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The Dorset House Quarterly Interviews

Gerald M. Weinberg
Author of More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit

ISBN: 978-0-932633-52-1  
©2002  216 pages   softcover  
$33.95 (plus shipping)

DHQ: Congratulations on the December 2001 release of More Secrets of Consulting. Your 1985 classic The Secrets of Consulting continues to be one of Dorset House's best sellers. What's different about More Secrets, and what prompted you to return to a topic that you've written about so successfully?

WEINBERG: I decided that I'd learned a lot of things about consulting in fifteen years, and the new book contains those things I learned that I thought would be most useful to the same readers who found Secrets so useful.

DHQ: The central theme of More Secrets is what you call "the consultant's tool kit," which includes symbolic objects like a mirror, a telescope, and a fish-eye lens. Tell us how you put together your tool kit, especially how it relates to the late family therapist Virginia Satir's self-esteem tool kit.

WEINBERG: Virginia taught me that I had all the tools needed to be a successful consultant (and human being), but that I might not be using all those tools to their fullest potential. Virginia's tool kit was inspired by Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy and her friends made a long journey only to discover that they already had the tools they so fervently desired. I believe that we all do have those tools, and the purpose of this book is to remind us of some we've forgotten, or that we underutilize.

DHQ: So many books focus on technical skills, professional certification, and the mastery of trendy software development methods, but yours concentrates on the personal abilities, attitudes, and self-esteem of computer consultants. What led you to this concentration?

WEINBERG: Willy Sutton, the bank robber, was asked why he robbed banks. He replied, "Because that's where the money is."

I write about personal abilities, attitudes, and self-esteem of consultants because that's where the money is -- the payoff in a successful consulting practice.

DHQ: In the Epilogue to More Secrets of Consulting, you mention how one of the seminar participants gave a miniature tool kit to her friend, who then passed it along to help her friend. What’s the range of reactions you get from consultants when you teach them to use the tool kit? Do some consultants balk at using Wishing Wands, Eggs, and Feathers?

WEINBERG: When I first saw Virginia's tool kit, I thought they would, but that hasn't proved to be the case. After all, you can use your tools without anyone knowing you’re using them, so there's nothing to be afraid of. And if you are afraid, you can use your Courage Stick to get you through it.

DHQ: One of the tools, The Heart, offers this lesson, The Heart Test:"If you don't care about them or their problems, don't consult for them." In a tough job market for consultants, can we rationalize our way out of failing this test, if the money is good?

WEINBERG: There's no faster way to ruin your reputation -- and thus your future as a consultant -- than taking assignments with people you don’t care about. If you do this, you'll be out of consulting soon anyway, so why waste your time?

DHQ: You mention being allergic to chicken eggs, and yet, The Egg is one of your tools. What ability does The Egg represent, and is it as fragile as a chicken egg?

WEINBERG: I also mention that I collect stone eggs, and I'm not allergic to those. My egg is as tough as a stone dinosaur egg, and it represents my ability to grow into any kind of consultant I want to be.

DHQ: In your tool kit, The Carabiner is shown as a tool for safely taking necessary risks. How can people learn to adjust something as deeply ingrained as their attitude toward risk-taking?

WEINBERG: By using tools (which The Carabiner represents) to remove unnecessary risks from their work. The Carabiner reminds them to do this when they feel the situation is otherwise too risky.

DHQ: While discussing The Carabiner, you identify fear as a drag on creativity and say that creativity is needed to overcome fear. Can you give us an example of this? Any comments on how creativity can help us overcome the fear caused by the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

WEINBERG: There are so many creative ways to beat terrorism, and that's the great hope that America and our allies have over the terrorists who are trying to paralyze our minds with fear. There are many ways to prevent people from hijacking planes, and I've been gratified to see dozens of good suggestions. Now, if we could only get the politicians to stop being afraid of not getting reelected, we might beat this thing yet.

DHQ: How do The Detective Hat and The Magnifying Glass complement each other as tools?

WEINBERG: The Glass represents my ability to gather data, and The Hat represents my ability to make sense out of those data. One without the other is not very powerful, yet each consultant has the tendency to favor one to the exclusion of the other.

DHQ: Are there other tools, not included in the book? Can two people have the same tools? Can we give each other tools?

WEINBERG: The Egg also represents your ability to grow new tools. I guess it also represents your ability to beg, borrow, or steal tools -- though when you steal my tool, I still have it, so you're welcome to it.

DHQ: Like The Secrets of Consulting, your new book, More Secrets of Consulting, features many new laws, rules, and principles of consulting. Tell us how The Law of Strawberry Jam adds a new, lumpy dimension to one of the favorite laws from Secrets, The Law of Raspberry Jam. You write, "I want to provide the personal tools you need to make your messages as lumpy as possible. . . ." Why should consultants try to preserve their lumpiness?

WEINBERG: Without your lumps, you lose your uniqueness, which is really all you have to sell as a consultant. Otherwise, you become a commodity, like grape jelly. Yuk!

DHQ: In your chapter on The Hourglass tool, you share a list of lessons learned from managing and observing forty years' worth of projects. These lessons culminate into Jerry's Iron Rule of Project Life: "It always takes longer." How can we preserve some glimmer of optimism in our schedules -- and succeed in delivering on time?

WEINBERG: By understanding the Iron Rule we won't be disappointed so often -- which is reason for optimism.

DHQ: The editors of CrossTalk:The Journal of Defense Software Engineering have selected you as a judge for their Top Five Government Software Projects Competition. What criteria were used to assess the projects? What criteria are most important to you?

WEINBERG: Each judge used his or her own criteria. For me, a successful software project, like a successful consulting project, can only be judged by how satisfied the customers are. Nothing else matters much, except as a means to that end.

DHQ: Tell us about Weinberg and Weinberg. How often does Weinberg and Weinberg offer seminars and workshops? Where are they usually held?

WEINBERG: We run some sort of seminar about once every month, on leadership, change, consulting, effectiveness, writing, teaching, and anything else that we think we can contribute to—including dog training. Check my Website for the latest on all of these: www.geraldmweinberg.com.

DHQ: How is Dani? How are Sweetie and Ruby?

WEINBERG: Dani is thriving, as are the dogs. Sweetie just had his bad hip replaced, and he's doing very well indeed, running around like a puppy. You can see pictures of them on the Website.

DHQ: Thanks, Jerry!

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