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Alastair McDermott, Voiceover, Alan Weiss
Alan Weiss 00:00
And I sort of paint my face sort of poke people, because people need to be poked corporate clients, entrepreneurs, they start, you know, if you’re on a plateau, even if you’re happy that plateau or roads, or plateaus erode, because the laws of entropy, the only way that you’re going to be successful is to continue to grow. And the secret to continued growth is innovation. So unless you continually innovate, you gotta be on a plateau, and that plateau will erode.
Welcome to The Recognized Authority, a podcast that helps specialized consultants and domain experts on your journey to become known as an authority in your field. So you can increase your reach, have more impact, and work with great clients. Here’s your host, Alastair McDermott.
Alastair McDermott 00:41
Hey, folks, it’s a bank holiday weekend here in Ireland, and I like to put out a bonus episode on the holidays when I can. And so I’m delighted to bring you a special bonus episode today for episode 62 of the podcast. Now, today, my guest is a super polarizing figure. He’s probably the most polarizing figure in the consulting industry. And I actually asked him about this. During the conversation, I asked him about his provocative style, and it’s really fascinating answer, and I’m really interested in how he approaches all of this. At the same time, even people who aren’t fans have to acknowledge the huge contributions that he’s made to the industry through his publishing, I think that his contributions to the body of knowledge are remarkable. And I know that for me personally, several of his books have been key to allowing me to command higher fees and in my engagements, have more success with consulting proposals. And basically just to think more intelligently about my business. So here is the episode, enjoy. Today, my guest is Dr. Alan Weiss. And his books are among the most referenced by me and guests on this podcast. He’s the author of million dollar consulting, creator of the million dollar consulting franchise, he has over 60 books, and that number seems to keep growing every time I look. And I have at least eight of his books that were really influential for me when I was creating my business. And later when I was in, particularly when I was working on creating better proposals. I don’t think I can do justice to the breadth of the experience. Can you give us a couple of highlights from your background?
Alan Weiss 02:13
Well, you know, I was fired from a consulting firm in 1985, went out on my own. And I went on to consult with Fortune 500 companies for a long, long time. My fourth book was million dollar consulting. And after that came out, for about four or five years, I was giving people free advice. You know, my ego was very sated by people coming after me. And then I said, I’m working harder, giving free advice than I am for paying clients. And so I started to charge. And over the years, my practice shifted from Fortune 500 companies, to entrepreneurs, boutique firm owners. And so today, I might do two or three corporate clients a year but everything else, are entrepreneurs, and consultants, coaches and so forth. I’m the owner, I’m proud to say I’m the only non journalist in history to have the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Press Institute. And I’m one of only two people to be in the Speaker’s Hall of Fame, and a fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants. So I’ve had a, you know, a very rewarding career. And I have a global community now with 1000s and 1000s of people who experienced my workshops and my public offerings, read my books, subscribe to my newsletters and so forth. So it’s a good life. Yeah.
Alastair McDermott 03:16
So I’m interested in one aspect of the story is that I know that when you originally wrote million dollar consultant that it was originally called Confessions of a consultant, I think you had and and that just wasn’t selling to the publisher. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Alan Weiss 03:31
I had written three books on behavior and innovation and strategy to help my consulting practice. And then I said, Well, Confessions of a consultant, I’ll tell people what I’m seeing and how they can improve. So it was rejected 15 times. And my agent calls me from New York in my car, I had one of the first car phones in New England. I was coming back from his speech, and he calls me he says, I’m at McGraw Hill, McGraw Hill, of course, Ne Plus Ultra. I mean, that’s where you want to be. And I said, they love the book. He said, I hate the book. I said, Jeff, you know what this call is costing me? So he said, listen, they want to know if you can write a book about how you make a million a year as a solo. So they can do that in six minutes. He said, I’ll tell them six months. And he got a 25,000 advance from me. And 30 plus years later, million dollar consulting still on the shelves in the sixth edition, which came out just a few months ago. Now, just before it went into production. The senior editor of trade books in New York, I was sitting across from her desk said to me, Alan, this is not Confessions of a consult, we have to know the name. And I said, I’ll work on it. She said sit down. I need it right now. I said, Betsy, it’s about how you make a million dollars consulting. It’s exactly what I said. She said that’s the title, and a franchise was born. But I will tell you something really interesting. To this day. McGraw Hill, sends me royalties March Confessions of a consultant. That’s a bureaucracy at work.
Alastair McDermott 04:43
That’s, that’s interesting. Yeah. So I mean, did you know back then, that this was going to turn into this kind of intellectual property franchise view that this would be this kind of behemoth of a thing that just turned into this kind of sprawling enterprise.
Alan Weiss 04:57
I didn’t know for about four years and then in At 96, four years later, I said to my wife, I’m charging people to be mentored. And she said, I don’t think anybody’s gonna pay you to be mentored. I said, yes. But at least they’ll start calling me. If they know there’s a charge. She said, Well, what are you gonna charge them? I said, $3,500. And she said, Well, what kind of research went into that? And I said, it’s the monthly lease on my Ferrari. And if I get 12 people, I pay for the car. Well, I got more than 12 people. And I knew I was onto something. And I started to build experiences, and build offerings and build workshops, and write and write and write. I mean, I tell people, you grow by building on strengths, that correcting weaknesses, and I can write and I can speak, so I write and speak great speak, I still do that today. I write and I speak. But I find that you know, trying to correct weaknesses is ridiculous. I hate to network. I’m a lousy networker. You know, somebody says to me, how are you? I say, What do you care? I mean, it’s just not where I want to be. But I can write and I can speak, and that’s what built my career.
