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Passion, People and Principles

Help Me With My Strategy Please

post # 189 — September 13, 2006 — a Strategy post

If past blogposts are any guide, you folks seem to enjoy giving me advice as much as I like giving it to you, so now it’s your turn again.

In broad outline, here are some of my strategic challenges and choices that I’d like your input on.

I’m 59 years old, with a reputation and track record of consulting with, speaking to and writing about businesses (around the world) in the professional sector (law, accounting, investment banking, executive search, IT services, real estate, consulting, etc.) I don’t plan to stop anytime soon, so (like everyone else) I need to think periodically about my choices for the future.

As time has gone by, a few trends have emerged in my business:

a) When I started, I think I was pretty much a pioneer in writing about professional businesses and there weren’t many people with that as a consulting specialty. Nowadays, there are many consultants focusing in this area.

b) On the other hand, interest in my work spreads to new industries with every passing year, and a higher and higher portion of most economies are becoming made up of knowledge-intensive businesses. The world is moving toward my specialty, and it’s tempting to start writing about business in general. But I’m concerned about losing my reputation as a specialist.

c) As I have tried to make an impact on the world with my thoughts, I find that there are (broadly) two groups in my audience. The bigger group is made up of relatively younger people, or those outside the power structure (staff people, other consultants, small firms and solo operators like me.) This group tends to enjoy my emphasis on core principles and staying true to dreams and ambitions.

d) The second group is made up of top officers in top firms, working at the frontiers of their business, who seem to appreciate me being provocative, challenging the traditional ways professional businesses are run. (Of course, there are often people in these positions who don’t like being challenged that way!)

e) I’m interested in working with and serving both groups but don’t want to get too schizophrenic. Both in content and marketing, the audiences are different. The first audience reads blogs, and writing for them allows me to feel that I’m having an impact by interacting with tomorrow’s leaders.

f) The second audience (top officers in top firms, working at the frontier) is harder to reach, because busy leaders tend not to read articles, blogs, or books. I may also need a different “positioning” for that audience, because a reputation for only pointing out what’s wrong (or could be better) isn’t always considered completely helpful. Senior people also like to believe that I am, in some sense “on their side” — trying to help, and not too much on the side of the revolutionaries trying to overthrow the power structure. I like to think I present a lot of affirmative and constructive advice, but I do have a bit of a reputation as the type of consultant, speaker and writer who talks about the elephant in the room that no-one else wants to talk about. (I know, I know, I wrote about how to do this with charm and style in my book The Trusted Advisor. But it isn’t always easy to challenge and be seen as constructive.)

g) My choices are not really driven by economics, but the desire to make a contribution and receive the recognition and strokes that come from having made such a contribution. However, the economics of serving the two audiences are very different. If I serve the first audience and want to make money at it, it will probably mean selling ebooks, CDs and videos. (I think there’s a demand for that.) If I serve the second audience, it means generating and emphasizing new thoughts in new articles, and deriving an income from high-level face-to-face consulting. So far, I’ve been able to do both, and be accepted as doing both, but I don’t know whether that will continue to be a good model (or even viable) moving forward.

Obviously, I haven’t given you enough information, but hopefully we can have some fun — and I can get some free advice. Here are some (sincere) questions:

Should I continue to try and be a “professional business specialist” or write about general business issues? This might be a question of writing style and language more than anything else, but it affects my “positioning.”

What can I do to best serve the first audience of other consultants, staff people, younger people and small firms? If I wanted to, what would be the best way to “monetize” my services to that audience?

If I want to keep serving the second, top officer audience, how do I carry on being challenging and provocative without being one more person pointing out what’s wrong with the established structure? Is it possible to pull off the high-wire act of being both a provocateur and a wise counselor? Should I continue to try that?


Lora Adrianse said:

You David Maister can pull off anything at all your heart desires!

Here’s my take on your 2 audiences and things that may work for each of them.

The top officer group is going to be generally older, wiser, and less likely to change the way they want to recieve your messages. I believe they want timeless concepts, perhaps with a new twist thrown in. They also need you to help them look down the road and see what’s coming. Help them learn to understand the upcoming generations and how to bring out the best in the up and coming new thinkers through mentoring programs. Help them leave their legacys.

They’ll likely pick up an occassional book. They’re comfortable with the phone (teleconferences?) and video conferencing. And they understand the value of great masterminds. They might even come together a couple of times a year to put all their great minds together.

Staff and younger people also need tried and trusted principles, but in bite sized portions. But they also like to experiment more, play with ideas, and collaborate. Think open source, or low cost access to a membership site. They want immediate gratification in bite sized chunks. Or perhaps shorter print pubs. Think Pritchett Price books.

They need someone to look up to. Someone willing to listen and play with new ideas. Someone to co-create with. There might even be a way to co-create self published materials. Help them create the future!

That’s my 2 cents!

posted on September 13, 2006

Steve Matthews said:

Your second audience will follow if you challenge the first. Isn’t that what DM has always done? There’s also room for a more specialized role – intermediary between the two groups. (established by Lora’s comment above)

For monetization, what about leveraging your name and building a conference event?

posted on September 13, 2006

Kami Huyse said:

I like the conference idea and I also like the idea that you could help deliver the first group to the second. Possibly teach the second group how to develop and motivate their most important assests, the upcoming leaders and employees. This leads to corporate growth. You (DM) can do it, because you have an intimate knowledge of that upcoming first group. Mentoring, leadership development, success. Just one thought that I had last week that I thought I might throw over the fence :-)

posted on September 13, 2006

Curt Wehrley said:

I applaud you for what you’re doing here. I think a lot (most?) people with your level of experience and past success would hesitate to openly pose such questions to a public audience. Too many “experts” don’t like to admit that they don’t have all the answers!

Regarding generalist vs specialist: I think it’s tougher to be a generalist these days, especially in established industries which continue to grow and become more complex. Yet being a specialist seems too limiting for someone with such vast experience as you. I think the model for you to consider is what Gartner Group calls the “versatilist”: deep expertise in one area accompanied by knowledge in other complimentary areas (they apply the label to the IT field, but there’s no reason it can’t apply elsewhere).

