Strategy and the Fat Smoker

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I haven’t read his book yet, but David Maister’s new book on strategy seems to be right on target.

I recently read an article that he wrote by the same name in Consulting Magazine that shared some of the book’s ideas. The title? – Strategy and the Fat Smoker.

He makes the point that fat smokers know what they need to do to lose weight, and to ward off a heart attack and cancer. However, knowing what they need to do is just not enough. Instead, the
real question is whether or not they can do what it takes to sacrifice present discomfort for future gain.

Companies have habits, just like people, and changing habits takes diligence, discipline and perseverance, plus a tolerance for multiple failures.

On the smallest of micro-levels, it takes waking up each morning and starting the day on a different foot, determined to take actions that push the envelope on new-habit creation, or old-habit deletion. This is where the strategy gets implemented — on a person by person basis, in the quiet moments when they have a choice to act differently, and move out of their comfort zones in order to make it happen an inch at a time.

I happen to be doing an experiment of sorts to change some of my habits. Inspired by a blog I read on creating a ‘Scaffold’ for each day or repetitive actions, and also by the recent literature on what it takes to change a habit, I have been daily working through a checklist of new
habits that I am trying to follow.

I have been using a 30-day checklist that has helped tremendously as I keep the sheet in front of me as a guide to making sure that the essential actions are being followed each day.

I agree with him about the challenge it takes to change habitual actions. In his article, he says that “Discussing goals is stimulating, inspiring, and energizing. But it feels tough, awkward, annoying, frightening and completely unpleasant to discuss the discipline needed to reach those goals.”

This strikes a chord with me as I get to the end of the year, and notice which of my goals remain unfinished. When it comes down to it, for a few of them I just didn’t know how to accomplish the goal, but on others, I knew exactly what to do but didn’t muster up enough habit-breaking
will-power to get the job done, and that’s the truth.

Forward-Thinking Cultures

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An interesting article in the Jul-Aug Harvard Business Review describes how countries that are more “forward-thinking” have achieved better results in measures such as GDP per capita and levels of innovativeness, happiness, confidence, and competitiveness.

In the article, “forward-thinking” is defined as the extent to which a culture encourages and rewards such behavior as delaying gratification, planning, and investing in the future.

While the study was confined to countries, I can imagine that it also applies to companies.

In the Framework approach to strategic planning, we use a method of scenario-generation that looks 20-30 years out into the future. This approach is described in the August issue of FirstCuts in more detail — Issue 14.0 which is available at the Framework Consulting website.

Essentially I think this article is backing the idea of taking a very long view of things, which we endorse.

The Kinds of Business I am Not In

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There is a temptation in business to try to build the company around whatever seems to be hot at the moment.

The logic taught in MBA schools is as follows:

  1. Do market research- Figure out what people want by asking them what their needs are
  2. Start a Business – Find a way to provide it to them at a price that can make a big profit

The logic seems to make sense, and it has created a generation of what one might call “profit chasers.” People start companies in order to make as much money as they can as quickly as they can, and they are particularly susceptible to the latest offers that come along.

On the other hand, there is a new and growing school of thought that this thinking is limited. Instead, the new thinking is as follows:

  1. Follow your passions and interests until you become an expert
  2. Find ways of packaging and selling your expertise to those who appreciate what you have to offer
  3. Continue to innovate and expand your offerings, always paying attention to where your interests are taking you

I have become a firm believer in this new approach to business, which I will call Business 2.0. I started a company in the Business 1.0 model that didn’t work — a t-shirt company that just seemed like a good idea that would make money. Instead, it lost it (even while teaching me some stern lessons about running a company).

Living in the Business 1.0 world is cold and hard. People take jobs for companies they don’t like, doing things they don’t care for, earning enough to pay their bills at the end of the month. This is as good as it gets. In Business 1.0, people give as little as they can, while trying to get as much as they can in return — what economists call “maximizing their utility.” In this particular world, it always makes sense to pursue to highest paying job, no matter what.

In the Business 2.0 world, however, the single-minded pursuit of profit and tangible gain is set aside to some degree for other commitments, such as personal fulfillment and making a difference. There is a commitment to learn, expand and grow, while taking care of one’s psychological and emotional needs along the way.

I observed an interesting contrast between these two models recently in two web sites that focus on methods of making profits through blogging.

