I see more universities offering courses and even certificates in management consulting. How can something so experience-based be taught from a book?
All jobs are characterized by three elements: knowledge, heuristics (judgment), and technique. There is useful knowledge to be learned from books about consulting, such as management techniques, consulting processes, history of business and approaches to consulting, and various aspects of the business of consulting. You can also study the mechanics of decision making, strategy formation, and analysis. Finally, any number of books, videos or classroom instruction can provide you with checklists, templates, and processes (including analytical and presentation software) through which you can build a consulting toolkit.
That said, there are some things that can be learned from books and some things that can only be learned through experience. In most cases, medical doctors complete a residency of several years following medical school, sometimes adding a fellowship, before they are considered fully "ready" to practice medicine. Similarly, certification in consulting requires three years of progressively responsible consulting experience, including designing and managing engagements.
Many clients are justifiable upset by consultants who have sold a process but lack the depth of knowledge or judgment to adapt their processes (or abandon them in favor of more appropriate ones) as needed by the client. Just because management consulting is called a knowledge profession, don't be fooled into thinking that book knowledge alone is sufficient foundation for effective consulting. Tip:
Conversely, no consultant can acquire all the needed knowledge, heuristics and technique through experience alone. Personal experience may give a false sense of confidence in a consultant's abilities and effectiveness. Part of our continuing education commitment as professionals is to extend our learning beyond personal and even firm experience. There are quite a few great consulting books. One good complement for an experienced management consultant is The Advice Business: Essential Tools and Models for Management Consulting
. I have been borrowing a copy for a few years and finally bought my own so I could mark it up. It's a great reference for items about consulting and management that you never learned, as well as those you forgot. © 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA