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September 22, 2017

So you want to be a Management Consultant?

Written by

Nicola Weaver

Here are the top 5 books you should read to get ahead of the pack!

  • The Pyramid Principle, by Barbara Minto

Management Consultants are busy people. Very busy. And their clients - usually C Suite Executives of Top 100 Companies, are busy people. Very, very busy.

What this means - very simply - is that no-one has time for lengthy emails, lengthy documents and lengthy presentations. Even seen the acronym ‘TLDR’? Rumour has it, it was started by a McKinsey partner who wanted no more than 5 bullet points in any given email.

The only way to break through the clutter and sheer ‘busyness’ that your fellow consultants and your clients face every day is to be structured and insightful. Distil, distil, distil.

The best - and most enduring - explanation of how to do this was originally posited by Barbara Minto in her 1987 book which has by now become a classic. In a fast-paced world, where the new best thing always wins, it is a remarkable thing that her book endures. It is considered the Bible by many management consultants, and widely referenced and used by consultants all the way from Partners of decades standing, to newly-minted Business Analysts.

If you read just one book before embarking upon your Management Consulting career, make it this one.

  • Give and Take, by Adam Grant

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, right? If you’ve recently competed for an internship at one of the top three consultancies, you might be forgiven for thinking this. The only field that is possibly more competitive is the coveted Wall Street internship.

But - while you might be young now - as you go through your career, the wisdom that comes with experience will give you the grace to see that actually, nice guys get ahead. But not always, and there are ways in which this can be amplified.

This is the central tenet of this wonderful book by Adam Grant. There is a rare breed of people who interact with others without the expectation of getting anything in return. The beautiful irony is that this style has an enduring - and positive - impact on success.

Of course, there are ways to enhance this, and this is what Adam Grant explores in this book that has been named one of the best books of 2013 by Amazon, Apple, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal—as well as one of Oprah's riveting reads, Fortune's must-read business books, Harvard Business Review’s ideas that shaped management, and the Washington Post's books every leader should read.

  • Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

You’ve no doubt heard by now of the mythical ‘10,000 hours’ of dedicated practice needed to develop expertise in any field. Well, that came from this seminal work by Malcolm Gladwell. This book disturbed parents around the world who had children born late in the academic year, and who started clamouring to hold their children back for year from formal schooling. To see why, read the book.

Gladwell has equal numbers of fans - who love the way that he sees the world - and detractors - who claim his work is quasi-scientific. Regardless, his work is oft-quoted and it is this book that looks at the role of circumstance and surroundings on success, tipping the arguments about intelligence and ambition on their heads.

Management Consulting is always, always about problem solving. This book is therefore a glorious read for budding Management Consultants, as it gives a clear and interesting (you might not agree with it) take on analysing the surrounding environment and arriving at - often unexpected - insights.

  • The Back of the Napkin, by Dan Roam

People are visual creatures, this we know. What is less well-known is that all humans are able to grasp a picture conceptually much faster than they are able to grasp reams of facts, or an intricate table of data. This is one of the reasons that graphs are so beloved of consultants.

But it’s not only graphs that are hugely helpful at quickly and precisely conveying messages. There exists a whole universe of clever diagrams, arrows, overlapping circles and rectangles that are used for conveying specific facts and information, both within consulting teams and when meeting with clients.

Sounds a bit like kindergarten, doesn’t it? But actually, ‘vision science’ has proven that pictures can help you discover and develop new ideas, solve problems in unexpected ways, and dramatically improve your ability to share your insights.

This book elegantly and beautifully shows - by using pictures - how best to convey which information. A must-read.

  • The Economist

And I’m throwing in a wild card here. Not a book at all, really - in fact, The Economist considers itself to be a newspaper.

Newspaper, magazine, weekly, whatever - The Economist is read far and wide by people at the top. In fact, it had a legendary advertising campaign at one time that ran advertisements on the TOP of London buses - their argument being that anyone who had a top-floor, corner office would be able to see the ads.

No-one, even the most demanding of clients wants to talk about spreadsheets all day long. And considering that most Management Consulting gigs take place at the client site - often in fairly remote locations (mining firms are notorious for this) - it will stand you in very good stead to be able to converse knowledgeably about all kinds of topics, ranging from education to technology to green business.

The Economist is a witty, brilliant read that can turn you into a witty, brilliant conversationalist, be it with the client’s partner over a work dinner or an elevator ride up from the parking with the CFO.

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