Alastair McDermott 05:47
And what I think there’s a lot of people who listen to this, who are independent consultants, and they’re interested in building their own personal brand been building their authority. And I’m wondering, like, how much did you go into that deliberately? And how much of that was by accident? You know, because you’ve kind of you’ve changed your business model entirely, or not entirely, but you’ve you know, you do you do a lot more in sales, I would say from from these kinds of products and intellectual IP products than from regular consulting gigs, right?
Alan Weiss 06:13
Right. Well, I learned three things. And I practice them assiduously. The first is, this is a relationship business, you sell yourself, you sell you smarts, you sell yourself. The second thing is, I never wanted to charge by the head by the time unit by any like that I used to do the training firm in Princeton, we’d roll these materials off the printing presses, I hated it. And so I was only going to charge for value. And indeed, I pioneered value based fees in the consulting industry in the 90s. And value based fees right now is in its third edition. And the third thing I learned is that your brand has to be your name. So although Summit Consulting Group is my legal entity, my brand is Alan Weiss. And when your brand is your name, you know, this isn’t rocket science. People say “get me McKinsey”, they say “get me Alan Weiss”. You don’t want to be A name in the hat, you want to be THE name. And that’s what built this global franchise. So later this year, I’ll go to Australia, and people will come to Brisbane because they’re in my community, they know of me, you have to go to London and people will come to London. So that’s the position you can put yourself in. So for the people you’re talking about, it’s never too early or too late to build your brand.
Alastair McDermott 07:16
And where should they start? If they’re if they’re looking at a blank screen. And you know, they’re a consultant, they’ve they’ve got a small network, they’re kind of getting by a lot of people I talk to, they’re still on hourly rates, and they’re working every hour. But you know, they don’t know what like, what, what’s the next step?
Alan Weiss 07:33
Well, first of all, get off hourly rates, I mean, do that immediately. Second thing is never talk to human resources. HR stands for hardly relevant, okay, they’re not buyers. So go after buyers, your buyer might be the owner of a small company, your buyer might be an executive and a large company, executive director of a nonprofit, I don’t care but go after to buyers don’t talk to non buyers, they can they can only say No, they can’t say yes. And so what will they say? They’ll say no. But the second thing was that black screen of blank screen you talked about is that you have to have a solid idea of the value your value proposition that you bring to the market. In other words, how are people better off after using you if you walk away? How are they better? They’re not better, because all lines communications and not better? Because you know, meetings, the shorter the better because of some business result? And then once you know that, who is your ideal buyer? Who is the person who has budget to invest in that value? And then the third thing, and the final thing is, how do they reach you? And how do you reach them most of the only three marketing questions in this business, you do not need a business plan in your marketing plan. And people are lousy at marketing. So you need to get into the public square. So you need to speak or write or network will get referrals or host events, but you need to be in the public square. And you do that by being provocative and being different. And so I tell people don’t charge by value. Because you’ll make more money. I tell people charge by value, because hourly billing is unethical. You had a conflict with your buyer who deserves a fast response, you only get paid with a slow response. So you have to be that provocative. You know, I talked about watertight doors and the fact that people have to move from a scarcity mentality to an abundant mentality, but they don’t do so because they don’t seal the watertight doors behind. So when you create interesting intellectual property like that, and I have 21 trademarks hanging up down here in the hall, people respond.
Alastair McDermott 09:17
So can you talk a little bit more about sealing the watertight doors? Can you just expand on that a bit?
Alan Weiss 09:22
I believe and I’ve been through this, you know, you start by trying to survive. And so when I was fired, I would do $20 $25 resume reviews, I would do anything to put bread on the table. So survive is a matter of feeding your family and making sure that you can pay your debts. If you’re successful. You go to the next level and the next level is alive and alive means that you’re stabilized that you have money coming in. You can put a little money away and you’ve got prospects for the future. The next step after that is arrive and once you’ve arrived, people know you’re starting to build a brand they come to you you can raise your fees dramatically. You develop the name and you have reserved And then the fourth and final level is thrive. So you’ve got this problem survive, to alive to arrive to thrive and thrive is you write your own ticket. Like I say, I can go to Australian people who show up and go to Bora Bora. People show up, I go to a publisher, I say I have an idea for a book, they say Sit down. And so when you’re on thrive, you can afford to be very generous, you can afford to maximize your impact by not simply looking at money. And so as you move through that sequence, I just described you going from a scarcity or a poverty mentality, to an abundance mentality. But unless you seal each of those doors, and these levels, you slide back. And so you and I both know, and your listeners hear both the old though, a lot of people who are making a lot of money, who won’t pick up a check, they won’t coach people, they won’t do pro bono work, they’re not generous, because they still have a poverty mentality. And so the idea of thriving isn’t just to make money, you know, you can always make money. What you can’t make us another minute, I can make another dollar at the minute, but the idea is, do you have a truly abundant mentality?
Alastair McDermott 11:00
Okay, so talking about you not being able to make another minute. And one thing that is quite interesting in what you’ve done, is that changing of the business model, so you’ve changed from these corporate consulting clients, to where you’re doing a lot of a lot of scalable work that’s impacting the lives of a lot of people who were reading your books or taking your courses or attending your events? Was, was that a deliberate choices? You know, was that something that you stumbled into? Or? Or was that you know, did you see that working? How did that come about?
