Wednesday, November 14

Smoking Strategies: David Maister


Beginning straightaway with the title of David Maister’s new book, Strategy And The Fat Smoker, he shares the pointed observation that most professionals, especially managers, already know what to do for long-term success (and why to do it), but are too easily swayed by bad habits, short-term temptations, and misaligned measurements.

It’s a classic definition of the difference between intelligence and wisdom: smart enough to know, but not wise enough to do.

We already know that our business goals are best served by developing long-term relations with our clients and customers, but we’re too easily distracted by chasing any and all new business because the short-term transaction is so very, very tempting. In advertising, it translates into runaway creative without the benefit of communication purpose. For social media, it might mean link love and buzz vs. the pursuit of tangible business outcomes. In our personal lives, it might be super sized fries for lunch, every day, because packing a sack is too darn inconvenient.

We already know what we could be doing but until a crisis occurs, we’re forever stuck on the short-term treadmills that take us nowhere. Well, most of us.

You really don’t have to endure a crisis to actualize a better business strategy. As Maister, a recognized authority on the management of professional service firms and former faculty member of Harvard Business School, notes: all businesses talk about outstanding client service, teamwork, healthy work environments, and investing in the future. But so few really do, largely because their statement of objectives does not match the outcome they want to measure — increased revenue and profit margins.

We know it’s true, despite the fact that very few companies tell the truth, plainly stating that they are most interested in chasing cash and, nowadays, Web traffic. And, most that don’t talk about it are usually delusional or just plain liars. No wonder there is a disconnect between businesses and their customers.

Where Maister will likely strike a chord with some is in pointing out that applied wisdom leads to sustainable success. He presents a case for how individuals, managers, and organizations can put what they know how to do into action. However, we can only hope that someone inside every fat company can use the various tools, techniques, and thought processes to convince the executive team that a diet is warranted.

While some will find the shifts between individual and organizational strategy, as well as some personal experience tossed in, a bit jarring at times (along with frequent references to his other books), it’s not enough to detract from the value that can be gained. Maister expertly paints an accurate, if not frightening, picture of business as usual today.

“It is not uncommon for me to be told even by the most senor people that their firm’s impressive financial results have been accomplished by a management team which has consistently created an environment of fear and insecurity,” writes Maister. “The simplest explanation for the prevalence of this ‘abusive behavior’ is the simple fact that, in the right situation, it works!”

However, he distinguishes that such short-term work-under-fire tactics are exactly that — tactics that will eventually lose their effectiveness and eventually elicit resentment. In contrast, proactive, passionate, and positive management teams energize and excite people about what they do, which in turn becomes tangible in the way the workforce interacts with clients. Long term, applied wisdom will lead to better financial results.

He’s right. As I’ve often advised agency owners, especially those who have an account executive background, negative reinforcement can teach mice to press a bar for cheese, but it never did anything for creativity. And even with mice, too much negative reinforcement will eventually immobilize them.

My net assessment of Strategy And The Fat Smoker is that it provides some much needed advice for the increasingly fast-paced world of random transactions, especially those that occur online. Business, especially communication, is poised for a shift toward relationships that mean something, whether that means people to people or product to consumer.

Strategy And The Fat Smoker is an important first step for managers and leaders to look in the mirror and take action before the crisis. And based on the Watson Wyatt study highlighted in October, I suspect Maister’s book will be on the shelf none too soon.

In the interim, I highly recommend his blog, one of the few I frequently read without ever becoming irritated by the content. But then again, as a strategist in principle if not always practice, I prefer it over the noise that sometimes overshadows good work elsewhere.

It’s good enough that I’ll refer to and reference his book often. It's just another observation: with social media, almost no review is limited to a single post, but instead becomes infused in the principles of the writer. With Maister's principles so close to my own, it's easy.

Digg!

3 comments:

Rich on 11/15/07, 11:53 AM said...

More Words:

There are many bloggers reviewing Daivd Maister's book. We'll be listing a few in the comments, but if you would like a peak, visit here.

david on 12/13/07, 12:23 PM said...

Many thanks for reviewing my book. All support is VERY gratefully received.

Rich on 12/13/07, 12:57 PM said...

Thank you David. The pleasure was mine.

I look forward to hearing how your first self-published book goes. I expect it will be a hit!

Best,
Rich

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