Regarding the monetization of services to your first audience: Lora brings up some good ideas above. One that I would add is development of some sort of video game — yes, a video game. I’m not a video game nut, but games are a great way to learn, and gaming technology is fantastic these days. How can you partner with, say, a software game company to create a game for the first audience which allows them to practice the principles you espouse?

Regarding the second (top officer) audience: During my days as a statistician, I always promoted the concept of simple, small experiments. I still do that today. Rather than fall in the “I’m right, you’re wrong” trap you reference above (a mistake I’ve made plenty of times), I pitch it to a business leader like this: If you’re serious about improving your business, you should be consistently working on how you and your team play your game. Michael Jordan did it as a basketball player, and Tiger Woods is doing it today as a pro golfer. Try small experiments or studies to test new ways of doing things. Have you discovered a novel approach to something but don’t think it will work at your firm? That’s a subjective opinion. Try it on a small scale and check the results. Let the data tell the real story.

I hope that helps!

posted on September 13, 2006

Tim Burrows said:

I think the video game is a great idea – not a shoot-em-up, but perhaps more of a simulation. I remember playing some kind of oil trading game when I was a kid. It taught me the principles of markets even though I didn’t realise it at the time (I was just having fun).

I guess I fall into the “young” audience (relatively – I’m 36). Perhaps it would help you to hear about actual behaviour?

I have previously purchased all (five?) of your books and voraciously consumed most of the free material that you’ve posted on this site (although I don’t think I’ve seen it all yet because there doesn’t appear to be enough hours in the day to keep up!)

But my downloading free stuff is not getting you any short-term revenue (in fact quite the opposite). I think you should consider charging for downloads, but the key is pricing. If you were to charge, say, $10 for a video download, then I would likely hesitate, perhaps going back to re-read one of your books instead (which I already own). But if you were to charge a fraction of this price, say $0.10, then I probably wouldn’t think twice about it.

So $0.10 doesn’t sound like much in terms of revenue, but there are a lot of people in the “young” group, and you’ve already mentioned that you’ve moved a terabyte of data. Very big number x small number still equals big number (long tail theory).

The main challenge lies in the payment system, since as I understand it, transaction costs on traditional credit cards are too high to support these kinds of micro payments.

Maybe things have advanced since I last looked (things move quickly), but strategically, one option might be to continue developing the content while monitoring the development of these payment systems, with a view to later implementing micro payment for downloads.

posted on September 13, 2006

ann michael said:

I agree with all of the above in that in doing this you are setting yourself apart as a leader and a counselor. I also think that the difficulty you discuss in reaching these two groups is not uncommon.

The idea of delivering one to the other as Kami says above is something worth exploring.

What do “top officers” see as their issues going forward? Are they worried about not being appealing or appearing out of touch to potential “recruits”? How is their recruiting going right now?

Perhaps you could merge this idea with the conference idea that Steve mentioned. Get the “top officers” to potentially sponsor a conference where you cater to the needs of the less experienced group — at the same time you teach the officers to respect the fresh perspectives that often accompany inexperience.

If you’re not the conference type, you might consider branching out into professional development programs for professional service firms to offer their new (inexperienced) personnel. Once you have designed a program, this content could be used in other industries as well.

As far as the generalist versus specialist issue, I would recommend that you maintain your specialization. It makes you more valuable and understandable to a client base. While I’m certainly no David Maister :-) – I’ve found it far more difficult to sell the generalist approach to senior execs (not in professional services firms — I’m in a different industry). The value of a specialist (industry specialist — not necessarily a functional specialist) is immediately apparent to this group — and they are the ones that are able to authorize spending on consultants.

What is your passion? Do you want to contribute to shaping the future? If so, where will you have the greatest opportunity to do so?

Which options get you talking and moving and thinking — and stimulate your energy level overall?

That’s where you should go! (IMHO)

posted on September 13, 2006

Bob McIlree said:

David – I’ve read all of your books & materials and have been a fan for years…I find it kind of odd to be giving someone who (although he didn’t know it then) mentored me profoundly through his writings, here goes….:)

I’m going to take a different tack here – somewhat because we exhanged comments and trackbacks last spring about turning oneself into a fixture on the rubber chicken/entertainment professional speaking circuit. Where I’m going with this is to use other prominent consultants and business writers as models with respect to where you may want to go, or may choose not to.

Let’s begin with the easy stuff first – collateral materials. You should have no problem or concern with selling materials such as CDs, PDF downloads, and other intellectual property. This is a viable, legitimate, and necessary revenue stream for any self-employed consultant, particularly those of your stature in the business. I would continue to give some things away free of charge, but I know of quite a few content-heavy folks that sell their stuff on line and at engagements, and for the bulk of them, what they net out of it per year makes their mortgage payments. Not bad for produce it once, sell it many times over.

Now, lets get to the heart of your questions. I get the feeling from your blog commentary that while you are firmly positioned in the professional services niche (in fact, I think that you basically invented it…:)) you want to move into more general topics, but are unsure of either doing so, or how to go about it. If you do, then the ‘models’ I will mention shortly come into play: guys like Drucker, Peters, Porter, Charan, Hamel, etc. immediately come to mind.

What do these esteemed gentlemen have in common? The first is the most forthright: they have (or had) the stones to write about issues where they had no unique qualifications, but valuable insights nonetheless. It matters even less once they become established. For example, Michael Porter recently came out with a “we have to fix health care in the US” book with a collaborator, When I bought the tome, I couldn’t help but think “what does a guy who made his name primarily with competitive strategy issues know about health care?” Quite a lot, after I finished reading, and while I can’t tell whether the work was more his co-author than him, enough reasonated with me to decide that the work does, and will make a difference – both in the field and to him professionally.

Peter Drucker wrote (and wrote, and wrote) a lot about, well, a lot. Sometimes he missed the mark – badly in a few cases. But his hits were so spot-on that it made him believable in almost any situation such that he was revered all the way to the end, and still is after his passing given the amount of times I find him continuously quoted in material produced after his death.