One, problogger.net, is clearly Business 1.0 while the second, stevepavlina.com is clearly following the alternate model. While one model is not necessarily better than the other, I will say that the second is more likely to do a couple of things that i personally like:

  1. Business 2.0 is more likely to lead to a fulfilled life — it passes the deathbed test because it is asking the question “what is my life for” at each step of the way.
  2. Business 2.0 is more likely to produce well-managed companies that are strong on innovation simply because one is likely to find more innovation by people who love what they are doing, than by people who are “paid to do a job” and are focused on “doing what they need to do.”

I guess that my point here is that each of us has a choice in life, regardless of what we might argue to ourselves and others. I do know what many people complain that they have no choice, and they are more likely to bake what Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, calls “a bitter bread.

Why Aren’t They Working on My Strategy?

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This Framework white paper from 2004 illustrates the reason why employees in Caribbean companies find themselves so divorced from the strategic thinking that occupies most executives’ time.

To obtain a copy, send email to fwc-exstrategy@aweber.com.

For a full list of our white papers, visit our website www.fwconsulting.com, under the item: Ideas.

Today is my wedding day

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Today is My Wedding Day

I’m back in my room at the Runaway Bay Heart Hotel in Runaway Bay, Jamaica. My new wife is sleeping off four months of hard work that culminated today in a wedding that was simply one of the highlights of my life, and the best wedding I’ve ever been to!

I could go and on about the things that went well, and how easy it seemed to go. Sure, there were a lot of people who worked very hard to make the event a success, but that is true for every wedding that I’ve been to. We had nothing too spectacular in terms of entertainment, food, music, dress or any of the other things that go together to make up a good wedding.

I clearly had something to do with the people that were there.

In the past, I would say that the people that came just happened to “click.” We got lucky to have the right combination in the same place at the same time. But this time, I know that that’s not true.

In this case, my wife and I created something that was different for us – an explicitly, worded “Outcome.”

Now this is probably not news to anyone reading this – after all, aphorisms like Covey’s “Begin with the End in Mind” have been repeated forever, and he certainly was not the first to give voice to that piece of wisdom. I have given this advice to many, in fact, in coaching situations.

Yet, I learned a lot from doing it myself, with my then fiancée. This Outcome struck such a chord, and felt so important that it seemed as if it were worthy of …. not protection per se….. but something like caring nurturing.

Once the Outcome was designed and we started acting on it we found that it was much easier to take some of the following actions, which were essential to having the day turn out the way it did. (At the same time, we used a word that comes from some things I learned about right-brained thinking – “space.”)

To create the space we wanted we ended up:

Deciding on who to invite based solely on the Outcome (which lead to the wedding being very small in numbers)

  1. Finding vows that fit the Outcome
  2. Creating a practice of reading the Outcome together periodically
  3. Sharing the wording of the Outcome with a few trusted advisors and friends
  4. Choosing music, the musician, the hotel, the setting of the wedding, the dress, the minister…. All of it.

This helped us to keep things focused on what we wanted, when there were many competing points of view from friends, family, traditions, cultural norms, personal whims and fancies at the moment…. It required discipline to keep this particular infant (our Outcome) alive, when things were going crazy!

And, it all turned out beautifully – to be immodest! We heard the words of our Outcome used by our guests to describe what they felt about the day, without our giving it to them, which confirmed for us that we had done what we had set out to do.

Designing a new website

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I’m in the throes of designing my new website, and have been doing more and more work on the web as a result.

The explosion in blogging has been phenomenal since the start of 2005, as has the growth in the number of sites that are attempting to be “wiki” in outlook, if not in actuality.

These trends have made me rethink what a website is for, and how users can interact with it — it actually can have a “personality” that is brought to life in the way that the site is designed.

On my new site, I’ve created some new ways for visitors to interact with the ideas that I create. On one extreme there is this blog, which has new ideas in a rather raw form. At another extreme, there are standard-looking white papers and research reports. At yet another extreme, there is an open invitation to take me out for drinks, or a lime, so that we can share ideas.

Why this approach? I guess that I’ve been bitten by the bug of transparency and collaboration. When combined with a new commitment to give away and receive as many new ideas as possible, I’ve tried to create as many opportunities for sharing ideas as I can.

The truth is, that this approach flies in the face of the supposed “basic assumption” of business — competition for scarce resources between firms.

So what?