David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
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Chapter One Preview

Much of what individuals and firms do in the name of strategic planning is a complete waste of time and about as effective as making New Year’s resolutions. The reasons are the same in both situations. Personally and professionally, we already know that we should do: lose weight, give up smoking, and exercise more. In business, strategic plans are also stuffed with familiar goals: build client relationships, act like team players, and provide fulfilling, motivating careers.

We want the benefits of these things. We know what to do, we know why we should do it, and we know how to do it. Yet most businesses and individuals don’t do what’s good for them.

The problem is that many change efforts are based on the assumption that all you have to do is explain to people that their lives could be better, convince them that the goals are worth going for, and show them how to do it.

But this assumption is patently false. If it were true, there would be no drug addicts, no alcoholics, or bad marriages in the world. “Oh, I see, this behavior’s not good for me? Ah well then, I’ll stop, of course!” What nonsense!

And yet strategic plans and annual speeches by CEOs, managing partners, management consultants, and others continue to adopt this same useless structure: “Look at how fabulous it would be if you were a fit, nonsmoking exerciser, David!” My usual response? “True, but please shut up and go away.”

And that’s the response of most audiences to the manager’s or consultant’s latest vision or strategy: “We knew all this a long time ago. Why don’t you ask us why we don’t do it?” Now there’s an interesting question!

Why We Don’t Do It
The primary reason we do not work at behaviors which we know we need to improve is that the rewards (and pleasure) are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate.

To reach our goals, we must first change our lifestyle and our daily habits now. Then we must summon the courage to keep up the new habits and not yield to all the old familiar temptations. Then, and only then, we get the benefits later. As human beings, we are not good at delayed gratification. We start self-improvement programs with good intentions, but if they don’t pay off immediately, or if a temptation to depart from the program arises, we abandon our efforts completely—until the next time we pretend to be on the program.

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