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The Law of Strawberry Jam

by Gerald M. Weinberg

Adapted from More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit . Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. See below for copyright notice.

When I mentioned to my pal Michelle that I was writing a sequel to The Secrets of Consulting, she shook her head in disbelief. "Why don't you quit while you're ahead? Don't you believe your own preaching? What about The Law of Raspberry Jam?"[1]

Michelle was referring to the law that describes how any Great Message gets diluted when carried too far: "The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets." She doubted that a second volume could be as good as the first.

"Yeah," she continued, "I'll grant that your first book was pretty good, so why didn't you stop when you were ahead? Are you just trying to cash in on its success?"

"Well, truthfully, Michelle, I am trying to cash in on the success of Secrets. Should I be ashamed of that?"

"Not unless you're not giving value to your readers."

"Fair enough," I said. "I'll start the book by letting the readers know what kind of value they can expect. So, let's try an analysis."

I explained to Michelle that up until now, Secrets has sold about 100,000 copies, and that many readers have told me how much they have increased their annual consulting income by applying such secrets as The Ten Laws of Pricing, The Orange Juice Test, Marvin's Great Secrets, The Buffalo Bridle, and The Ten Laws of Marketing. Hearing this, she mentioned that it had increased her income, too.

"By how much?" I asked.

"Oh, at least ten thousand dollars per year, and that would be conservative."

"Okay," I said, "so, assuming that each copy was read at least once, those readers have increased their earnings by one billion dollars per year in aggregate. And that's every year from now on."

"Okay," she said. "I'll buy a copy."

The Jam Laws

Well, if you're like Michelle—the type who believes in numbers—that analysis ought to convince you, too. If this book is even half as good as the first, it will still be filled with enough jam to make it a delicious read.

But what if you're not like Michelle? What if you need general principles to convince you? Then you'll have to read on, and learn about The Law of Strawberry Jam.

Young visionaries are discouraged by The Law of Raspberry Jam because they would like to believe that their message would remain thick as they spread it far and wide. But they need not be discouraged, even though no vision retains uniform thickness as it spreads. Although raspberry jam keeps getting thinner on your morning toast, any fine strawberry jam behaves quite differently.

Slather a bit of raspberry jam on a few slices of bread, and you'll see each stroke get thinner and thinner. But if you try the same trick with strawberry preserves, you'll notice that no matter how much you try to spread it, the lumps remain! Or, in the words of The Law of Strawberry Jam,

As long as it has lumps, you can never spread it too thin.

In strawberry jam, the lumps are strawberries. In your Great Message, the lump is you. What lumps are to strawberry jam, you are to your Great Message. As long as your medium of communication involves your own body in the flesh— speaking, writing, hugging—your message cannot be infinitely diluted. That's why I decided to write this volume about you, the individual consultant. I want to provide the personal tools you need to make your messages as lumpy as possible—certainly lumpier than those conveyed by the cloned consultants who issue forth from the big consulting factories every day.

The Law of Grape Jelly

Ours is not an age of strawberry jam. Grape jelly seems to be the favorite covering for the American Restaurant Toast—it's absolutely without lumps or even tiny seeds. In fact, it's absolutely without taste, which eliminates complaints. You might complain that the jam tastes "off," but you can hardly complain that it has no taste whatsoever.

Not having lumps, grape jelly is perfect for processing through manufacturing machines. It's that lumpy third dimension—the depth—that makes mass production impractical. Grape jelly spreads infinitely thin, so the consumer can color a predictable number of slices of toast out of a single sterilized plastic container. With strawberry jam, there's always the danger of finding a lump, thus consuming the entire "portion control" container on a single slice of toast.

Jelly contains no surprises and it's cheaper to manufacture than jam—these two properties combine to yield The Law of Grape Jelly:

Nobody ever bothers to complain about grape jelly.

The Law of Grape Jelly is a law about expectations. Another way of stating this law was one of my father's favorites:

If you don't expect much, you'll never be disappointed.

With the sale of ideas, you can also adopt a grape jelly marketing philosophy. If you're presenting a course, it's best from the distributor's point of view to have it reduced to an outline totally lacking in lumps, so that it can be taught by any of a dozen cloned lecturers. Even better is to have it reduced to a video tape or disk that can be played anywhere and give a uniformly thin result. This approach serves to eliminate the bad lumps at the same time it strains out the good ones. Nobody ever found an entire caterpillar in their grape jelly. By eliminating lumpy people, you get uniform, but thin, quality.