Alan Weiss 11:31
Well, it’s very deliberate that, you know, I’m basically lazy. I mean, I like to be home with my family. One of the things I hated about corporate work, is that the corporate client would point the finger and say, You go there and stay there. being my own boss, you know, I go where I want. Now, I have to tell you that going back to the watertight doors, a lot of people most of us here today are refugees from large companies. And so we’ve gotten around, but we have a response. And so we have to be a better voice for ourselves. And what I found was that what we need to do is give people opportunities. And so I have, for example, a growth access platform, I have a global million dollar consulting program, all of which is remote. I was remote before remote was in I was remote before Skype, click on Zoom. So people can access these things. They can download things, they can learn things, watch videos at their leisure. And I learned that once I did that, I had no more labor. And so people can access it and access. And then I might once a month add new value to these things. But my community just following these platforms. I also found that with the real advent of I do a lot of live stream work, for example, and zoom and so on, I could reach people timeshifted all over the world. And I have something called an accelerant curve, which shows that when people get interested in you, they want to do more and more and more with you and you leave just lead them down this curve. Until Why would I turn the vault as reach which are things uniquely yours. So I have a million dollar consulting college, for example, you know, I put on thought leadership conferences. Nobody else does anything like this. So they’re uniquely mine during my walk, but the way people get there, as they read my book, they get some coaching, they attend a conference, they go to one of these platforms, and it’s a never ending stream. And all of us can set that up if we organize ourselves.
Alastair McDermott 13:14
Okay, one thing you mentioned was about being provocative and different. And I know that for some time, and I don’t know if he’s in this anymore, you had a brand contrarian consultant. Can you talk a little bit about being contrarian and being provocative?
Alan Weiss 13:27
Yeah, my blog is called ContrarianConsulting.com. It’s on my site, Alan weiss.com. And ContrarianConsulting.com follows my philosophy, which is, when I was when I was fired, I said to myself, this is the question you’re asking, there are 250,000 consultants out here? How do I differentiate myself? Right, I was a solo, what do I do? And I said “I’m gonna disagree with common practice.” And and so the big thing at the time was quality, quality control, quality circles, quality, black belts, and quality, you know, insane. And so I wrote an article for a magazine in Boston, why quality control doesn’t work. And he published this. And if you think back to the Frankenstein movies of the 30s, the villages came up the hill with pitchforks and torches. And they murdered. I mean, they wrote letters to this guy that in the magazine, so I called to apologize, I was so naive. And he said, kid, he says to me, I want you to write a monthly column, I’ll pay you 50 bucks. And I said, they hated it. And he says to me, they read it. And that was an eye opener. And so I said, leadership doesn’t start at the top of the bottom starts in the middle, anything I could disagree with and defend. I disagree with him defended, and I became the contrary, and then sometimes I’m still introduced that way. You know, I talked about the fact that hourly billing is unethical. I talked about the fact that you can’t talk to anyone who’s not a buyer. And I really went after things because you have to, you have to be in the public square with a position that people can see. And if people didn’t like what I was saying, they weren’t the ones I wanted his clients, but the people who didn’t believe what I was saying, I had a real loyal following. Some people have been with me for 1520 years in my various endeavors. I in fact I have second generation people I’m drawing the line that third so so but that’s that’s being contrarian you know, and I’ll give you a contemporary example Elston, everybody’s talking about the great resignation, I’m calling it an existential jailbreak, it’s not a great resignation, people are tired of being treated like crap. And so they want to escape these prisons they’re in because that’s how they perceive them. And if you change the conditions, people will come back, but to to seek new help with the same conditions is moronic. It’s just stupid. You have to change the condition you have to change how you relate to people, what the pay is, what the fringe benefits are, whether you remote, your physical, and so forth and so on. So it’s not hard to be contrarian, except that you need the courage to do it.
Alastair McDermott 15:45
Right. So you need the courage to do it. You need to pick a fight with with concepts that you can disagree with, from a defensible perspective.
Alan Weiss 15:54
Absolutely. And you know, right now, I launched something called sentience strategy about a year or two ago, and I’m certified 60 People in about, I don’t know, eight countries, we’ve had a dozen sales and sentient strategy says the following, we are going to take one day to create strategy that looks at one year, we’re not taking a month to look at five years, which is an exercise in futility. It’s stupid. And so sentient strategy looks at a different kind of a world a different way, because that’s where we are today. I’ve trademark something called no normal, because we’re not returning to normal and there is no new normal normal means typical, normal means mediocre. So I talked about no normal. And this is how you have to attack things with a different point of view, because people will leave it will read it like like the guy said, people read it.
Alastair McDermott 16:36
You talk a bit about the trademarks that you about these marks that you trademark these brands, how important is that for you to when you come up with new concepts to have a name for them and to trademark it?
Alan Weiss 16:48
Well, I thought trademarking is important because there is a legal protection and trademarking right? So nobody can else can call it you know, “Alan Weiss’s…” you know, “A Minute with Alan”, which is my latest venture – it’s a minute every day. Or “Million Dollar Consulting College” and things like this, so legally protected. But the second is, what it says is that the government believes you’re sufficiently distinct that you deserve special protection with this. So there’s no prior use, you haven’t taken it from someone else, and so forth. And the third thing is there is a certain amount of appeal and cachet about having that registration, that our mark, after something that you produce, it gives you extra credibility. Now, a minor matter of at least to me is that you can sell intellectual property. And if something’s trademark, this valuable becomes equity. I don’t care about that. Am I interested in sudden you can do that as well. So for all those reasons, I find you know, I live in Providence, Rhode Island, to trademark something here, cost me between $600-$800, takes about six months, I would assume if you’re in New York or Los Angeles, so the question about, you know, $3,000, because lawyers rates are different. But the procedure is the same to the Bureau of Patents and Trademarks in Washington.
Alastair McDermott 17:54
One of the things about about that business model and having all its intellectual property is that what you actually spend your day doing is different than people who are working on consulting corporate clients projects. So can you talk a little bit about, you know, the breakdown of your work week – or your work month – in terms of percentages of like, how long do you spend, like doing things like interviews like this? And how long do you spend on writing and how long you spend on working directly with with corporate clients?
