These are my notes from reading the short article Strategy and the Fat Smoker by David Maister.

David Maister

As we come up to the season of new year’s resolutions, I took some time to reflect on what it takes to make change happen in our lives, and in our businesses.

David Maister is a former Harvard Business School professor, expert on the management of professional service firms. He is best known for writing “The Trusted Advisor” together with Charles Green.

The problem is that many change efforts are based on the assumption that all you have to do is to explain to people that their life could be better, be convincing that the goals are worth going for and show them how to do it. This is patently false. If this were true, there would be no drug addicts in the world, no alcoholics, no bad marriages: “Oh, I see, it’s not good for me? Ah, well then, I’ll stop, of course!” What nonsense!

David Maister, Strategy and the Fat Smoker

Why We Don’t Do What We Know We Need to Do

We don’t make most changes because the benefits come later, whereas the pain (of self discipline) comes immediately. This is not a good deal for the emotional, instinctual part of us as human beings.

For many of the important habit changes:

  • the benefits don’t come next week or next year… but in a couple of decades.
  • dabbling or trying a little gets you nothing… only full commitment over a long term gets the results.
  • Short term results are often detrimental to long term success… Short term extreme weight loss is always long term catastrophic.

Strategy is Fundamentally about Commitment

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

David Maister

The essential questions of strategy are these:

  • Which of our habits are we really prepared to change, permanently and forever?
  • Which lifestyle changes are we really prepared to make?
  • What issues are we really ready to tackle?

Strategy as Commitment

Any weight loss plan that is based upon a temporary change in diet is destined to fail. Any corporate or organisational change that is about a short term push is destined to fail.

All Strategic changes must be seen as a fundamental lifestyle commitment based on the type of person or organisation you want to be.

An aspirational vision that is not based on a willingness to suffer the short term pain to change is a dangerous waste of time, and a dangerous loss of credibility.

There is no business benefit in claiming to pursue a goal that everyone can tell you don’t have the guts to pursue.

David Maister

Only say you will do what you are really committed to doing.

6 Required Actions to Make Strategic Change Happen

If strategy is not about a To-Be future state, but about a set of disciplines that I or we as a team are willing to fully commit to, what is required for successful strategy?

What gets people on the program?

  1. It is a permanent change in Lifestyle – Stay away from temporary fixes
  2. You must change the scorecards – Measure what matters, incentivise what matters
  3. Leadership lead by example – You can’t expect others to change if you don’t change
  4. Principles over Tactics – make the changes because they are right in themselves, not because they lead to different results
  5. People must Volunteer – Each person must make a personal commitment
  6. People must get on or get off the Bus – Help those who are unable to make the personal commitment to find a place where they can be successful as they are today

Ideology is the Only Long-Term Strategic Differentiator

Is there a “way of doing things” that is particular to you or your organisation?

The most successful organisations have an ideology. There is a McKinsey way, a Goldman Sachs approach and a Bain philosophy, to take only three examples of firms with strong ideologies, clear strategies and the financial success to match.

At these firms, if you don’t subscribe to the ideology, you don’t stay and argue or act as a silent dissenter. You walk. Or, eventually, you’re asked to walk.

David Maister

I am now thinking about what is “the Conor way of doing things” and “what is the Vistage way of doing things”… some end of year reflection.

Be Trustworthy

As a leader, there are big disadvantages of saying things that you have not got the discipline to do. Be careful that your words are followed by actions.

As human beings, we accept the influence mostly, if not exclusively, of those we trust, and being trusted is mostly about true trustworthiness, not technique.

David Maister

Further Resources

It is a trade off.

Charlie Munger said in a recent interview: “if you take lots of heroin, you’ll be very happy over the next 3 weeks… but the long term impact is catastrophic”

How to balance short term enjoyment with long term fulfillment?

Reflection in this video is on this balance between habits for the long term vs rewarding action in the short term: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”… but there is always a donut just next to the apple. (Go straight to 0:45 in the video to go direct to the key message).

What apples are you eating today?

Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.

