No matter what field of consulting you work in, consultants are expected to have both broad and deep knowledge across management, marketing, advertising, finance, strategy, planning, communication, and more. Consultants need to know how to analyze business challenges, form relationships, gain trust, manage conflict, think critically, keep up with changes in the marketplace, both in and outside your key industries, and even in seemingly unrelated yet interconnected fields.
To form a more well-rounded perspective and continually gain new information and strategies, it’s important to look externally for information and education. The top ten consulting books that every consultant should read (below) were chosen because they are both expansive and inclusive, spanning and pulling from all fields of consulting (be it management consulting, marketing consulting, technology consulting, advertising consulting, digital consulting, finance consulting, so on, and so forth). Explore below to find the top ten best books for consultants:
The Top Ten Consulting Books Every Consultant Should Read
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Harvard Business Review:
Must Read Series
In Brief: Find your Must Read choice from Harvard Business Review, where their extensive team deep dives into numerous themes, curating a best of the best on every topic.
Summary: Not a singular book, but multiple series’ ranging from box set collections to one-off editions: The HBR Must Read Series digs deep into a numerous areas, allowing you to pick topics that are most relevant to your needs: “We [at Harvard Business Review] have combed through hundreds of Harvard Business Review articles and selected the most important ones, collecting them by topic to help you maximize your own performance and your organization's performance.” Their Must Read series provides annual coverage (including HBR Must Reads from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015) and topic-specific collections, including Sales, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Strategy, Communication, Strategic Marketing, Change Management, Innovation, Collaboration, and more.
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Harvard Business Review:
In Brief: Read The Essentials from Harvard Business Review’s most influential authors to gain insights across the business and consulting world.
In Summary: Change is the one constant in business, and we must adapt or face obsolescence; yet certain challenges never go away. That's what makes this book "must read." These are ten seminal articles by management's most influential experts on topics of perennial concern to ambitious managers and leaders hungry for inspiration. This collection covers topics such as creating competitive advantage and distinguishing your company from rivals, measuring your company's strategy with a balanced scorecard, understanding who your customers are and what they really want, orchestrating innovation within established organizations, and more.
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Rules for focused success in a distracted world
In Brief: Read Deep Work to understand a different way of working differently in today’s connected age, which is incredibly powerful when attempting to cultivate, create, and refine ideas.
In Summary: Deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there's a better way. ‘Working deep’ is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task; it's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results. Deep Work will make you better at what you do and is an indispensable guide for anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.
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The Trusted Advisor
In Brief: Read The Trusted Advisor to help learn strategies and tactics for establishing trust between you, your colleagues, and your clients.
In Summary: In today's fast-paced networked economy, professionals must work harder than ever to maintain and improve their business skills and knowledge. But technical mastery of one's discipline is not enough; the key to professional success is the ability to earn the trust and confidence of others. To demonstrate the paramount importance of trust, the authors use anecdotes, experiences, and examples — successes and mistakes, their own and others' — to great effect.
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The Pyramid Principle
In Brief: Read The Pyramid Principle to enhance your technical and persuasive writing, communication, and presentation frameworks.
In Summary: Barbara Minto (an ex-McKinsey consultant) wrote this book to help consultants find a method to structure their advice and consulting reports. Since this book came out, McKinsey has made it standard training material. This book provides answers to questions like, “How can I grab my audience’s attention in just a couple of minutes?” and “How can I create a compelling story with a logical structure that is easy to understand and easy to remember?” As a consultant, if you have to convince customers and have limited time for a presentation with busy executives, nailing these core pillars can be the difference between a win and a loss.
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A guide to getting your expertise used
In Brief: Read Flawless Consulting to learn how to deal effectively inside and outside your consulting organization.
In Summary: Flawless Consulting tackles the challenges that next-generation consultants face, including more guidance on how to ask better questions, dealing with difficult clients, working in an increasingly virtual world, how to cope with complexities in international consulting, case studies, and guidelines on implementation. Also included are illustrative examples and exercises to help you cement the advice being offered.
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The Medici Effect:
What Elephants & Epidemics can Teach Us About Innovation
In Brief: Read The Medici Effect to gain an understanding of how intersecting ideas and backgrounds can amplify opportunities, and how to structure unique teams for breakthrough ideas.
In Summary: The Medici Effect shows how ground-breaking ideas most often occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory and offers examples of how we can turn the ideas we discover into powerful innovations. Clayton M. Christensen, bestselling author of The Innovator's Dilemma, has described The Medici Effect as "one of the most insightful books about managing innovation I have ever read. Its assertion that breakthrough principles of creativity occur at novel intersections is an enduring principle of creativity that should guide innovators in every field."
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The Innovator’s Dilemma:
When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Management of Innovation and Change)
In Summary: Read The Innovator’s Dilemma to learn how technology is leveraged to unseat established front-runners, regardless of the industry you (or your clients) are in.
In Brief: The Innovator’s Dilemma is cited by the world’s best-known thought leaders, from Steve Jobs to Malcolm Gladwell. Clayton Christensen shows how even the most outstanding companies can do everything right and still lose market leadership. Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. “No matter the industry,” he says, “a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know how and when to abandon traditional business practices.” Offering both successes and failures from leading companies as a guide, The Innovator’s Dilemma gives a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation.
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Are you INDISPENSABLE?
In Brief: Read Linchpin to gain perspective into how you can brand, position, and implement yourself to be a critical and impactful part of any organization.
In Summary: There used to be two teams in every workplace: Management and Labor. Now there's a third team, the Linchpins. These people figure out what to do when there's no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art. “A linchpin,” as Seth describes it, “is somebody in an organization who is indispensable, who cannot be replaced — their role is just far too unique and valuable.” Seth then goes on to say, “To not be a Linchpin is economic and career suicide.”
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The Consultant’s handbook: A practical guide to delivering high-value and differentiated services in a competitive marketplace
In Brief: Read The Consultant’s Handbook to learn essential skills that are needed to make sharp, well prepared interactions in a wide range of situations.
In Summary: This comprehensive handbook covers the fundamental skills and attitudes required by successful consultants from novice to practitioner level, irrespective of their specialist area. It untangles the key variables present in any consulting service and introduces practical ways to improve their effectiveness based upon the author's experience of helping consulting organisations to develop and excel in the marketplace. The book explores consulting ‘from the ground up' steering away from theory and focusing instead on practical application, providing a solid platform upon which to build further domain-specific competence. The Consultant's Handbook provides an understanding of the key variables that can be addressed in order to improve one's own consulting performance, including: a set of simple practices that can be implemented with immediate benefit to the reader, practical insights into day-to-day consulting interactions, and guides to help build the confidence to implement the new ideas and approaches.
Honorable mentions for consideration
While not every book could make the top ten list, there are some other close contenders that at least deserve a call out:
Harvard Business Review — Subscription (Multiple Subscription Options available from HBR)