The Fat Smoker Syndrome

In the Introduction to David Maister’s latest book (available for pre-order now), The Fat Smoker Syndrome: Keys to Success for Professionals and Professional Firms, he writes: “Much of business, I believe, is about things that are obvious, but not easy.”

This reminded me of a line from Ronald Reagan’s speech from 1964, “A Time for Choosing,” which launched him on the national political scene. Incidentally, I know it is one of Ed Kless’ favorite quotes:

They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right…You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.

Maister’s latest book is full of common sense and simple answers, along with much insight based on his vast experience working with Professional Knowledge Firms:

We know what to do, we know why we should do it and we know how to do it. Yet we don’t change, most of us, as
individuals or as businesses.

[Y]ou can’t achieve a competitive differentiation through things you do “reasonably well, most of the time.”

The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve.

I have been told more times than I care to remember that the reaction to one of my presentations has been “This all makes terrific sense, but there’s no way we’ll ever do these things around here.”

[On turning away business rather than accepting any customer simply because they have a checkbook and breathe], Maister says: “Not only should you do that, but the only way you can achieve any strategic distinction is to do that. Strategy is deciding whose business you are going to turn away.” [As my colleague Tim Williams likes to say, “A firm is defined by the customers it doesn’t have”].

The book also slaughters some sacred cows, my favorite being the scheduled performance appraisal process, which Maister says “are doomed to failure.” Amen. For more on this, see the fantastic book, Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to do Instead, by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins.

Of course, I have my disagreements with Maister (such as his contention that law firms are different, which defies the laws of economics, in my humble opinion). That said, I always learn from him. You will too.

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