Now, let’s look at guys like Tom Peters and Gary Hamel. Brilliant men, both. But their materials give me a headache when I read them. The messages reasonate, but the goofy layouts of their books (examples: “Re-imagine” and “Leading the Revolution”) give me a headache or distractions reading them and trying to absorb the message. I have found that they are useful at times entertaining small children seated next to me on airline flights, as one 5-year-old lad kept looking at my copy of Peters’ “Re-imagine” as I tilted it at various angles to read the text. I think he was looking at the nice pictures and drawings on every page…:)

Finally, there are men like Ram Charan – straightforward, non-compromising, and solid. You know what to expect up front from guys like him, and he always delivers. Without the changing typefaces and colorful pages…:)

If you’re going to go the generalist route, and I think that you have the credentials, capability, and talent to do so, there are a number of models from which to choose a path. And these guys get hired routinely by exective management even if they don’t know beans about some specific industry. These gentlemen have proved over and over that it can be successfully accomplished – and its all not the ‘marketing’ and ‘branding.’

Best regards,


posted on September 13, 2006

Duncan Bucknell said:

Commit half an hour to do the following exercise in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.

Imagine you just died.

You’re allowed to watch the funeral, and your family, your friends and representatives from different sectors of the business world all get up to say a few words about you.

Really listen to what they have to say.

Then, you will know where to spend your precious time and efforts.



posted on September 13, 2006

Jordan Furlong said:

The two groups you mentioned — younger people lower down the command chain, and the top corporate dogs — will become the same group over the next 10 to 15 years. Demographically, your first audience is morphing into the second. Today’s up-and-comers will be tomorrow’s leaders — but they’ll (hopefully) be different from today’s leaders in areas such as sense of corporate purpose and receptiveness to change. As this generation moves into the corner office, you might find that they have different expectations and demands of you than their predecessors did.

For these Gen-Xers and those around them demographically, one of the most important qualities you already present is leadership. Many younger professionals today (at least, those motivated by something other than simply money and prestige) are disillusioned with the unfulfilled promise of their callings; the principles upon which your work is founded resonate with these people on a wavelength upon which their CEOs and managing partners simply don’t broadcast. They’re pushing for a new approach.

It’s my impression that anyone who advises change of any kind to the top dogs gets a little frustrated because, for various reasons, they’re remarkably attached to the status quo. As the saying goes, revolutions don’t usually start inside the castle. It’s reasonable to think that that might change with the passage of time. Sure, the next generation might become just as hidebound and jaded as the current lot, once they’ve got the top gig. But my sense is that the leaders and executives of 2016 will be rather different animals than today’s bunch, and that will affect your target markets.

So, don’t underestimate the degree to which mentorship of tomorrow’s leaders is something you already provide, and that will come into even more demand down the road as they come to occupy the executive suites. Remain a specialist — just focus on the specialties you enjoy the most, the ones that develop the greatest potential for listening to your message and using it to effect positive change.

If you’re looking for a fresh specialty to explore, how about corporate philanthropy? Increasingly, entities like the Gates Foundation allot their funding to groups that adopt entrepreneurial models in their work. Many of these groups would benefit tremendously from the experience and advice you’ve garnered from your work with businesses and professionals — and the good work they do would be accelerated.

posted on September 13, 2006

David (Maister) said:

I just arrived at my hotel room after flying across the US, having posted the blog at the airport just before boarding. I’m blown away at the contributions here, and it would be crazy of me to react before I reread them at least three times over.

But I hope that won’t stop others joining in, and either agreeing or disagreeing or offering different perspectives.

THIS is what’s so great about the blogosphere.

My (interim but) deepest thanks. I’ll respond when my short-term work is through and I have had time to reflect.

(And the compliments are very nice! I’ll have a smile on my face as I fall asleep!)

posted on September 13, 2006

Phil Gott said:

Great questions. My thoughts on just one of the issues you raise: professional firm specialist or generalist.

Do you want to reach a larger audience or a wider audience? If it’s larger then I’m sure there are vast numbers of professional people who still remain unaware of your wisdom. Indeed when I quote you (as I frequently do) I am usually surprised that so many professional people are still unfamiliar with your work (specifically partners and professional staff in large and medium professional firms In the UK and Europe).

However, if you want to reach a wider audience (and I sense that you do) then you would obviously need to look beyond traditional professional services. However, here I think the answer lies in your comment that “The world is moving toward my specialty”. I agree. Perhaps you should not start writing about business in general but about how businesses (or service departments) can transform themselves into professional firms. I think there is a need and you already have the credibility to meet it. So dn’t go into the generalist market but instead woo more people into your specialism.

If it is challenge (rather than large or wide audience) that is driving your strategy, I think the professions as we know them are going to be shaken to their roots over the next decade so there will be ample challenge there.

posted on September 14, 2006

Peter Shaw said:

What is our long term objective? It is a bit easier asking a corporate this question as it normally revolves around profitable growth. If you don’t need the money surely your strategy has to be driven by what most excites/satisfies you. If you focus on that everything else will fall into place. You might also want to think about what would be a new challenge to drive that excitement and satisfaction. You probably have have 10-20 years to play with, so sticking to the knitting might be a bit unstimulating.

Having working on innovation and brand development for over 20 years I think that cross-fertilisation is a good philosophy. The idea of applying your knowledge and expertise to new areas will be stimulating, surprising and rewarding. Best of luck.

posted on September 14, 2006

Justin Patten said:


Key question-

Is it possible to pull off the high-wire act of being both a provocateur and a wise counselor? Should I continue to try that?

You can hardly say that you are doing badly at the moment so do not worry.

I agree with Jordan’s words that “The two groups you mentioned — younger people lower down the command chain, and the top corporate dogs — will become the same group over the next 10 to 15 years. Demographically, your first audience is morphing into the second.” so maybe pay more attention to the latter.

