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Passion, People and Principles

Fat Smoker Principles: Lessons from the Weight-Loss Industry

post # 417 — August 7, 2007 — a Strategy and the Fat Smoker post

This is one of my regular posts based on my forthcoming book STRTATEGY AND THE FAT SMOKER (available in late October or early November.)

The core argument of the book is that, in both business and personal life, we know what to do, why we should do it and how to do it, but that doesn’t mean we do what’s good for us in the long term.

The parallel between the market for business advice and the weight-loss industry fascinates me. We have in most countries a huge industry which basically doesn’t have much to say except “eat less exercize more.” Is there really any difference between Jennie Craig and Weight Watchers except the psychology of the process you voluntarily put yourself in, in order to provide structure to what you know you should be doing anyaway. Why do weight loss books sell so well? Why is everyone looking for the latest fad diet?

And..here’s the punchline.. given the lessons from the weight loss industry, what does that teach you if you’re a manager? A consultant? An employee?


Liz Zitzow said:

When I first married, my husband was a tubby smoker and I had a nonprofitable business in the arts. My husband is now slim and nonsmoking, and my current non-arts business is comfortably profitable.

The usual motivation to lose weight or stop smoking is a far-off benefit of prolonged life. The usual motivation to run one’s business more profitably is the immediate desire for more cash in pocket today (or at least very soon). It’s not surprising that nonprofitable businesses effect change more readily than fat smokers do. Making the benefits of change immediate and tangible is the main challenge for people looking to motivate the fat smoker and the nonprofitable business. The trick is to turn long-term goals into a series of short-term wins.

posted on August 7, 2007

Doug Ferguson said:

One of the most intriguing entrants into the weight loss industry in the last decade has been “Curves”. The basic insight here was quite provocative: women did not want to exercise with hard body instructors in fancy aerobic studios. So, the franchise model focused on low rent, easy access sites usually in commercial parks or class B retail strip malls where the customer can easily drop in and drop out. No changing facilities and no emphasis on the glamour side of working out.

Curves has been phenomenally successful with over 5,000 sites.

The insight for the rest of the business world? Motivation may be easier if barriers are removed and the end goal does not seem to be totally unattainable.

posted on August 7, 2007

Vikram Chhachhi said:


I have been a reader and admirer of your work for over 10 years now and being a practitioner of one of the services (executive search), find huge practical relevance of the printed word and these disussions to almost all of the Professional Services delivered to clients.

A bit on where I’m coming from: I am touching 40, and now what I term “a-rehabbed-Fat Smoker-enroute-enlightenment”. Six years ago I was obese and while I had given up smoking earlier, the benefits of being a non-smoker were not accruing to my medically unfit condition.

Today, I am about 75 pounds lighter, much fitter (I have run 3 half-marathons a year for the past 2 years in addition to my weekly quota of 30 miles), and feel a whole lot younger and brimming with energy at the very end of a full day.

But, here’s the catch. Much like in the Professional Services, getting Fat Smokers on a Diet is not the issue. It’s keeping them on it over the long-term that is. The point is, and to borrow from some of your own work David, how many will commit themselves to the long-term; have the courage to continue; and the conviction to wait for the results to show. Because it isn’t whether the results will show or not, it is when and how they will show that makes most folks give up mid-way – whether they are kicking the habit, losing weight or are on client engagements.

Only then will there be consistency, superior client experience, and the building of your (and your firm’s) reputation, and your practice will benefit for a long time to come. Isn’t that what we strive for?

Personally, this has been my learning and journey, both at work and away from work over the past few years, which my wife likes to call my second life! The best part is that once you’re part of the journey, and start enjoying it, the little experiences – and wins – from your life and work feed off eachother.

It is really about making a promise to yourself as much in life as in Profesisonal Services, which has to be the starting point. The rest as they say follows.

posted on August 8, 2007

Rachna Chhachhi said:

Your simple revelation (and that’s the beauty of it) of Eat less, exercise more, is unfortunately, not understood by most, and the result is the quality of food we eat is still question.

Many lament over being fat but not eating much, without realizing that they’re eating the wrong foods. The trick is to eat right. After a certain age, it’s the input that controls the health & weight. The output brings pure fitness benefits essential for ageless longevity — and what the beauty industry is spending millions on – the secret to slower ageing!

Many of us, me included, follow the even simpler revelation of more fruits & veggies, white meats, and exercise, and realise that when long term illnesses hit us, it’s easier on us. I developed rheumatism last year, but my healthy eating and exercising seems to be the reason that I still work, live, be an energetic mom to a 10 yr old, and a wife to mad, lively professional obsessed with quality.

Amen to us simple souls.

posted on August 8, 2007

Steve Roesler said:

I’m with Vikram on this, David.

As a consultant to organizations of 30 years, the challenge has not been in getting clients (blessedly) or getting things started. It has always been with follow-through and the effort needed to do something right and do it well.