“Sometimes, what you already know gets in the way of what you need to Learn”

George Gan

One of the hardest challenges I face as a teacher of successful leaders is their own knowledge, and confidence in their own knowledge. I spend quite some time at the beginning of a program developing an agreement between myself and the participants about how we remain open to risk, to attempt, to iterate drafts rather than aim for perfection. When I only have 1 hour, it is hard to convey this attitude to learning… and I often lose a couple of smart people because I go too quickly into something that they cannot see how it is immediately relevant to their current situation and challenges.

If you are a teacher, how do you help students open their minds to new ideas? How do you help leaders raise their own awareness?

If you liked this post, you will also like The Wheelbarrow Story and The Art of Learning: Attention without Judgement

Marketing has changed greatly over the last 100 years. The ideas of Sigmund Freud about self and our identity have shifted how marketers persuade us to buy.

As we watch the rise of populist political movements around the world, I wanted to reflect on how political “marketing” has evolved.

In the first half of the twentieth century, politics was very much class oriented. As we moved to the later half of the century, politics became increasingly individual oriented… the question “what’s in it for me?” became key from each voter.

We moved from politics of ideals to politics of WIIFM.

Are we now moving to the politics of “WAYA”… Who Are You Against?

The idea of a self and what it is to be a complete individual are recent. Freud rejected the rationalist idea that human beings act with reason… emotion and unconscious desire have great power in moving us toward action. These forces are amplified when we act as part of a crowd.

Marketing in the late 1800s was entirely based on explaining the features of any product. Soap = it cleans better. Car = it starts easily.

In the early 1920s the ideas of Freud shifted marketing away from product explanation to telling you what type of person you would be if you bought the product. Products were no longer sold to meet needs, but as a way of showing the type of person you were. Cars were not sold for the power of the engine, but what type of man would drive a car like this.

The documentary The Century of the Self follows the journey of persuasion from the beginning to the end of the 20th century.

Documentary: The Century of the Self

This is a 4 part documentary that I watched on my travels home from USA to Barcelona over the last couple of days.

  • Part 1: Happiness Machines
  • Part 2: The Engineering of Consent
  • Part 3: There is a Policeman inside our heads, and he must be destroyed
  • Part 4: Eight people sipping wine in Kettering

Part 1: Happiness Machines

This episode introduces Sigmund Freud and how his ideas about the self and the unconscious were used by politicians and corporations in the 1920s to develop a new emotion & identity based marketing.

Part 2: The Engineering of Consent

Post World War II, politicians in the west sought to use Freudian ideas to control the destructive urges of “the masses” that had been released by the Nazi system in Germany.

Part 3: There is a Policeman inside our heads, and he must be destroyed

In the 1960s there was a push back against the repression of the unconscious. Movements in the US sought to free the individual from the constraints and repression of society. The individual needs to transcend society’s expectations to create a unique person who is fully “myself”.

Part 4: Eight people sipping wine in Kettering

Politics in US and UK in the 1980s and 1990s started to use the tools of business marketing to get closer to their electorates. Focus groups and surveys were increasingly used to “market test” speeches and political policies. Tony Blair was the epitome of this approach to politics, where every view or statement was tested on voters.

Thank you as always to my good friend Arnaud for regularly sharing books, podcasts and documentaries that help me learn.

What documentaries or podcasts have helped you take new perspectives? What would you recommend me to watch, listen or read?

Jobs you love are not “found”, they are created… over years of committed, generous, selfless service.

It doesn’t mean you have to “do your time”. It doesn’t mean that you wait and assume that it will come. It means you have to have the patience to find a place where you can be of service and commit to give of your best. Find a trustworthy organisation and trustworthy mentors and be a hero.

Who are you being a hero to?

(note, this is never accidental)

Check out point 2 on Mark Suster’s commencement speech “Crossroads”: Two: The World Works on a Pull Model

All of the greatest opportunities in my life came to me through people that I had served.