Please do a conference but make it accessible over the internet so we can watch in the UK.

Best wishes,

Justin Patten

posted on September 14, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Let me attempt to react to some of these. First, sorting out goals. This is, of course, hard to do. If you’ve seen the end of the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus,(starring Richard Dryfuss) you know that he eventually sees and gets immense gratification from the impact he has had on his students’ lives. But I bet he also would have wanted more than just that (tearjerking) acknowledgement.

There is an insatiable human ambition ( I hear a thousand pop stars crying -“Just one more #1 hit, Dear Lord, just one more #1 hit.”)

But, as you are all pointing out, it requires figuring out “a hit in whose eyes?” The honest answer, I am just becoming to understand is this:

I don’t just want to help or work with anyone: I want to help and work with people who share my philosophies. I really am a believer that Passion, People and Principles are the keys, and I get real fulfillment working with people who are trying to make that real in their lives – junior or senior, “traditional professions” or hard-core manufacturers.

What I don’t want to do anymore is to waste time (mine and theirs) trying to convince “hard-nosed, short-term corporate-style people” that there’s a better way. I’ve actually learned that I never “convert” anyone – what I do is to help clarify the thinking of those who shared my views to begin with.

The world doesn’t need another voice saying you should care about your people or your clients – if you haven’t heard the message by now, you don’t want me. Similarly, if you’re young and are waiting for your boss to change before you do, then you don’t want me.

So, I guess my ambition is to find more people who share philosophiies and together work out the (often very difficult) implementation difficulties.

Having said that, it means that the industry and the size of a concern doesn’t bother me any more.

I am incredibly struck by all the comments above about bringing the generations and audiences together. I do see an incredible divide, and I do see people on each side waiting for the other side to go first. (WHY don’t these young people want to play the game – why don’t our bossess get it.)

A large percentage of my work has been managers asking me to deliver their audience to them (go tell my partners what they should understand about what I’m saying. Explain why I’m right.) The same is true with some comments here – you want me to get top officers to understand YOU.

Well, you know what, I’m going to accept that challenge, because that’s where the chance to make a contribution is!

More advice and input is EAGERLY solicited, please.

posted on September 14, 2006

Dennis Howlett said:

Everyone’s dishing out great advice. I’m not going to do that. I’ll simply share my experience. The greatest thing I ever did was to realise I was at a crossroads and find the right person who would discomfort me. I didn’t ask peers what I should do. Didn’t seek advice from partners, colleague or clients. I asked my wife. Not everyone can do that but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at least one special person to whom they can turn and bare all. 

Her response? What do you want to do? My answer: ‘Not sure, but I know what I don’t want to do.’ Response: ‘Stop doing those things. That’s a good start.’

Got me focused very quickly.

posted on September 14, 2006

Chris Barrow said:


I want to challenge the need to “monetize”.

You won’t like me saying this but I smell an elephant.

At 59 you are hearing the call of philanthropy. You are done with “making a living” and I’m suspecting that it doesn’t juice you any more.

The appreciation is what counts. And you have a choice to make.

Do you want the appreciation of the old or the young?

Which will be your legacy?

As a 53-years old I’m beginning that same journey, with a large and young family that will keep me “monetizing” myself for some years to come.

If I won the lottery I would jump straight to philanthropy – reach down and give others a helping hand upwards.

If you still need to make a living, then maybe facilitating “community” for the established business leaders would be a good way of doing that.

They don’t want to blog or read blogs – they want 5-star spa hotels, exotic locations, the best of the best and the chance to rub shoulders physically with their peers – and moan about how hard it is. You can give them that easily.

The young want your leadership, your community and your capabilities (Dan Sullivan at The Strategic Coach).

They will accept nearly all of that virtually because they are used to it. You can become a virtual guru/village elder/whatever. Now and then they will want to conference with each other and with you.

Imagine for a moment that the only way you needed to do that was through this blog – that nothing else was necessary. Read “Naked Conversations” and imagine.

Bravo for your authenticity.

posted on September 14, 2006

Lori Iwan said:

Your blog today suggests you are searching for direction yet I’ve always read your materials as having a clear and wise path: Focus on quality in business and quality of life for the people involved and everyting falls into place. I builty my business around this concept and can attest to the success of this vision. I left a professional service firm that couldn’t understand this concept and it is a monument to the failures of not following your principles. So why then do you, a visionary of this revolutionary but simple concept, seem to be searching for direction? Too much time in airports? Did some client do/say something to discourage you? Is it me or is the whole world lost right now about its direction and purpose in life? It seems 5 years post 9-11 everyone is questioning their grand purpose. I’ve had this discussion with several different people and maybe it is the baby boomers starting to look at retirement and ask themselves what is their legacy as their kids leave home. My take on it is this: First, why does everyone look for the hard answer. Ochem’s razor says that the correct solution is usually the easiest or obvious one. In this case, you can have it all and reconcile your choices if you relax your brain and think about your advice and options. In your (Maister’s) case, you need to re-read your columns from the past few weeks and pull all the thoughts together. Your advice is consistent, not inconsistent as today’s column suggests. Young leaders are not looking to be revolutionary, they are looking for guidance on what is the right way to run a business without making mistakes — if it means jumping right to a new method and this seems revolutionary to older leaders so be it, but that should not put them at odds with the goals of older established leaders. It is simply a matter of education. When I discuss the Maister principles with other professionals, they embrace them, not reject them, but most people have not yet heard of them because it is a big world and lots of business theories circulate and drown out concepts that work. So I say please continue to get the word out in every possible way you can and that time permits, with blogs, CDs, books and anything else available to you, and make yourself available to individual enterprises that need help with implementation. I can identify a lot of people whose lives changed because we embraced the principle of quality of work and quality of life. Second, as for dwelling on the question of what direction to take your career/life, nothing says you must answer the big question of what is the meaning of life? In fact, trying to answer it will only lead to depression, despair and confusion. Instead enjoy the day and the moment and the meaning of life will be obvious to you. You will not pass through this moment again, treasure it, call someone special to you and say hello and remind yourself why you are working so hard.

posted on September 14, 2006

Doug Fletcher said:

If money were not an issue, I guess I’d do what excited me and let the chips fall where they may. It’s no secret that you will be much better (and have more fun) doing what excites you than in pursuing some plan that may be lucrative but boring. Dave, with your reputation, if you get excited about something – you will have an audience. With an audience, I’m sure there are a number of different ways to monetize it – so do what you feel like.