In fact, as you are aware, it is not uncommon for the initiator of a “change” to back off once he or she recognizes the need for personal change in the process.

The factors above, combined with the cultural demand for “instant” results, creates a dead-end for those who are “quitting” as well as those who think they want to start something.

To paraphrase Vikram: One needs courage and conviction to demand the necessary time to follow through on the commitment.

posted on August 8, 2007

Dawna Jones said:

Knowing does not equal doing despite the logic of it all. There are reasons for this:

1. People do not act on what they think. They act on how they feel. Hence the food. Food is a wonderful substitute for love, for filling in the blanks creating emotional comfort when needed.

2. The subconscious is in charge. Until the cognitive knowing gets connected to the subconscious belief system, change amounts to moving the furniture around. The need to become more conscious of what drives our actions is an imperative.

3. Organizationas are an expresssion of the subconscious belief systems of all of the individual employees in it. The processes used in organizations consistently rely on the intellectual rather than merging it with the deeper intuitive intelligence and inivisble intelligence that holds the steering wheel.

The eat less; exercise more approach is about as simple as it is profound. To get it, we must feel its simplicity, not just understand it. Thanks for your briliant observations all..

posted on August 9, 2007

Joseph Heyison said:

The fat smoker is not the best metaphor for describing short-termism in professional services firms.

By now, the payoffs from losing weight and stopping smoking are clear and highly probable to occur. I can’t think of a slimmed down individual or reformed smoker who didn’t feel they had benefitted. But our bodies have hardwired pleasure incentives and metabolic pathways that more often than not supersede rational thought.

The professional services firm has a very different payoff prospect. The environment is volatile, fee-earners are mobile, internal coordination and control are loose, non-monetary incentives can vary wildly from individual to individual, and fee-earners are intensely focused on *relative* monetary rewards. (Every law partner I’ve spoken with says that the absolute amount of money doesn’t matter most, but watch what happens when he or she or the firm earns less than a peer. Or watch what happens with associates if the firm pays $5K less than competitors.)

In this environment, it’s rational to act for the short term and be opportunistic. Effort in does not reliably translate into output.

posted on August 9, 2007

Joseph Heyison said:

One last point:

With fat smokers, the primary resistance is internal — cravings. Sometimes family members or others will oppose the self-improvement, but the individual is the biggest problem.

With professional service firms, the level of outside resistance or interference is much higher. Other firms attempt to poach fee-earners, or simply are known to pay more at the moment. Practice areas can balloon and pop. Clients’ needs or ability to pay change while the legal and regulatory environments are mercurial.

Fat smokers face willpower issues. PSF’s have their cheese moved faster than they can execute on plans.

posted on August 9, 2007

Harry Styron said:

For a consultant or manager, the lesson is humility. Problems are often obvious, like smoking and fatness, but designing and implementing effective long-term solutions is extraordinarily difficult. Management, frustrated by inability to steer the enterprise toward health, looks to consultants for solutions.

Consultants walk into situations in which management and employees are already entrenched and resistant to the more apparent strategies for solving obvious problems. Unless the consultant is extraordinarily creative and insightful, and management is fully committed to implementation, at great cost if necessary, the consultant’s strategies are destined to fail.

posted on August 10, 2007

Wally Bock said:

My son is currently learning to play golf. At first it was fun. He improved rapidly. Then he hit a rough patch. It happens with learning a new skill and it happens with changing habits.

You get to a point where the romance of losing weight or changing a corporate practice is gone. You’ve grabbed all the low hanging fruit. You’ve still got to work hard, but it’s not all that much fun anymore. The cultural value Steve pointed to for “instant results” is at work here, too.

My experience is that getting a client past that first big rough spot is a key. If I can do that, he or she is likely to maintain momentum quite well. It’s like having hit the hard part and overcome it is enough to provide new incentive to work and

posted on August 11, 2007

Sharon McGann said:

I too have been fascinated with the parallels. I suppose the simple equivalent for consultants is: reduce expenses, generate more revenue!

I trust you will be answering the question of how can consultants and managers support people to “do what’s good for us in the long term”, rather than an analysis of “why people buy advice they don’t act on”.

To rephrase Robert Kiyosaki, I don’t want to be a “best selling” consultant, I’d rather be a “best implemented” consultant.

posted on August 13, 2007

Mike DeWitt said:


I think that there is a significant “Black Swan” effect at work regarding the diet book question. My longish response to all your questions is here.


posted on August 14, 2007

Stuart Cross said:

I fully agree with Wally – helping our clients persist in their efforts is key. This could involve setting a series of shorter-term goals and victories, and not just helping them determine the ultimate goal.

I think there is another lesson for consultants. I know that personally I need to exercise more, yet do not always follow through. It is therefore helpful to me have my wife give me the tough message once in a while, to hold the mirror up to me.

Similarly, helping our clients over the longer term requires an ability to hold up the mirror whilst also being supportive. This, in turn, requires a strong relationship based on trust.

posted on August 17, 2007