Manufactured items are designed to be built from identical components by a series of processes that require not the slightest individuality on the part of the assemblers. Similarly, many office procedures are reduced to steps that can be carried out by anybody who can fog a mirror. Like grape jelly on white toast, the results of these processes aren't superbly satisfying, but at least they're uniform and entirely predictable. Best of all, no one complains.

The Lump Law

In another book of mine, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking, I introduced The Lump Law:

If we want to learn anything, we mustn't try to learn everything. [2]

In other words, it pays to choose your lumps.

By applying The Lump Law (see, I do use my own principles), I convinced myself that like The Secrets of Consulting, this book will not attempt to cover everything a consultant ought to know. Instead, I will confine myself to a few essential tools that every consultant—and really everyone who ever gives or seeks advice—should always have close at hand. Hence the subtitle, The Consultant's Tool Kit.

Many of the other things that a consultant ought to know can be found in the books of Peter Block, who has certainly taught me a great deal. In an interview with Peter, Paula Jacobs asked: "What do you see as the single most important life lesson for consultants?" He answered as follows:

The person is the product. Working on becoming a more authentic, whole person is the best business strategy. We are selling an intangible service, so clients have no way of knowing what they will be getting and whether they can derive value from what they get. . . . [the] more direct we are, the better human contact we make, the more centered and self aware we are, the more likely the client will see us as someone who they can lean on, someone who delivers on promises, someone they can learn from. [3]

That's exactly why I'm going to concentrate here on those tools that most help me to be direct, more centered, more self-aware, and more in contact with other people. I've derived these tools from a set that was originally given to me by the great family therapist, Virginia Satir. When she wrote the foreword to The Secrets of Consulting, I was just beginning to appreciate the depth of her teachings. Now, they have permeated all aspects of my life.

Satir's Self-Esteem Tool Kit

Virginia, like me, was fond of metaphors and collected them from a profusion of sources, such as The Wizard of Oz, by Frank Baum. Remember how the Wizard gave the Scarecrow a brain, the Tin Man a heart, the Cowardly Lion a badge of courage, and Dorothy the power to go home. The Wizard's great secret was that each of them already possessed the tools they thought they lacked. The Wizard's job was merely to remind them.

From this idea, Virginia developed her idea of the "self-esteem tool kit"—a set of resources that each of us owns but often forgets to use when we're feeling powerless. As a consultant, out there alone in a sometimes unappreciative world, I've frequently reminded myself of the metaphors in Virginia's original kit:

The Wisdom Box—the ability to know what's right and what's not right for me. Without a Wisdom Box, I would find myself forever working in situations that violated my principles, or for which I had no energy.

The Golden Key—the ability to open up new areas for learning and practicing, and to close them if they don't fit for me at this time. Without this Golden Key, my consulting would become narrowly focused, or focused on areas in which I was no longer interested.

The Courage Stick—the courage to try new things and to risk failure. Without my Courage Stick, my consulting turns to grape jelly.

The Wishing Wand—the ability to ask for what I want, and if necessary, to live with not getting it. Without the ability to ask for what I want, I am powerless to be an effective negotiator.

The Detective Hat, sometimes teamed with The Magnifying Glass—the ability to examine data and to reason about those data. Without analytical abilities, I would become a solution-problemer—a vendor of off-the-shelf, portion-controlled solutions—rather than a problem-solver responding to my clients' real needs.

The Yes/No Medallion—the ability to say yes, the ability to say no (thank you), and the ability to mean what I say. Without a yes that means yes and a no that means no, I would pander to my clients' prejudices and my advice would be worthless.

These six tools formed Virginia's self-esteem tool kit, as I learned it. Over the years, however, various colleagues have helped me add other tools to my personal version of the kit:

The Heart—the ability and willingness to put my heart into my work. My colleague Jean McLendon introduced The Heart to my kit; she explained that Virginia left it out of her kit because she assumed people always have access to their heart. Working in technical environments, though, I've learned that I often need to be reminded of the hopes and wishes and fears and sensitivities of others. The Heart gives me that nudge when I need it.

The Mirror—the ability to see myself and to seek and use feedback. I'd always known that feedback was important for personal growth, but I learned much more about it as I worked with Edie and Charlie Seashore on our book about feedback, What Did You Say? [4] Feedback is the mirror by which I can see myself and monitor how I am affecting those around me—but it only works if I remember to look in that mirror that others offer.

