Updated Classic: Peter Block's Flawless Consulting

Written By

Bill Brandon

June 02, 2011

In 1986, the first edition of Flawless Consulting appeared, and it changed my view of consulting forever. Peter Block was a revolutionary 25 years ago, and in this third edition of his book he maintains that edge. If you are a consultant, whether internal to an organization or external, you owe it to yourself to get familiar with Block's ideas.

bookcover of Peter Block: Flawless Consulting

In his foreword to the new edition, Block notes how things have changed since his previous revision in 1999. Twelve years ago, we expected peace and well-being to come with the millennium, and we feared that computers were about to fail us because they couldn't seem to adjust to a new century. "Well, neither really happened. Our dependency on computers and technology has only intensified, and a decade into the millennium, we are at war, still addicted to fossil fuels, and concerned whether the economic system we have grown used to is still relevant. This means that living with a vulnerable present and an uncertain future is going to be a permanent condition. This situation bodes well for the world of consulting."

What is still true

The fundamental theme of Flawless Consulting, from the beginning, has been that teams and personal relationships are critical to technical and business success. It doesn't matter how wonderful an expert you are if you can't get your expertise used. The key to that dilemma is to pay attention to and to understand the emotional and personal dimensions of our workplaces.

"Every time you give advice to someone who is faced with a choice, you are consulting," Block says. To succeed at this requires both technical skill and interpersonal skill, and it also requires knowing how to have a conversation with a client.

The genius of this book

With humor and insight, Peter Block guides the reader through the five phases of every consulting project. He provides support in terms of methods and plenty of "how-to" advice, but he goes beyond these to address the dimensions that transcend methods. The key elements — feelings, acceptance or resistance, tension, support or confrontation — require just as much attention as the content of the discussion and project.

By dealing first with the primary goals of any consulting engagement (first and foremost: establishing a collaborative relationship) and with the secondary goal (developing client commitment), Block helps readers avoid many difficult issues.

The advice is practical, and Block supports it with checklists, scenarios, insights, and even with suggested expressions. Much of this content is on a Web site associated with the book, in order to keep the book slender. This is helpful for consultants who travel, and keeps the support documents in a place where the reader can always find them.

Why should you buy this book?

Flawless Consulting will help you increase the capacity of your clients to find and implement solutions. This begins with establishing the relationship with the client and defining the assignment. The content addresses contracting (and its associated agonies), understanding and dealing with resistance, getting through discovery, providing feedback and managing meetings for action, and implementation. Block also explains the important differences between internal and external consultants -- something that many consulting books skip completely.

Peter Block is dedicated to facilitating learning. In other words, his view of the world aligns completely with the view of the readers of this article and of members of The eLearning Guild. This perspective means that you will find Flawless Consulting fits your work perfectly. I have no reservations in recommending the book to you. In time, it will become as tattered, dog-eared, highlighted, and filled with sticky notes as my old copy of the first edition.

Bibliographic information

Block, Peter. Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used (3rd Ed.) (2011) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 352 pages. ISBN 978-0-470-62074-8.

Print list price: $55.00

Amazon (hard cover): $38.26

Amazon (Kindle): $34.43

Wiley Audio (Abridged): $15.99

Audible (Abridged): $9.95 or 1 Credit

(This review based on the complete hard cover edition. The publisher provided a copy to the Editor for this review.)

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