Recommended reading: Strategy and the Fat Smoker

Take a look at the photo above, and answer this question: what are two things this guy should do to improve his health? Don’t think too hard.

If you said “stop smoking” and “lose weight,” you’re right. It’s pretty easy to see what’s wrong, isn’t? Much harder, though, to make sustainable changes that fix what’s wrong.

That’s the premise behind David Maister’s Strategy and the Fat Smoker. “Real strategy lies not in figuring out what to do,” Maister says, “but in devising ways to ensure that compared to others, we actually do more of what everybody knows they should do.” Sounds simple, until you look at most organizational and personal development strategies. They’re full of statements akin to “stop smoking” and “lose weight,” but light on specifics about how that’s going to happen.

That’s just one example of the wisdom in Strategy and the Fat Smoker. Here are a few more:

The primary reason we do not work at behaviors which we know we need to improve is that the rewards…are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate.

Everyone has reasons why it’s especially hard for them to be strategic and say no. Most of these “reasons” are really excuses. They reflect aversion and a lack of courage.

Courage is one of the scarcest commodities there is. That’s why it’s a significant source of competitive advantage!

[Y]ou can’t get the benefits of a strategy that you don’t implement,
and half measures are unlikely to work. Strategy is not about understanding something–or planning to get around it. It’s about having the courage to make it happen. You can’t let other people, even clients, determine the pace at which you create your distinctiveness.

A strategy is not just choosing a target market, but actually designing an operation that will consistently deliver the superior client benefits you claim to provide.

[You may get by with designing] your operations to meet a wide variety of preferences and needs, serving each customer group differently, according to its individual wishes.] [B]ut you will be unlikely to achieve a competitive differentiation or reputation, except as people who, as long as they are getting paid, will do anything for anyone. Which is not an image I think you want to have.

(This quote’s from David C. Baker) “If you are any good at all, eventually you’ll have more opportunities than you can handle. Not choosing carefully between those opportunities is far more likely to harm you than the occasional opportunity that slips by because you say ‘no.'”

If you’re not getting the results you want, Maister’s book may be just the read you need to get over the hump. It won’t provide you with any shortcuts or quick fixes, but if you’re serious about making lasting changes, it’s a great place to begin.

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