Alan Weiss 18:22
Well, wealth to me is discretionary time, not money. Like I said, I can always make another dollar, I can’t make another minute. So wealth is discretionary time. So what I tried to do is, I try to keep my afternoons free, you know, after lunch, except if I have an overseas client, I have to talk to where the timeframe makes sense like Australia, New Zealand, Asia. But otherwise, I keep my afternoons free. Sometimes I’ll take Friday off altogether. This morning now it’s, now it’s a quarter to nine in the morning, my time right now, when we’re recording this. I’ve already spoken to a client in Shanghai and a client and in Melbourne, I get up at six in the morning, I either work out or take the dogs for coffee. It’s seven o’clock. I don’t care about making calls. That’s fine. I do my writing in the morning. I’m working on a book, alright that I’m working on a book right now. If but I also catch up with the Social Media Writing, I do my columns, and so forth. I write my columns for next month, midway through the prior month. And so I organized my day very carefully. And as you discussed earlier, this is my Filofax, and if you’re in my calendar, your gold, I don’t do electronic calendars. I don’t accept electronic scheduling. I do about an interview a week, I turned down about five. And when you approached me, I think I said to you don’t send me an automated calendar. Just tell me the date and time we’ll agree and I’ll put it in my book. And so that’s the way I operate. And that’s again, that’s part of the Thrive level that I’m on. So I find that it’s very important to live your life the way you want to live it because you’re much more motivated. You’re much more energized. And there’s two ways you get up in the morning. You know, you either get up saying, What a great day, another day of opportunity. I wonder what I’ll accomplish today or you get up saying oh my god, I have bills. I have calls I have to make it’s another long slow crawl through enemy territory. That’s up to you.
Alastair McDermott 20:04
Yeah. So what should everybody start doing? And what should everybody stop doing?
Alan Weiss 20:09
Well, it depends where you are in the profession. But in general, I’d say what you should stop doing is busy work that you think represents progress, because it’s not stop worrying about backing up your computer, stop worrying about, you know, the best platforms for a podcast, you stop worrying about conceptual alliances with other consultants and things like that, and start getting out in the trenches and seeing potential buyers see prospects. And then you do that by going to networking events, you do that by asking for referrals. The there are five short term ways to get business in this profession, and the biggest invest is getting referrals. And people are notoriously bad at asking for them, they’re afraid they’re incompetent, asking for them. So get into activities that build your business, get into activities that spread your name around to buyers, and stop doing things where you’re kidding yourself. Also, what you need is a public accountability. One of the reasons my communities and my coaching programs are so successful, is that if you say to yourself, you know, I’m going to travel to Africa, I am going to lose weight, I’m going to create a new product. But you’re just saying that to yourself, nothing happens. But when you say it publicly, the people you meet regularly, now you’re publicly accountable. And you have to hold yourself publicly accountable, really to make change. Marshall Goldsmith and I wrote a book together called “Lifestorming”. And in this book, we maintain that if you can’t do something yourself in 30 days that you want to do, you’re not going to do it, you need help. And if you get help an expert to help you, and you don’t do it 90 days, you’re not going to do it, to something else. And so you have to come to grips with these realities. You might never clean out the garage, and you might never, you know, get a Fortune 500 client. The point is, you’ve got to direct your efforts are the most efficacious. Am I answering your question? I was.
Alastair McDermott 21:57
Yeah, absolutely. So one thing I think you’re saying there. So you’re saying you know, know, know when to quit. If something is not going to happen, know when to quit?
Alan Weiss 22:06
Yeah, I took piano lessons once I thought that’d be great. I could play the piano. But I intellectualized it, you know, you have to have an affinity for music. And it turns out, I can’t play an instrument, I can barely play the radio. And the piano teacher says to me, at one point, we’re done. And I said, Well, look, is it a matter of money? Because, you know, I’ve got a Bentley parked up there at the curb. And she said to me, you don’t have enough money. So I gave up the piano. But I’ve learned to scuba dive, I’ve learned to ski. I, you know, I went from, like most of us, you know, somebody who was not very good speaking, when I was in school, to somebody’s in the Speaker’s Hall of Fame. So we accomplish some things, we have to give up others, you can’t be all things to all people.
Alastair McDermott 22:47
Is there something that you have changed your mind on over the years in your business? That that, you know, you had a strongly held belief early on, and you’ve changed your mind since?
Alan Weiss 22:57
Well, several things. One is that not all clients are good clients, and that there is something worse than no business. And it’s called bad business. And so there are some clients who just don’t want to take on and there are other clients who have taken on you need to fire. Yeah. A second thing is that there’s something of course, called “scope creep” is when the client keeps asking you to do other things. What you have to be careful about is another phrase I’ve coined, which is “scope seep”, which means because you feel like an imposter, and you’re not worth it, you keep doing other things to try to justify your fate. And that’s another killer for consultants. So I’ve learned that you have to walk into a client’s office as appear, and they might have a large office, they might have a $3 million, or $30 million budget, they might have 1000 people working for them. But you’re the expert. And so long as you see yourself as a peer, you will be if you see yourself as less than a peer, then you’ll act that way. And so what you think informs your behavior.
Alastair McDermott 23:48
Yeah, and that brings me on to something that I want to dig into a little bit. So I know you talk a lot about confidence. And I’ve heard some of your colleagues, David C. Baker, and Blair Enns. On their podcast, they were talking about how when they’ve analyzed and this in the world of marketing agencies, but when they when they have analyzed agencies, local agencies, one of the biggest indicators to them of success is the confidence of the principal. And that you know, that they can they can, they can identify when they’re when they’re gonna be successful just because of the level of confidence. And I know that you talk a lot about confidence. Can you dig into that a little bit? Confidence in mindset?
