This book sat on my list of reads for a while, and it was only recently that I tracked down a copy. A “business novel”, the book describes the style of consulting through a story line, and a pretty interesting one (for a business novel). It follows the tale of the main character Jack Bower, working for a big consulting firm who acquires a much smaller but better of consulting firm called Lighthouse. Behind the company is someone he considers a rival, and is put into an uncomfortable situation trying to learn more about the way that they do business.
The larger consulting firm does business as I see traditional consulting – one with a very highly leveraged model of few partners all the way down to an army (find a better word) of associate consultants who do their research and analytical thinking. Their style typified by land-and-expand consulting that is generally more about the sales than it is about doing business.
Jack Bower goes down to see how Lighthouse run their business, skeptical of their approach. Firstly they have a smaller set of consultants, and much less leveraged with a much lower turnover. He is horrified to shadow the first client where he doesn’t see any background research done, no “presentation” prepared but they just go in and start asking questions about their business and what their problem is.
The rest of the book unfolds with a whole set of principles around the Naked Consulting idea that I think makes a lot of sense. In many ways, I like to think I see this in what I’ve seen very good consultants do. The book has a nice way of concluding the principles that I’ll list here:
Fear of Losing the Business
Put yourself at stake even when there is a risk of losing business. Honesty builds trust that wins over the long term. Principles include:
- Always consult instead of sell by demonstrating value through serving
- Give away business – advice is cheap, so don’t hold back even before they are a client
- Tell the kind truth – It’s important to tell the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable. Be respectful but never avoid stepping around issues that others might.
- Enter the Danger – Kind of feels like XP Courage value but requires you stepping into the middle of uncomfortable situations to fearlessly address an issue others are afraid of.
Fear of Being Embarrassed
Don’t put personal pride about idea generation and suggestion. Principles:
- Ask dumb questions – It’s better to become informed in something you don’t know and often many other people don’t know the answers to the same questions
- Make dumb suggestions – Offer many small suggestions to test for new ideas versus waiting for the “perfect solution”
- Celebrate your mistakes – Being wrong is okay, inevitable and perfection is not expected. Acknowledging these helps builds confidence in others to take part
Fear of Feeling Inferior
Trying to look superior, or with a high level of standing or expertise. Client needs above the needs of others. Principles:
- Take a bullet for the client – Being a sacrificial lamb can help the client in some situations, but is balanced out with the kind truth
- Honour the client’s work – Show interest in the client’s industry/business. It helps to choose clients that are aligned with your own company’s interest. In the book, for example, the smaller successful firm turns down clients in industries it just can’t work in.
- Do the dirty work – Don’t consider tasks “beneath you” regardless of your skill/experience and do it humbly
- Admit your weaknesses and limitations – Ensure you know where your strengths lie and avoid covering up your own weaknesses in order to thrive in the best environments.
The book was easy to read, simple and had a very clear message. I found lots of similiarities to the way that ThoughtWorks conducts business and the skill I’ve seen with some of our great principal consultants. It summarises the approach in a very, clear digestable manner and I’m pleased to have heard of many of these things before.