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Diomidis Spinellis Publications


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Clichés Can Be Both Tiring and Helpful

Diomidis Spinellis

More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit by Gerald M. Weinberg, Dorset House, 2002, ISBN 0-932633-52-8, 202 pp., US$33.95.

I enthusiastically devoured a library copy of Gerald Weinberg's The Psychology of Computer Programming (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971) more than 15 years ago. The book was for a long period out-of-print, so I patiently waited 10 years for its silver anniversary edition to appear (Dorset House, 1998) to secure a copy for my bookshelf. I reread parts of PoCP while preparing this review and still recommend it highly: a landmark work when it appeared, PoCP still remains a must-read for every software professional.

Sadly, More Secrets of Consulting isn't in the same league. Where PoCP offers original insights, out-of-the-box thinking, and perceptive observations, MSoC offers many clichés formulated as "laws" and an extremely tiring tendency to baptize every idea with a proper name. Thus, a single page bombards us with references to the Helpful Model, the Mirror, Carl's Constructive Corollary, the Big Picture, Master of the Mirror, and Kenny's Law of Auto Repair. Furthermore, the valuable annotated bibliography appearing after each PoCP chapter has given its place to tens of footnotes promoting Weinberg's other books and seminars. The bibliography at the end of MSoC contains more books authored or coauthored by Weinberg (14) than all the other references combined (12).

I am, however, probably judging MSoC against an impossibly high standard. The economic downturn made many professionals turn to consulting for a living, and consultants, typically working in isolated environments, need all the help they can get. MSoC employs the metaphor of a toolkit to present qualities a consultant should have or strive to cultivate. So, for example, we read how we can use the Wisdom Box to select the right assignments, the Golden Key to open up new areas of learning and practicing, the Courage Stick to try new things, the Mirror to see ourselves, and the Oxygen Mask to lead a balanced life. The contrived names aside, Weinberg still has a lot to teach us, and the advice he dispenses is certainly worth the book's price.

Diomidis Spinellis is an associate professor in the Department of Management Science and Technology at the Athens University of Economics and Business. Contact him at dds@aueb.gr.