I think the question of whether to be a “professional services guru” or a “business generalist” is not as important today as it once was. 20 years ago, there was a distinct difference between the service economy and the manufacturing world. Today, pretty much every company in the developed world is a white collar, services company -even if you are GM or GE or IBM. So, in my mind, you were there first and have a lot of credibility in this environment.

Lastly, my suggestion above is the advice you would give one of us if we asked you what “strategy to pursue”. In the end, you are the only one who can decide what excites you.

posted on September 14, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Many, many things interest me here, but one dimension is of particular fascination. What would you like to see me doing that would serve your part of the community more? What’s not really being done or said that I could do?

Apart from what’s been mentioned, how do I make myself (even?) more valuable to people in your position? I’m not dissatisfied, but I do want (like everyone should) to understand what “my market” wants and needs and how I might modify what I do to meet that unfulfilled need.

I can’t promise to do everything, but a better understanding of the desires and wishes of different segements is (surely?) due diligence when re-examining your business. That’s part of what I am trying to do here.

What do you need / want that you’re not getting elsewhere?

posted on September 14, 2006

Duncan Bucknell said:

One of the interesting themes from the many great responses is that people are saying ‘if you don’t need the money, then do what you’re passionate about’.

I think that’s the wrong way around.

David, in response to all of your comments. Maybe it is time to reconsider your stance on whether to expand your firm.

posted on September 14, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Duncan – that’s scary! Actually, together with my wife Kathy’s new business (blog.startcooking.com) we now have 4 people on the full-time payroll, building and marketing our web prescence.

But hiring other consultants? What a thought! It terrifies me! (I’ll explain why in a future post.)

In case I left any confusion, I’m not bored or depressed. Quite the opposite in fact – I’ve never had more career opportunites and choices (nor more fun.) That’s why I’m trying to think the options through.

I DO want to try to make a contribution, and I do want to try to be distinctive: serve by doing something that other people are not yet doing. I don’t want to be a “me-too” author, speaker or consultant.

That’s why I would continue to be grateful for input and feedback on what “missing out there.” What’s not being written about, said, spoken about , consulted on – that I might be able to make my (next?) contribution.

What are the needs?

posted on September 14, 2006

Duncan Bucknell said:

David, since when has scarey been a reason not to do something? Sometimes its the opposite – right?

Kathy’s site and business idea is fantastic. That’s not the same has having your own team doing what you do – I look forward to your future post. (I think I have read most of your previous comments about being solo, and I personally have the same stance, (with some extra reasons) so I look forward to seeing what else you have to say about it.)

In answer to your question, what’s not being done/consulted on / etc (or could be done better)? Implementation.

posted on September 14, 2006

Eric Boehme said:


I never knew your name before stumbling upon your blog. I am sorry to say that I never have read one of your books, although that is my loss.

Why do I say that?

I read most of your posts. I believe blogging is powerful venue that creates a safe place where all of us can share our passions.

Your posts on this blog demonstrate a level of transparency that is not only inspiring, but refreshing as well. Only those who read and listen and believe that they can still be mentored while flying high at the apex of their career will really benefit from your wisdom and passion. (Group Two)

Not all of the younger crowd will listen, even though they are willing to read blogs and books.

It is not surprising that your larger group is Group One. The best of the best in Group One are seeking to be mentored by someone real. Their interest is not singularly focused on how to politically survive and play the game.

They want to learn how to become great leaders and effective contributors without selling their soul. They want to learn from someone who understands the difference between reality and perceived reality. They know both exist.

I subscribe to numerous business and professional development blogs via my RSS reader. Your blog is the first one I go to. Why?

It is not because I like your website or that you graduated from Harvard. It is not because you are an author or speaker.

What I like is what you say. As you said it yourself, you “have a bit of a reputation as the type of consultant, speaker and writer who talks about the elephant in the room that no-one else wants to talk about.”

Until we can talk about the elephants, our success will always be stymied. You cannot truly succeed until you are truly willing to embrace the opportunities that the elephant presents.

To ignore the elephant is short term success.

To engage the elephant is the beginning of a lifetime of achievement worthy of being emulated and replicated by generations to come.

I, like many, see your heart David. It is passion. It is all about people and the foundation is firmly built on principles.

Go with your passion. It will continue to change people’s lives.

Eric Boehme

posted on September 14, 2006

Ric said:


I could echo most of the sentiments already expressed, as they were all worthwhile, but I think the key point for me is something that Hugh Mcleod says – “meaning scales”. You have meaning to a substantial slice of your audience – that meaning will be different to various sub-populations, but it is there. It scales by virtual delivery – you can still be a specialist, but perhaps to a more geographically-dispersed audience by virtue of the internet. This to me has been the value of your blog – I haven’t read any of your books and I didn’t know you until someone else linked to you – now you are firmly entrenched in my reading habits.

The other thing to consider is that as your younger audience (say the Gen X crowd) matures, they will probably replace some of the Boomers as they retire, and will in turn be joined by (e.g.) Gen Y professionals – so the proportion of the audience who is more comfortable with the virtual world will increase. And of course you have tech-savvy Boomers like me already!

posted on September 14, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Among great thoughts, yours was intriguing, Eric. You may be right that past, present and future, I have served best by getting to the heart of things and calling them as I see them. So, if my calling is to be the elephant-spotter (or the child who calls out that the Emporor has no clothes) then what are the realities of professional life that are the elephants no-one’s really talked about enough yet?

As I load up my guns to go elephant hunting, where is the hypocricy (not just THEIRS but OURS) that has not yet been uncovered or discussed enough?