Alan Weiss 24:23
Well, the thing about competence is the metric. And you know, how do you know a lot of people put on a good show, but beneath that they’re very weak in Texas here. They call it “big hat, no cattle!”, for example. So what are the metrics of confidence? For me, it’s energy and enthusiasm, energy and enthusiasm are infectious. If you’re energetic and enthusiastic on stage or with a client in a meeting, other people are too and so that’s what I look for. I look for high intelligence, and high intelligence is revealed to me by two things, a large vocabulary and a very finely honed sense of humor. So if you can laugh, I don’t mean jokes, but if you can laugh if you see things as ironic, I If you if you have a vocabulary that’s highly inclusive, and if you have tremendous energy, you’re the kind of person I want to deal with. And that’s the kind of person I try to mirror. And, you know, I find that organizations try to hire people with content expertise for years and ball bearings, five years and insurance, you can teach people content, you cannot teach them energy and enthusiasm. And so you have to hire what you can teach. And you then you can teach people everything else.
Alastair McDermott 25:28
And so as an individual consultant, who’s listening to this, and so you know, “I need to be more confident”, “I need to come across as more confident”, what can they do practically to, to move that dial, to shift that?
Alan Weiss 25:41
change your friends, you need to have friends who are confident, you need to have friends, who challenge you, you need to have friends who have traveled who are bright, I don’t mean necessarily with 100 degrees. You know, every time I go on social media, and I see people with 13 initials after their names, I get very suspicious, you know, it’s an overcompensation. But you need people who challenge you regularly. And don’t let you fall back. Who don’t let you Coast too many people can coast. And consequently, you have to travel. Consequently, you have to be well read, I learned more from fiction than I do from business books. And so you have to read a collectively, if you’re not reading Dickens, if you’re not reading Steinbeck. If you haven’t read Shakespeare, you got a problem, you know, you’re not an educated person, you have to be able to engage in debate with people about issues of the day. So go back, let’s go back to your point about intellectual property and so forth. The what was the ship the Evergiven gets stuck in the Suez Canal, right, probably by a drunken Egyptian pilot from what I’ve read. But anyway, there it is, it sits there for a few weeks. And suddenly, there’s a worldwide supply chain problem. So I said to people, that’s not the ever given, apparently, it’s Noah’s Ark, it has to have everything, and it’s stuck there. And so there were only two chips in the world, there are only two cards are only to this, and they’re stuck. Let’s not be ridiculous supply chain is just an excuse, you know, unless the great resignations of excuse, let’s not be ridiculous. And so consequently, when you talk like that, you talk with confidence, you are an object of interest. But you have to be well read, if you are a consultant, and I’m speaking from the United States viewpoint at the moment, if you’re Arkansas, United States, and you don’t read The Wall Street Journal every day, or oversees the equivalent, you know, The Economist or whatever, you’re lacking. The Wall Street Journal is the best written newspaper in the world that I’ve seen. And it’s what you need to be well informed every day. Certainly not from social media, where if you want to get crazy opinion, fine. And certainly not television, which is highly biased one way or the other. So it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves. And it’s not the initials after your name. It’s the words that come out of your mouth.
Alastair McDermott 27:38
Okay, so education, traveling to friends, to friends, and that mindset, you know, having having that confidence, being energetic, all of these things go into that makeup of this kind of this confident demeanor. And I know that, that Dunning Kruger talk about you know, the problems with confidence. Once you once you get past a certain level of knowledge, suddenly, you start to understand all of the problems in something. And suddenly your level of confidence and your level of your level of perceived confidence goes down even even though you know more. Is that a problem? Like? Do you see that?
Alan Weiss 28:17
I don’t agree with that. Let me tell you something. Confidence is the honest to God belief that you can help other people. Arrogance is the honest to god believe you have nothing left to learn yourself. And smugness is arrogance, without the talent. And so it’s not a matter of knowing everything, it’s a matter of being willing to learn. It’s a matter of asking the right questions. And if we do that, we are supremely confident. And we can help others that easily. But a lot of people believe that, you know, they’ve reached this level of magnificence, I tell you, here’s another piece of IP, can people look for best practices all the time, and I’ve told people to stop looking to that, because best implies you’ve reached a point where you cannot get any better. So here’s a best practice. And it becomes ossified, it becomes calcified, comes fossilized, what we need to better practices, and the great companies every day are looking for better and better and better practices. And that’s what Marx is different. So stop talking to me about best practices. Now, that’s sort of a revolutionary statement. But nonetheless, if you think about it, it’s very true today.
Alastair McDermott 29:18
Okay, I want to ask you about books a bit more, because they’ve been very important for me personally. And it’s something like I try and read a lot of books about business to learn from those. And apart from you know, fiction, which is very important as well, but I know that you you’re writing constantly, and and genuinely, I mean, every time I check how many books you’ve written, the number has gone up. It’s just astonishing. I know that recently you’ve rewritten million dollar consulting and you actually rewrote it in major part. Can you talk a bit about what you actually change in there because I know you change a significant significant amount of it.
Alan Weiss 29:52
When I do a new edition of a book, I don’t have the last edition here. I write from my head to the screen. And so it’s a new book. Now there are certain things will be repeated because I can’t leave out value based fees, I can’t leave out who buyers are. Those are what I call hobbyist studies. And so they’ll always be there. But if I don’t restrict myself to the last edition, and I think about this new book as though I would just writing it for the first time in contemporary times, you get a book that’s 80% New. And the publishers love that. Right? They love it. Because nobody says, Well, I have the fifth edition. It’s good enough. You can’t say that with my books. I got an email yesterday from somebody who said to me, talk, talking about analytic. He said, You mentioned these two things in the fifth edition, which was five or six years ago. And you don’t mention them in the sixth edition. Well, you mentioned them differently. And I said, I’m writing for contemporary times, and not as important today. So he picked that up good for him. But the point is that I don’t believe you write a new edition of a book just by changing a few examples, and putting a new copyright on it.
Alastair McDermott 30:51
Okay. Interesting, interesting approach, because I know a lot of people would would put a new title on that and say, Hey, this is a whole new book.
