When I’ve got spare time to unwind, I tend to read blogs, watch TV, or play games – Hitman:Absolution is in heavy rotation at the moment – but every now and then I pick up a book. Here’s my favorites from the last year or so:
The Consultant’s Handbook by Samir Parikh
I like Secrets of Consulting a lot because of its folksy, easily-approachable language. Weinberg tells stories and parables that you know in your heart are true, but doesn’t really offer numbers to back them up. (You don’t need them – you’ll know they’re right.)
The Consultant’s Handbook is the opposite: it’s written in more formal language, uses figures, and in part II, tells much, much deeper stories in the form of case studies. Parikh walks you through identifying pain points, clarifying them with key stakeholders, and agreeing on deliverables.
They both give a great return on your time investment, and they give different returns. One doesn’t take the place of the other. For example, I love Parikh’s 50:50 rule: 50% of a client’s satisfaction is determined by the end result of the project, but the other 50% is determined by the experience – the ease, impression, and overall experience of dealing with the consulting team.
I’d recommend this one wholeheartedly.
The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
This 20-year-old classic still stands up well today – especially for independent consultants looking to find a way into a market.
Put yourself in the incumbent’s shoes. If you sell a service or product, and you’re making a profit, your competitors are watching. They want to sell something that solves the same pain that you do, and steal your customers.
That doesn’t necessarily mean selling the same service or product. It could be a totally different method of pain relief, especially one that they can do at a much lower cost to your customers. Your competitors are under the gun to innovate as fast as they can to do it better/cheaper/faster.
You need to be your own internal competitor. You need to constantly be reinterpreting why people are really buying your product – what pain they’re trying to solve – and how you can solve it for them better/cheaper/faster.
This is the same reason I originally started giving away sp_Blitz® for free. A lot of consulting companies were charging for a health check – even if the check didn’t really check all that much. I figured I could give away a totally free health check without costing myself anything, and then gradually raise awareness of my own consulting services.
It really does work, and we’re continuing the same mindset today. I’m constantly looking at what we do and asking, “How can we give this away for free instead of charging for it?” It sounds crazy, but if I don’t do it to myself, you’re gonna to it to me.
Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man by Scott Wetzler
Sounds like an odd choice, right? Hear me out.
As a consultant and teacher, I come across all kinds of personalities. I can’t just give up on a client or student because of their personality – I need to be able to recognize personality patterns, and figure out how to work with those people on their own terms.
Wetzler defines passive behavior, then aggressive, then combines them, and explains the kind of passive-aggressive behavior that’s actually perfectly normal. (I’d never considered Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as passive-aggressive.)
Then he lays out traits that are abnormally passive-aggressive:
- Fear of competition
- Fostering chaos
- Feeling victimized
- Making excuses and lying
Just seeing that list alone was worth the price of admission for me – I suddenly felt relieved because no, I wasn’t just imagining those symptoms. They really were connected into a single abnormal personality trait.
Wetzler connects the dots in ways I hadn’t expected, like explaining why the passive-aggressive person can’t handle direct confrontation due to their fear of competition, and uses ambiguous villains. He says these are false creations, but are juuuust ambiguous enough that they can never be proven wrong. Some of these stories seem a little far-fetched, though – I have a hard time believing someone would actually fabricate a false scenario just to paint themselves as a hero in a battle without offending a real villain.
While those were valuable insights, I was hoping for coping tactics. Unfortunately, Wetzler keeps coming back to a single solution: the passive-aggressive person has to want to change on their own, and they need professional help to do it. As much as I’d like to send some of those folks to a therapist, I’m not sure that should really be the main takeaway for a book called “Living with the Passive Aggressive Man.” (If you’ve got good tips on dealing with these kinds of people, I’d love to hear ’em.)