure out what you
want to do.
The Dip: A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick) , Seth Godin.
The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace lessons smart people wish they'd learned sooner, Peggy Klaus.
After your first promotion, it‟s all about getting other people to do stuff.
Are You Ready to Succeed?: Unconventional strategies for achieving personal mastery in business and life ,
Sriku mar Rao. Rao‟s course, Creat ivity and Personal Mastery, is the only business school class with its own
alu mni club. His former students hold an alu mni reunion every year. Th is book closely follows his course.
The Art of Mingling: Easy, fun, and proven techniques for mastering any room, Jeanne Martinet
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, Timothy Ferriss. While the
emphasis is on creating an Internet retail business, which is what Ferriss did, his princip les on controlling your
own time, setting amazing goals, and cutting out distractions are widely applicable.
Computer skills. I haven‟t yet been on a project where having a mastery of Excel hasn‟t been helpful. If you aren‟t
an Excel guru, teach yourself. A small investment in Excel skills pays off big dividends in time savings as well as
making it possible to do analyses you wouldn‟t even have thought of.
Pivot Table Data Crunching for Microsoft Office Excel 2007, Bill Jelen.
Other g ood business-related books
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions, Dan Ariely. Why free is a much more
powerful p rice than $0.01, and many other insights based on his research.
Purple Cow: Transform your business by being remarkable, Seth Godin. Bro wn cows don‟t get noticed.
The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki. Also read his biweekly colu mn in The New Yorker.
Punished by Rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes, Alfie Kohn.
How grades and gold stars end up destroying internal motivation.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. W ill forever change the way
you think about risk and probability. And make you highly suspicious of so-called “experts.”
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Atul Gawande.
How to li ve
Walden, Henry David Thoreau. As a consultant, your job is to look at the situation with a fresh eye. No one
has done this better than Henry.
The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo.
The Art of Liv ing by Ep ictetus: The classic manual on v irtue, happiness, and effectiveness
Warrior of the Light: A Manual, Paulo Coehlo. Aphorisms and micro-stories.
Linchpin: Are you indispensable?, Seth Godin. Did I mention to read everything by Seth Godin? Th is book is
about how to become the indispensable person in your organization, no matter what your job title. I liked it so
much, I‟ve read all the books on the recommended reading list.
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life, Jon Kabat-Zinn. Whatever your
religious beliefs, meditation can be a powerfu l pract ice to bring into your life.
The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh. In our d istracted culture, if you can pay attention to a problem
for 4 hours (8 hours?) without interruption, you‟ll have an incredible advantage.
Positi ve psycholog y (the scientific study of happiness)
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment ,
Martin Selig man. By one of the founders of the new field called positive psychology, that seeks to study
happiness in a scientific way, after psychologists focused on depression and neuroses for the first century of
The How of Happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want , Sonja Lyubomirsky. My favorite book on
Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Tal Ben-Shahar. By the professor who taught
one of the most popular courses ever at Harvard
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success - How we can learn to fulfill our potential, Caro l Dweck.
The Trusted Advisor, Dav id Maister. Trust = (Credib ility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-o rientation
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson.
Seth Godin: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/
Chris Guillebeau: The Art of Non-Conformity: http://chrisguillebeau.com/3x5/