Alan Weiss 30:59
That’s their choice. My choice is to write a whole new book,
Alastair McDermott 31:02
Okay. And one of one of your books is called The Martial Arts of Language. Can, can you talk about that a little bit, because I’m interested in just even the title. I haven’t read this one.
Alan Weiss 31:09
It’s only electronic. That’s one of the few books I self published. And my, my feeling is that language controls, discussion, discussion controls, relationship and relationships, control business. It’s an immutable sequence. Consequently, language is everything. And so I got I have examples in this electronic book, such as this, somebody says to me, when I walk into their office, I want to tell you right now, he says, company has never hired an outside consultant that I do not plan to break that tradition. And I said to him immediately, you’d be surprised at how many of my current best clients started the conversation the same way. And he became a client because I changed the frame of the conversation with my language. So from I’m over here, and you can’t touch me. I said, No, you’re over here with a lot of other people. And that was just a sentence. That was just a phrase. So we can’t be pushed back on our heels language. The words and language are the tools of our craft. And we have to be very, very careful about staying in the moment and responding well. So I call it the martial arts of language. Aleister, because as far as I know, in the martial arts, you use the other person’s momentum and turn it back on them. I believe that that’s true. Consequently, that’s what we do with language. It you know, my son is an acting and he’s taught me about improv, and improv, you always accept what your apartment gives you. You never deny it. You accept it, and you move on with it. And so I always accept what the buyer says, I don’t fight about it. But I turn it around to use it as my point.
Alastair McDermott 32:39
Yeah, I think they they call it Yes. And improv. So you’re always agreeing. And then and then you’re adding on stacking on top of that. Yeah, yeah. Right. So so you’re not you’re not pushing them back into this frame where you’re disagreeing with them. But you’re taking what they just said. And yet, it’s like, it’s like a judo move or something. Yeah, that’s cool. I like that.
Alan Weiss 32:56
Right. So if somebody says, you know, it’s raining in this taxi cab, you don’t say, well, we’re not in a taxi cab. So he says, it’s raining in the taxi cab, you say yeah, may expect to snow.
Alastair McDermott 33:05
One thing that really interests me is I saw somebody had a mailing list where they, they had a clip of writing from two authors, two consultants, and one of them I didn’t recognize and that didn’t put the name on them. But the other I instantly recognized as your style, your personal style of writing, in part, because it was, I think, aggressive is the wrong word. But it was certainly was provocative. Is that something? Is that something that you’re trying to embrace?
Alan Weiss 33:33
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I want you to pay attention. You know, like I said, what you see is what you get. And so if you like what you say, we’re going to do it if you don’t like what you say, then I don’t want you as a client, you know, but I am highly assertive what I write. And I sort of point my face sort of poke people, because people need to be poked, corporate clients, entrepreneurs, they start, you know, if you’re on a plateau, even if you’re happy that plateau, or roads, or plateaus erode, because the laws of entropy, the only way that you’re going to be successful is to continue to grow. And the secret to continued growth is innovation. So unless you continually innovate, you’re going to be on a plateau and that plateau will erode. And we’ve seen great firms erode. Look at GE in the United States. And we’ve seen entrepreneurs erode.
Alastair McDermott 34:19
Very interesting. Okay, so, I have a few questions that I typically ask people, one of those is, if there’s a business failure or mistake that you’ve had in the past, that you can tell us about what you learned from it. Is it something that you could tell us about?
Alan Weiss 34:34
Oh, yeah, when I worked for a firm in Princeton, IBM was a big client and IBM would buy these materials from us. And 250,000 a year something like that was big money back then. And I worked for a manager, and we were going into the last quarter of the year, and the last month of the quarter of December. And he said don’t forget to get the IBM motor we need it. And the IBM guy said to me, Alan, listen, we want the materials but we can’t take them till January. So ship them after the first And now that meant we wouldn’t get credit to live next year, not this quarter. And I felt I owed this to my company. So I had them shipped in December. And this guy called me and he said, you know, something will pay for these, but I can’t tell you how disappointed I am. And that must have been, you know, somewhere around the early 1970s. And that lesson has stayed with me ever since. A client has to be proud to work with you net disappointed. And short term money means nothing. In terms of long term relationships. This is a relationship business. And so I’ve always tried not just to please my clients, and to challenge my clients, but to make sure they’re proud to be working with me.
Alastair McDermott 35:36
I want to ask you about specialization and niching down your thoughts on that. I know that for me, it’s been it’s been a game changer. I’m just wondering, is that something you talk to your consulting coaching clients about? About niching? down their business?
Alan Weiss 35:51
Yeah, I tell them not to do it. I tell them if they want to, I’ll help them. But I think you should be a generalist. And the reason is, I am and most of us are process consultants. So these critical thinking skills I alluded to earlier apply to the pharma industry, the health, the insurance industry, the travel industry doesn’t matter. I’m not an expert in how to make ball bearings. When I worked for Mercedes Benz as a consultant, I wasn’t an expert in automobiles, but I was an expert in how you provide better customer service. And that applies across the board. If you’re a generalist, you have a world of buyers. If you’re a specialist, you have a narrow group of buyers. And that rug can be pulled out from under you with a big competitor or a change in technology or a change in the market. So I’ve always been a generalist, I urge other people to do so because they have the skills to do it. But you know, whatever floats your boat.