4 Approaches to handle anxiety as shared with me several years ago by Pep Mari, psychologist to the Spanish Olympic team. (Check out his youtube channel here, full of great tips, in Spanish)

How to Handle Anxiety:

  1. Avoid – don’t go into the situation that causes you to feel anxiety in the first place
  2. Manage – become aware of your state of anxiety at regular intervals and find tools to increase or decrease your level.
  3. Accept – allow the physical and mental signs of anxiety to exist in you and maintain a state of curiosity and exploration without resisting
  4. Growth – see the anxiety as part of being human and be so focussed on the learning about what it is to be human that you forget about everything except the experience

How To Reduce Stress:

List shared as a comment below the video by Bright Minds

  • 1. Don’t respond to negativity
  • 2. Stay active
  • 3. Eat healthier
  • 4. Read and write more
  • 5. Give without expectations
  • 6. Visualize, then act
  • 7. Spend quality time with family
  • 8. Write ‘thank you’ notes
  • 9. Be a better friend
  • 10. Do a random acts of kindness

This video is about 4 mindsets that we strive for in a Vistage Group Chair, and can also serve to bring out the best in the people around any leader.

The 4 Leadership Mindsets for Growing the people around you are:

  1. Care-frontation
  2. Assertive
  3. Vulnerable
  4. Exploratory


A bit more on the word “carefrontation”. It is a fundamental operating agreement in Vistage groups. The word comes from the combination of “Caring” and “Challenge/Confrontation”. These are two of the 4 pillars of Vistage groups.

What does it mean? It means having the patience and non-judgmental approach to first understanding another’s problem from their own perspective; and then the courage to challenge them where there are incoherent aspects to their story.

Examples of Care-frontation:

The assumption is that there is a relationship of trust between you and the other person when you ask these questions… Where there is no relationship of trust, these questions are just rude.

  • How is your mobile phone usage affecting your relationships with your kids?
  • What impact is this constant rush having on your health?
  • What impact does your difficulty in taking this decision have on meeting this years growth goals?

More on what it takes to be a great Vistage Chair: What does it take to be a Great Vistage Chair?

Any questions on these 4 mindsets?- leave them in the comments below and I will be answering over the course of this week.

Got a speech to give? What should I say?

That is a terrible place to start.

What’s the most important question you can ask yourself before preparing a speech?

It was fun to make this short “elevator pitch” video with the production team at @iesebschool only 7 floors to make my point!

I have this blog. It has been going for over 10 years. Above all other benefits, writing blog posts helps me clarify what I think.

I published my first post on 25th January 2009. It was a paragraph from a book I was reading that I thought was valuable advice. I have written ideas on something 1-2 times every week since January 2009. There are 1,025 posts (not including this one).

I also have a youtube channel that today has a much wider audience than my blog, but it is the blog that has helped me get clarity and sharpen my ideas. Writing is the power tool in clarifying your ideas.

11 Reasons Why You should have a Blog

  1. Improve communication
  2. Clarify your thinking
  3. Library of thinking
  4. Share your Vision
  5. Raise your Visibility
  6. Become a Thought Leader
  7. Build a Community of Support
  8. Build trust
  9. Build Authority as an Expert
  10. Receive Feedback
  11. Mentor Others

How to start a blog?

Pick one of these and start writing. I use wordpress. I used to use Blogger (a google product).

Keep it simple, start writing. Get your thoughts down.

In 2009, I decided to take writing seriously. Stephen King says “A writer is a producer of words.” If you produce words, you’re a writer. If you don’t produce words, you are not a writer.

Every day my coach would ask me “how many words did you produce today?” It was brutal. There is no denial. There were days when the answer was 20… or less. I started to become highly aware of self sabotage.

Self Sabotage is the Most Dangerous Obstacle

The world will put countless obstacles in your path but none will be as big as your own self-sabotage.

The 4 Destructive Self-Sabotage Mindsets:

  1. Distraction – How to overcome? Focus. The Pomodoro technique.
  2. Emotional Impulsiveness – How to overcome? Acceptance.
  3. Arrogance and sense of Entitlement – How to overcome? Faith, Hope and Love.
  4. Fixed Mindset – How to overcome? Focus on process, not outcomes. Appreciate effort and learning, not outcomes. Love problems, for they truly help you grow as a person.

If you liked this post, you will also like 6 Reasons we Give Up on Goals and The Greatest Coaching Question of All Time.