Mar 29 2012

Book Short: Awesome Title, So-So Book

Book Short:  Awesome Title, So-So Book

Strategy and the Fat Smoker (book, Kindle), by David Maister, was a book that had me completely riveted in the first few chapters, then completely lost me for the rest.  That was a shame.  It might be worth reading it just for the beginning, though I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend the purchase just for that.

The concept (as well as the title) is fantastic.  As the author says in the first words of the introduction:

We often (or even usually) know what we should be doing in both personal and professional life.  We also know why we should be doing it and (often) how to do it.  Figuring all that out is not too difficult.  What is very hard is actually doing what you know to be good for you in the long-run, in spite of short-run temptations.  The same is true for organizations.

The diagnosis is clear, which is as true for organizations as it is for fat people, smokers, fat smokers, etc.  The hard work (pain) is near-term, and the rewards (gain) are off in the future, without an obvious or visible correlation.  As someone who has had major up and down swings in weight for decades, I totally relate to this.

But the concept that

the necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve,

while accurate, is the equivalent of an entire book dedicated to the principle of “oh just shut up and do it already.”  The closest the author comes to answering the critical question of how to get “it” done is when he says

A large part of really bringing about strategic change is designing some new action or new system that visibly, inescapably, and irreversibly commits top management to the strategy.

Right.  That’s the same thing as saying that in order to lose weight, not only do you need to go on a diet and weigh yourself once in a while, but you need to make some major public declaration and have other people help hold you accountable, if by no other means than causing you to be embarrassed if you fail in your quest.

So all that is true, but unfortunately, the last 80% of the book, while peppered with moderately useful insights on management and leadership, felt largely divorced from the topic.  It all just left me wanting inspirational stories of organizations doing the equivalent of losing weight and quitting smoking before their heart attacks, frameworks of how to get there, and the like.  But those were almost nonexistent.  Maybe Strategy and the Fat Smoker works really well for consulting firms – that’s where a lot of the examples came from.  I find frequently that books written by consultants are fitting for that industry but harder to extrapolate from there to any business.