Alastair McDermott 36:39
Very interesting. Okay. So if you have the chance to give somebody one tip only, and they what is the number one tip that you would give somebody who wants to build authority and personal brand,
Alan Weiss 36:49
be an object of interest? Don’t be like the next person be someone different. Can I tell you a quick story go for woman wood, I don’t know, $50 pamphlet or book from me or something? When I first went out on my own, and she said, I really love this, I’m gonna introduce you to my boss, who’s the Executive Vice Presidents of fortune 500 company is now part of HSBC bank. I met with this guy, he said, I only have 45 minutes. I said, fine. So after 40 minutes, I had nothing, nothing. We had a great discussion, but I had nothing. And so he says, You know what, I really have to go. I said, I know he’s not anyway, call me on Monday, we’ll put something together. And I said to him, I actually said to him, what would we put together? He said, I don’t know. But we need smart people here and you’re smart. And I went on to work with him for two or three years there two or three years at another bank, then a foundation, he started. And he was a client for seven or eight years, because what I saw was myself. And so you have to be an object of interest. And that’s what you should focus on. Not a product, not a service, but what you can contribute as a person.
Alastair McDermott 37:49
Super, thank you. Another thing I like to ask about is books. Because for me, books have been just very important in my life. Is there a favorite business book or resource that that has been kind of something that has helped you to change the way you think?
Alan Weiss 38:05
Well, I think that Drucker, you know, Peter Drucker, you know, bless his heart, I saw him speak once in person, you know, his books, like the effective executive and managing in turbulent times. They’re evergreen books and they, they work in almost any environment. In fact, in a lot of ways, he, he really anticipated disruption and volatility and so forth. So but of course, Drucker invented strategy in the 50s, with Sloan over GM. And the reason I started Sentient Strategy is that kind of strategy is, you know, is served well for half a century, but no more. I’d also say that there was a guy named Bob Mager, who wrote a lot of books on training. And one of my favorites was a book called “You Really Oughta Wanna”, and I studied with Mager for awhile, and Arizona, he taught me he taught me how to do Criterion Referenced Instruction, and how to make and drink a perfect Manhattan – the latter being far more important over the years. But here’s what Mager said that was so interesting. He said that, what you want to ask when you have a performance deficit, is if you put a gun to this person’s head, could they do the job, and if it turns out, they can’t get a have to shoot them, he says, they have a skills problem. But if they can do it, if he’s okay, I’ll do the job, then they have an attitude problem. And he says those are two entirely different starting points. A skills problem requires training and attitude problem requires coaching. And when you when you look at those kinds of critical thinking skills and the difference they make, to me, they’re huge. And any book has a gem in it that’s going to do something. I’ll give you one more quick example. I was reading Margaret Wheatley’s book “Leadership and the New Science”. I subsequently hired her to speak at one of my conventions. But the reason is – I wasn’t so crazy about the book except for this one part – where she says “consciousness is a matter of processing information”. So a dog has a higher consciousness than a clam, because the dog processes more information than a clam. I put the book down, because it occurred to me meaning that some people are more conscience conscious than others, because they process information better. And so my job my calling was to help with the critical thinking skills of people so they could process information better and raise their consciousness. Those things make a profound effect on me and you never know where they’re going to turn out.
Alastair McDermott 40:17
Another thing I’d like to ask people about these fiction, and you say you read a lot of fiction. Yeah. Do you do you have you have favorites?
Alan Weiss 40:23
Well, when I was in college, I took a creative writing course. And the professor said, pick an author, any author, but you have to read his entire body of work. So I picked John Updike and John Updike had a great amount of books out but of course, in the subsequent years, you know, he died in five or 10 years ago, the subsequent years since my college education, he wrote a whole lot more. So when you read an entire body of work that like that, I mean, John Updike was great. John Irving is fantastic. You know, “The World According to Garp”, and you know, “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. These are fantastic writers. And now there’s a guy called Carl, Carl Hia… Hiaasensen, who’s a great comedy writer. But I think it’s important in terms of an ur, of, you know, you need to read somebody’s body of work. John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, I think, is one of the two or three restaurant best novels ever written. I think, as I mentioned before, you know, if you haven’t read Dickens, you crazy, you know, it’s the best of times resource times some people feel it’s the worst of times, it’s the worst times. And I find that you learn two things with fiction, you learn. First of all, you’re engaged in the story. And so you learn how an author thinks and how an author makes his or her characters thing. And the second thing is, it really gives you a feeling for how you can tie things together. And there’s, there’s a bridge, there’s a story, arc, and so forth. So you have to read books with more than one thing in mind, not just you know, some casual entertainment, but also understanding how they’re created and why they’re important to you. And I do a lot of sessions on how to write better master class and writing. I tell people, find a book with a youth that you’ve enjoyed a lot and ask yourself, what did the author do to make you enjoy it so much? So those are my learnings.
Alastair McDermott 42:00
Very interesting. For for those people who are at that stage of creating content, be they creating blog posts, or podcasts like this one, or YouTube? Do you have any suggestion because you’re somebody who has published prolifically, you’ve got I don’t know if you publish it as a podcast, but you definitely have a lot of videos that you release on a weekly basis. I think you’ve got weekly email newsletter, you have a lot of regular publishing that that’s going on, right?
Alan Weiss 42:29
I have about 1200 hits a year with people. In other words, I have a weekly newsletter, Monday morning memo, I have four monthly newsletters, I have a weekly podcast, I have a monthly video. I’ve just started a minute with Alan, which is a daily minute with me, and so forth, and so on. So audio, video text is out there every day.
Alastair McDermott 42:47
And what’s the philosophy behind that kind of? Are you just trying to blanket carpet bomb, you know, maybe a bad analogy right now to use. But you know, you’re trying to just be everywhere, right?
Alan Weiss 42:58
Well, yes, but it see I see myself as serving a purpose for entrepreneurs, and that is to help them create a life they never thought they can have. I’m about lifestyle, not just building a business, but what kind of life do you want to have? Do you want to be philanthropic? Do you want to help others? Would you want to leave the world a better place, essentially, you know, legacy, I wrote a book called your legacy is now legacy starts today, not when you’re on your deathbed. So consequently, it’s a freeing experience to have these outlets, because I don’t write for anyone I write for myself. I don’t record for any I record for myself. And so those people who can, who can relate to it have an affinity with what I’m saying. Those are the people who join my community. And so for me, it’s not a laborer, you know, for me, it’s, it’s, it’s something I love to do. You talked about stamp collecting model drains before, you know, which are my hobbies, building models, but these are sort of hobbies too, you know, I mean, for me, it’s not work.