What are the self-delusional, self destructive practices that we get drawn into as individuals or as organizations?

Where are people and firms doing things that they thing are solving their problems but that are only making things worse?

How can we save people from themselves (US as well as THEM), eliminating self-inflicted wounds?

Answering those questions will give me my strategy for the next decade!

Where are the elephants?

posted on September 15, 2006

Ted Harro said:


I’m late to the party, but I’ll add my two cents. I think the easiest target for you may be the current firm leaders. You’re known there, you’re a contemporary, they access information in ways you have already mastered and could expand considerably if you so chose.

That doesn’t mean it’s the best or only place. I actually think there is a crying need for mentoring in the rising GenX leadership ranks, created by a host of factors (thinning management ranks, the impact of social trends like divorce that have removed traditional mentors, etc.). Of course, you could be a one-man mentoring machine and would barely scratch the surface of that need (if you see mentoring as having some sort of real personal connection). So how do you multiply? You could expand your firm, but I hear your consistent concern about that. You could partner with others who could leverage your wisdom, reputation, and platform without having formal employment relationships (think of it as a MOVEMENT instead of a firm). Or you could search for YOUR kind of Boomer leaders and focus on creating vehicles (experiences, tools, content) for THEM to mentor people in their firms. I’m personally attracted to this bridge-building strategy. And if you stick to talent-intensive, knowledge worker businesses, you could expand outside PSF’s without becoming a total generalist and losing your distinctive edge.

As for elephants, I’m afraid my first response is embarrassingly simple: a pervasive lack of self-control manifested by saying we want one thing and doing something else (could be in reference to a firm strategy or just my resolution to exercise).

posted on September 15, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Ted, as always, I find your insights immediately thought provoking. I could create a MOVEMENT!!!!!! (Now what would that require me to do?) – a manifesto, tools, a credo (membership?)


What does history say about how you create a movement?

posted on September 15, 2006

Travis Carnahan said:

I cannot say it any better than Shakespear “To thine own self be true.” I honestly believe that if you focus on the newer generation, they will be in charge in a few years anyway. I would not alter my message to slightly change the older, when the best changes are yet to come with the newer generations.

posted on September 15, 2006

Kathleen OBrien Thompson said:

How do you create a movement?

One answer, whether you look to pop music for examples; The Madonna-wanna-be’s from the 80’s, or to something much more serious and important, The civil right’s movement of the 60’s and arguably the most well known proponent, Dr. Martin Luther King; controversy. Both examples show that when the respective leaders embraced controversy, they became leaders in their chosen movement. Both flew in the face of the establishment, one with outrageous action, the other with a call to passive and consistent resistance.

That being said, one could argue that you have already begun your own movement by being the “elephant hunter” which often puts you in a very controversial position. Perhaps the question is NOT how do you create a movement, but how do you EXPAND the movement you have already started? One way might be elephant hunting in jungles in which you don’t readily enjoy entering or have been reluctant to enter. Again, the blog atmosphere is a good example of how you have already begun. I was struck by how many now know of you because of this blog and there seems to be an increase of ‘cross pollination’ in your threads. The greater your popularity /controversy, the more newsworthy you become and the more buzz around you and your offerings, well then surely a larger audience will be commanded and perhaps beget a movement.

posted on September 15, 2006

David (Maister) said:

I am beginning to see something clarify as I contemplate my next steps, based on all this help. First, it’s not (just) about me. Yes, I needs the ego-strokes from time to time, but (honestly) this is not about me – it’s about the message.

In fact, that’s always been my my message – it’s OK to want to get things from the world (we don’t need to be completely selfless or self sacrificing) but we DO need to work to deserve what we want to get back.

The movement, if that’s what it’s going to be, is about clarifying and communicating the message – and we can all pitch in on that.

posted on September 15, 2006

Peter Macmillan said:

If you spend your time thinking about deeper issues, you will help the rest of us who on the whole need to live more superficial lives. It’s almost like a person who spends time away from the crowds, and then returns to give the rest of us the fruits of his or her deeper thinking. Perhaps this is the “specialisation” bit. You specialise in digging deeper than the rest of us can or are able to.

But by digging deeper into universal truths (eg people, passion and purpose) you will by definition broaden your ability to contribute to a wider (universal) audience. Just the reaction of my wife to some of your less “professional” posts has shown me you have a broader message – why not test it on a broader audience where some people who may have never heard what you have to say and will be very excited and run with you ideas into a whole new area of human endeavour.

Do you really know who your audience is? I know you have “clients” but your audience includes people from an unimaginably wide range of backgrounds – each of them taking something away that they think is useful. Only very few people comment on your blog compared with how many people visit each day. The “silent majority” may be the ones with whom in aggregate you have had and will have your greatest impact. That is something that should make you smile – and not knowing who they are or what they might go on to do because of your contributions and ideas is a deeply moving realisation.

Peharps billable hours, practice groups, computerisation of offices and all the other “mechanics” you have been dealing with to this point are no more than the historical vehicle for the delivery of your deeper message. Your blog does not keep strictly to your professed focus on professional service firms. Maybe that could be seen by some as a little “off target.” But I see it as a natrual part of the changes that have presumably taken place in your own thinking since starting this blog experiment.

I do not believe the rule “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here. You are doing a great job, but circumstances (exogenous factors) may not be the place to look to answer your questions. Rather, as a lot of the comments above suggest, you need to think more deeply about what you believe (and are convicted) is the right thing for David Maister to do. Like any advisors (even though most of us are hardly qualified to do so) we can only try to trigger something inside of you that gives you a sense of where you should head next.