The Telescope—the ability to see others and to bring them closer to my understanding than my naked eye and brain can manage. My Telescope partners with my Mirror, which reminds me to see myself.

The Fish-Eye Lens—the ability to see the context, what surrounds me and others and influences us as we work together. It reminds me to use the many observational and analytical tools I already have, many of which I've written about in my books yet fail to recall when I most need them. Together, The Mirror, The Telescope, and The Fish-Eye Lens equip me with the self, other, and context from Virginia's model of congruence—the ingredients that must be balanced if I am to be congruent.

The Gyroscope—the ability to be balanced, to use all of my tools, and to be congruent or centered. My father gave me my first gyroscope, and to this day, I remain fascinated by its ability to restore its balance when disturbed. Sometimes, I think that The Gyroscope is too complex a tool for my kit, but then I remember that restoring balance to my life is complex and that it is something I must always try to do.

The Egg—the ability to grow, develop, and learn, using all the parts of myself that I need. Although I like to collect eggs—beautiful stone ones, usually—I'm allergic to the chicken kind. Perhaps this allergy explains why I took so long to associate The Egg with Virginia Satir's Seed Model—the concept that each of us comes into the world with all the tools we need to be complete human beings. When I'm stuck, my Egg reminds me of the many tools I don't realize I have—and of my ability to choose or create my own tools.

The Carabiner—the ability to ensure my safety and to not take unnecessary risks—so I can take risks when necessary. For those of you not familiar with mountain climbing, the carabiner is a metal loop used to attach climbing ropes to pitons—hooks embedded in a cliff face. They are meant to prevent climbers from the dangers of falling. Linda Swirczek, who was an avid climber, gave me The Carabiner for my self-esteem tool kit. The Carabiner gives me that moment to double-check my actions, so I can move ahead with the confidence the situation requires.

The Feather—the ability to tickle myself and others, and not to take things, or myself, too seriously. I learned about tickling from my father, Harry Weinberg, though it was a long time before I learned much about the right timing for tickles. The Feather reminds me that, as Oscar Wilde said, "Life is too important to be taken seriously."

The Hourglass—the ability to make time for the good and to make good use of time. For me, The Hourglass is one of my most important tools because it's one that I tend to forget.

The Oxygen Mask—the symbol for a balanced life. It reminds me of my ability to breathe, which symbolizes my need to take care of myself before attempting to help others. My colleague Eileen Strider added The Oxygen Mask to my kit, reminding me of the safety instructions given on planes: "Before helping others with their oxygen mask, be sure your own mask is securely in place and operating properly." My Oxygen Mask reminds me to operate from a healthy place, the place from which I'm most likely to be able to help others, rather than inflict help that may prove harmful should I crash and burn and fail to follow through. The Oxygen Mask reminds me to use all of my other tools and to keep myself healthy and sane.

So, that's my tool kit as it stands today, and it serves me well in my roles as consultant, friend, husband, father, grandfather, and most of all, human being. I hope you'll join me in the following chapters as I show you how I use these tools. I know my kit isn't complete, though, and perhaps someday you will help me add the tools that you've found useful in your consultant's tool kit.

1. Gerald M. Weinberg, The Secrets of Consulting (New York: Dorset House Publishing, 1985), p.11.

2. Gerald M. Weinberg, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking: Silver Anniversary Edition (New York: Dorset House Publishing, 2001), p. 105.

3. Paula Jacobs, interview with Peter Block, CPUniverse Newsletter (Oct. 27, 2000).

4. C. Seashore, E. Seashore, and G.M. Weinberg, What Did You Say? The Art of Giving and Recieving Feedback (North Attleboro, Mass.: Douglas Charles Press, 1992).


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COPYRIGHT NOTICE: This excerpt from More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit [ISBN:0-932633-52-8] appears by permission of Dorset House Publishing. Copyright © 2002 by {Gerald M. Weinberg. All rights reserved. See http://www.dorsethouse.com/books/ms.html. The material contained in this file may be shared for noncommercial purposes only, nonexclusively, provided that this Copyright Notice always appears with it. This material may not be combined with advertisements, online or in print, without explicit permission from Dorset House Publishing. For copies of the printed book or for permissions, contact Dorset House Publishing, 1-800-342-6657, 212-620-4053, http://www.dorsethouse.com, info@dorsethouse.com, New: 3143 Broadway, Suite 2B, New York, NY 10027 USA. Additional rights limitations apply, as presented in the Legal Disclaimer posted at http://www.dorsethouse.com/legal.html.



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