Alastair McDermott 43:52
Yeah. And I think that’s a really crucial thing about when you when you get into this kind of business model, where you’re publishing and, you know, selling intellectual property assets, like courses and books and things like that. For some people, you know, it doesn’t feel like work. You know, it’s, it’s writing and speaking, it’s not really work. That’s what it’s like for you.
Alan Weiss 44:17
Let me tell you something. In the speaking profession, there’s an old old story and the story is, you come upon a stonemason who’s laying bricks and stones. You said, What are you doing? He says, I’m laying bricks and stones, and you come upon a second stonemason. What are you doing? He says, I’m building a cathedral. And so the the hackneyed example here is that the first one has a job, but the second has a career, but I’ve got news for you. There’s a third stonemason, and when you say to the third stonemason, what are you doing? He says, bringing people closer to God. That’s a calling. And are we not about a job we’re not about a career we’re about a calling. And if you have a calling you invest yourself, you’re passionate, you’re energetic, you’re enthusiastic, and and you help others because that’s what’s important to you. So if you don’t have a calling, you’re always going to feel at the beginning of every day, it is a long, slow crawl through enemy territory. If you do have a calling, you can’t wait for the next day.
Alastair McDermott 45:09
Absolutely. Very, very interesting. Nice analogy. Is there any question that I should have asked you that you’d like me to ask you?
Alan Weiss 45:16
I hate that question! I’ll tell you this. And you know, there was a lot of questions you can ask me, and I think you asked me very good ones. But I get most of my learning through the world around me, you know, you might see me look to my right, I have a huge yard out here. And you know, we have all kinds of animals and wildlife and all kinds of things. Here, we’re on six acres, I love to observe nature. But I can also see my dogs out here. And if we leave the gate open at the top, the dogs raised to the open gate, and they don’t stop to do a risk analysis, my dogs run through an open gate. Okay, life is short. And my feeling is we all have to run through the open gate and stop being so worried.
Alastair McDermott 45:56
Thank you. And I really appreciate your time with us today. I know that all of your stuff can be found at AlanWeiss.com. Thinking of contrarianconsulting.com, as is your blog,
Alan Weiss 46:05
it’s on the side, just hit blog on my site, you’ll come to it, AlanWeiss.com has. And by the way, there are free videos, free audio free text, there’s a lot of free resources on the site, and your audience is welcome to them.
Alastair McDermott 46:15
Yeah. And I do recommend checking out the books. In particular, for me, the consulting proposal book was very important. That just gave me a template. It just gave me a template that I was able to use effectively. And I like the way that you approach that whole thing with the no legal language and stuff like that. That’s that was that was important. As to where are you located? Geographically, I’m in the west coast of Ireland. So the Atlantic coast.
Alan Weiss 46:41
Okay, so since I’ve been there, I love it, I just want to let you know that I’m going to be London, the end of November, beginning of December, it’s on my site. So if any of you, our audience would like to join me there, please do so.
Alastair McDermott 46:53
Awesome. Well, Alan Weiss, thank you so much for being with us today.
Alan Weiss 46:56
Thank you appreciate it.
Alastair McDermott 46:59
So there you have it, a truly fascinating guy, and amazing talent. I don’t agree with Alan and everything, particularly about specialization. But there are a few takeaways that I want to really highlight here. And the first is the most obvious is this deliberately provocative contrarianism. And you combine that with his huge confidence. And this is, as Alan will say, motivate the mob to get out their pitchforks. So I find that find that really fascinating. The second thing is just how much publishing and writing he’s doing. It’s really incredible. And doing that has led him to build his authority command, these higher fees have this lifestyle that he wants to have. So we’re seeing content creation leading directly to authority and freedom in terms of discretionary time, which kind of seems counterintuitive when you look at how much time content creation takes at the start. But we’re seeing that leading directly to time freedom later. So I think that’s, that’s really important. And then talking about these higher fees, I think he’s been really clear about his thoughts on hourly rates, just don’t do it. And moving towards value based fees as the goal, I think that’s really important. One of the things I’ve noticed is just how laser focused he is on the value that he’s bringing to the market, and how his clients are going to be better off after working with them, focusing on how their condition will improve. That’s really super important. He talks about the sequence or development of a consulting business a little bit like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where they start out with Survive, moving to Alive, Arrive, and then finally Thrive. And it’s a bit like a maturity model, which is something that I think a lot about in terms of in terms of authority, and that’s something I’m working on at the moment as an “authority maturity model”. And he talks about how you can change the frame of conversation with clients when they’re pushing you into a corner. And I thought that was quite interesting as well. But you know, he does talk about the importance of long term relationships, and making sure clients are not just happy, but actually proud to work with him. That was that was really important. And then finally, one thing I noticed, and this isn’t something that he said, but something I’ve noticed it because I did I listened to a lot of his recent interviews and and I’ve read a lot of his books. He has a lot of war stories and anecdotes and parables that he uses over and over again, I’ve heard a lot of these same stories. And I’m not criticizing this, it’s actually the opposite. I think it’s really useful to develop a bank of these stories, these war stories or anecdotes or parables that allow you to get across abstract concepts and ideas in a concise, memorable way. So I think that’s really useful as well. So I hope you got something from this episode this conversation. I’d love to hear from you get your feedback. If you have any suggestions on who might make for a great guest on the show, please send in your suggestions. Contact details are in the show notes in your podcast app. Thanks for listening and have a great holiday weekend.
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