Everyone who reads your posts knows that it is the “personal” stuff you talk about (just like this post) that really connects with us and leads to the contributions you are receiving here. As much as the mechanics and technicalities of professional service firms are important and worthy of study, maybe you can now move on to focus your talents on something a bit different. There are plenty of others now filling the role you pioneered. And many more people than any of us can ever know who may be touched by the experiences and insights you have gained to this point.

posted on September 15, 2006

Steve Pearce said:

Dare I suggest a “paradigm shift”? I remember reading your thoughts on education somewhere – I think you observed that we still by and large educate rationally and neglect to address more valuable emotional lessons. I’d like to read more of your thoughts on this topic, and wondered if it might be a fruitful new focus for you. By the time most grads hit the job market, they’re deficient in many of the key skills your work extolls. By firing up the educational debate, by focusing on how we can better prepare young people for the workplace of tomorrow, you may create a much broader constituency for your ideas and – who knows? – perhaps a very tangible legacy.

posted on September 16, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Steve, you’re right on target with some recent thinking of mine.

I am due to give a speech in late september to over 150 professors in business schools throughout central and easter Europe (yep, they are moving fast – watch out the rest of the world) and it’s causing me to reflect on my entire career as a teacher.

I started off teaching statistics in a local college in London and have since done a wide variety of other kinds of teaching and training – inside and outside formal college settings.

You’re right that there’s a chance to make a big impact by improving things there, and you’re also right that I’d like to be part of that debate.

Look on my future blogs – soon – for some preliminary tghoughts and invitaations to you all to suggest how we can improve what Steve pointed to – helping people develop their emotional, interpersonal, social, political and psychological skills at an earlier age.

posted on September 16, 2006

Jim Belshaw said:

David, this discussion triggered a range of thoughts covered in quite a long post on one of my blogs – see this link. I hope that the comments are of some interest.

posted on September 16, 2006

Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan said:

Hi David,

I think you’re on the right trend with professional firms.

As we’re getting deeper and deeper into the age of the knowledge worker, more and more industrial companies set up “professional services” arms. I’ve assisted several manufacturing companies to pull this off, that otherwise provide gadgets and widgets. They also have high demand for providing “customised intellectual property”, which we can call consulting. So, within the company there will be the manufacturing and the professional services arms.

For instance, IBM manufactures “boxes”, but the big money lies in their global consulting services. The funny thing is that the computer genius IBM people needed a computer layman, Lou Gerstner, to recognise this. But when Gerstner shifted IBM towards professional services, miracles started happening. Without Gerstner IBM might have died.

People buy widgets, but more often than not they don’t know how those widgets fit into the overall context of their organisations. This is where the manufacturer can offer a broad range of consulting programmes. And now there is a PSF within the manufacturing company. And this PSF requires different management approaches.

So, I think your market is broadening by default as companies recognise the importance of offering professional services, thus you’re on the right track with your current track record and level of “notoriety.”

posted on September 17, 2006

Marcel Goldstein said:

I think the modern-day professsional service firm lacks much formal structure (at least compared with manufacturers, government agencies and other organizations), and this is a great asset, as it allows for the flexibility, creativity and autonomy necessary to adapt to client needs. It has a darker side too: inefficiency, confusion and process breakdowns.

The highly matrixed professional service firm environment turns downright chaotic during times of great change: acquisitions/mergers, integrated service transitions and technology disruptions. For example, your recent article on law firms stated that clients are forcing cross-practice cooperation, and I’ve seen the same in the marketing service industry. But do we have the right structure and personal skill sets to successfully manage the integration of specialty expertise? Also, many professional service firms engage in acquisitions of great fanfare, only to have their value left unrealized by fear-based political undermining. In my experience, traditional manufacturers with structured, hierarchical management do acquisitions with far less confusion and resulting paralysis.

The “big elephant” of the professional service firm industry then, I believe, is the matrix organizational model. Can you help us create the ideal structures that don’t squash the flexibility and creativity but minimize the inefficiency and confusion? Can you help us build the personal skill sets needed to manage ourselves and each other in these environments, especially during times of great change? I don’t think we have execution of the matrix model perfected yet.

While I am a faithful follower of your philosophy (as a regular reader of your blog and “The Trusted Advisor”), I hope that I have offered you a “big elephant” that you have not already “hunted.” My thoughts are derived from a career at public relations firms as well as a consultant to many professional service firms in a wide variety of fields.

Good luck. Regardless of your choice, I’ll keep seeking the clarity of your thinking, as it has been of great help to me.

posted on September 17, 2006

Bill Peper said:

This is a fascinating discussion, and it reflects the best the blog genre has to offer — brilliant, passionate, articulate people sharing ideas on important topics. I very much appreciate this blog and its contributors.

Some random thoughts on the major topics raised:

  1. My guess is that your audience among Group 2 (high-level executives) may well expand if you addressed general business topics in addition to your work in the professional services industries. Broadening the scope of your work may well cause you to stretch and grow. You certainly have developed a brand within the professional services area, and additional writings in this ares may not be as effective in growing your audience as broadening your message.
  2. As a regular reader of the blog, I sense the highest level of passion in your writings when addressing topics unrelated to professional services firms (your praise of Doris Day and the Bee Gees spring to mind) or when commenting on insights from the blog contributors. As several have noted above, working within areas of passion brings out one’s best.
  3. I believe it is possible to create projects that might appeal to and benefit both constituant group identified in this discussion. I served as the director of career services at a law school in a previous life, and there is a genuine need for good multi-media materials to teach true professionalism to students and new hires. This material could be licensed to the school for use in the MBA/BBA programs, law schools, in-house employees, faculty development, and elsewhere within the university. The same course (or one closely related in content) could be used for new associates, junior partners, consultants, sales staff in this essential area. A similar course on managing and inspiring workers is possible, and it would have many potential marketing opportunities. This would provide you exposure to many new clients and allow you to return to previous clients with a truly useful set of products.
  4. I would be careful in hoping that a Jonah message (“Repent or you will be destroyed”) will create a “movement” in the short term. It involves too much hard work and discipline to be readily implemented and produce the type of quick results that people need to embark. The Maister message is not easy to implement, and it is not a quick fix.

Hope this contributes to the discussion!

posted on September 18, 2006

Joanne Dustin said:

To respond to your questions, I’d like to pose a question: when all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered? Or, borrowing from Barbara Sher, “How will you live now that you know that you will not live forever?”

