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Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What's Obvious But Not Easy Hardcover – January 2, 2008
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Knowing what your company needs to do is relatively obvious: the test for us all is actually making it happen. David Maister reminds us remorselessly of this painful truth and then, through anecdote, metaphor and case history, more than compensates by showing us how to turn empty aspiration into hard reality. (Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP) --Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP
Strategy and the Fat Smoker is a masterpiece - a rare blend of wisdom, experience, and humility. Every manager, and anyone who works in a professional services firm, ought to read this lovely book. (Robert I. Sutton, Stanford Professor and co-author of The Knowing-Doing Gap.) --Robert I. Sutton, Stanford Professor and co-author of The Knowing-Doing Gap.
David Maister has built a career on giving unerringly wise advice to those of us in the business of advising and leading. He offers the reader the motivation, tools and wisdom to achieve more than we might ever have thought possible. This is essential reading for anyone determined to succeed. (Paul A. Laudicina, Managing Officer and Chairman of the Board, A.T. Kearney) --Paul A. Laudicina, Managing Officer and Chairman of the Board, A.T. Kearney
About the Author
David Maister is widely acknowledged as one of the world's leading authorities on the management of professional service firms. For 25 years, he has acted as a consultant to the most prominent professional firms around the world. He is the author of the bestselling books Managing the Professional Service Firm, True Professionalism, The Trusted Advisor, Practice What You Preach and First Among Equals.
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In setting the stage, Maister notes in the first chapter that "many change efforts are based on the assumption that all you have to do is explain to people that their lives could be better, convince them that the goals are worth going for, and show them how to do it. But this assumption is patently false. If it were true, there would be no drug addicts, no alcoholics, or bad marriages in the world. 'Oh, I see, this behavior's not good for me? Ah well then, I'll stop, of course!' What nonsense!"
"And yet strategic plans and annual speeches by CEOs, managing partners, management consultants, and others continue to adopt this same useless structure: 'Look at how fabulous it would be if you were a fit, nonsmoking exerciser, David!' My usual response? 'True, but please shut up and go away.'" Later, the author follows up by drawing a parallel between the reasons for his sudden move to stop smoking, start exercising, and losing weight, and how change often finally comes about in the business world.
"We all know the main thing that works: a major crisis! If revenues drop off sharply, it's amazing how quickly businesses can act to deal with known inefficiencies and bad habits they could have tackled years ago." After discussing some of the aspects that are known about persuading people of change before the "heart attack" comes, the author brings up what will probably hit home to many business professionals, in professional services firms or elsewhere.
"Everyone in the organization has to decide if they want to try hard enough to sacrifice some of the present to achieve a better tomorrow. They may do so if they believe that the effort is serious. They definitely will not if they think those at the top are undecided or divided. Professional firms are afraid of this conclusion. They try to work around the skeptics, the nonbelievers, and the nonparticipants in their senior ranks, preferring to hold on to revenue volume rather than put together a senior team whose members are equally committed to reaching. That's fine, but you can't call it strategy."
As a consultant, one aspect that I appreciated about this book is that after an illustrious career and several popular books, Maister takes the risk that exposing some of his past and present faults will drive home the points that he attempts to make. And by and large, in my opinion he is successful doing so. In addition to the introductory chapters, I also especially enjoyed chapter 6 ("Do You Really Want Relationships?"), chapter 9 ("Tyrants, Energizers, and Cynics"), chapter 10 ("Why Most Training is Useless"), and chapter 19 ("Passion, People, and Principles").
This third chapter that I have listed, in my opinion, is one of the best chapters that Maister has ever written, and should be required reading for anyone already in the business world, or preparing to enter it, especially those interested in management. As he mentions in his introductory statements to this chapter, most companies use training as a business version of a "quick weight loss" program. "They hope that by training people in new things, they can quickly bring about behavioral changes among their employees. It almost never works." Why? Because training is an almost useless first step in a committed program for long-term change, especially when it is being used as a substitute for changes in managerial behavior.
In my opinion, the first three chapters are worth the price of the book alone (and the book is expensive everywhere). These three chapters center on doing what is obvious and not easy, and David has some real insight into the strategy problem. His overview of strategy is directed towards businesses, but can really be applied to everyone. If you find it hard to figure out what to do, or are still looking for the best plan to get things done, then pick up a copy of this book.
Some of my favorite quotes from the first chapter alone:
". . . knowing that something is good for us is not necessarily a predictor that we are going to do it."
"We know what to do, we know why we should do it, and we know how we should do it. Yet most businesses and individuals don't do what's good for them."
"The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve."
"The primary reason we do not work at behaviors which we know we need to improve is that the rewards (and pleasure) are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate."
Highly recommended for businesses, churches, writers, and anyone else who needs to rethink strategy.
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