When faced with choices like you’ve described, what seems to work for many is to measure each choice against their own life “ruler”, the passion and purpose that drives them. There may be a clear standout. But you already know this.

So, here are some more questions:

For each of your choices, how do you make a difference to the audience you are serving?

How do these differences compare? Is one more valuable from your perspective?

What will happen if you stop doing one of these?

What opportunities will you miss if you continue to do both of these and don’t focus on just one or the other?

This is a choice only you can make. It’s important to remember that your choice, once made, isn’t irrevocable. What measures can you put in place that will tell you whether or not you’ve made the right choice for you and those you’re serving? As you go forward, if the results say you should go in a different direction, then go there.

Joanne Dustin

posted on September 19, 2006

Paul Shillam said:


I started an email to you a number of months ago, however did not send it. It has to do with leveraging your knowledge, skills, and style into other “knowledge-intensive businesses”. As you adroitly pointed in your call for help, the world is moving more and more toward a higher proportion of knowledge-intensive businesses. I work in a medical practice and frequently use your books as thought pieces for how to approach managing within the context of a medical practice. I believe there is ample opportunity for you to expand your presence in “professional services” by expanding your scope to be more inclusive – thus increasing your market size. Your work has relevance in many knowledge-intensive businesses where there is a need for a balanced leadership and management philosophies to enourage people, achieve results, and build a profitable organization. Thanks and hope this is helpful.

posted on September 19, 2006

NancyRoggen said:

what about a new way to foster executive learning.

Pick a topic that interests you and invite people from professional services firms to send 1 person to a cohort group that will work on it. People are covering costs for executive education and this a “praticum with David Maister” would be a real credential – it could start and end with time together and be virtual for the rest of the defined time you set aside for each group. That way you’d work just one layer under the top executive level – build skills of the individual – funded by the sponsoring organization.

Of course there would be chaos – there always in on teams that are self-organizing – but you’d be able to dip in and out of various groups and get enough variety to keep yourself engaged and stimulated. The cohort groups would expand their networks and hear new ideas… By requiring some sort of output at the end of the defined term you’d create a structure for learning, renewal and the ability to teach/mentor next generation leaders. I’d guess each group would type A themselves competitively so that each “result” would be different and at a higher relative level than the preceeding outputs.

posted on September 19, 2006

Geoff Considine said:

Hi David:

This question raises one of the most important issues for any person with a business: exit strategy. If you quit tomorrow, your business seems so closely tied to your name and you that your business would cease to exist. Sure, there would be books and materials that could carry one but yours is a one-intellect business isn’t it? There is nothing wrong with that, but there are many ways that you could create a business that will outlive you. Obviously you could train some people to carry on under your brand. You can also create software or other materials with an extended shelf life that codify some key principles. While I am not a huge fan of Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Successful…), he has done a great job of creating a company that will extend beyond him. I am not a fan at all of Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad/Poor Dad…) BUT he has also done a good job of creating a business around his ideas. Of course, these guys are hitting a mass market. On a larger and business-focused scale, think McKinsey. McKinsey has done a powerful job of building the brand so that the company’s future prospects do not depend on any small group of thought leaders.

There are many ways to pursue this issue. If you want your business to exist without you, what will be your strategy? In my case, it is building software. I will eventually sell my company and I will be able to reap the value of the brand that I have built because of software products. I feel that if there is any area that you have missed in your writing—and I have read a lot—it is thinking more about exit strategy. If you want a cash-out exit, you will enhance your odds by building a company that can be sold. Many of the professional services firms that I know are motivated to build software largely for this reason. Professional services firms that own intellectual property such as software sell for much higher multiples. Now, it sounds like money is not your issue. It seems to me that you will want to think hard about how/if Maister Inc. will continue beyond you…

posted on September 19, 2006

Lindsay Fikowski said:

As with the others, I am a huge lifelong fan of yours, David. I have read through the postings and have a few comments to add.

I believe you are well addressing your first audience (of which I’m part) through current channels (books, blogs, podcasts; and yes, can charge low fees – perhaps $1 per download). I think your greater challenge is tapping into that second group.

To focus on the second, C level group (as it exists today, but with the opportunity to intake the “next generation”) I would consider developing an international collective of high level executives – cross industry, cross function, all from tier one, “fastest growing”, or cutting edge organizations – to provide a forum for their networking and with the purpose of developing or expanding management and leadership theory I see this as a sort of YPO group but with an “Advisory Panel” component where this group is your sounding board – and they, each other’s – for addressing general leadership and management issues and trends at the very highest level. The exclusivity and opportunity to liaise with other leading CEO’s would be appealing, as they seek to broaden their profiles continue learning, and perhaps focus on their legacy as well (if the Advisory publishes or speaks as a group or sub groups). YPO is often cited by its members as one of the most rewarding of professional and personal opportunities, because of the deeply rooted trust among its members (to discuss and troubleshoot some of their most challenging professional situations, in a safe environment) and have access to other people they admire and want to connect with. This Advisory would have the added component of actual outputs, such as studies, books, commentary.

The group would not have YPO’s age cap and possess a different set of intake guidelines, by invitation only. The identity of the Advisory Panel can be public or private, depending on if you want to use it as more an internal networking/”circle of trust” mandate like YPO, or an externally visible, highly regarded group who will help you develop or test management content that can result in non-specialized books, studies, even perhaps management curriculum for executives in Fortune 500 co’s (to go back to that emerging group), marketed under the banner of what will be a widely regarded “thought leadership” collective, that represents a broad cross section of international corporations with already well-known success stories.

This Advisory would be their version of “taking it to the next level”, as much as it would be yours, and open doors for you to expand your network, publish new and innovative books, work with a broader client base and in a broader consulting context, and so on. The group can also simply be organized along a pure networking context (revenues through membership and international events). The offshoots are endless depending on how you want to focus your time – use the Advisory to expand your profile, consult, publish, etc. But sticking with your core competencies, and working with this diverse, accomplished Advisory group providing the entree into the broader business community, may be worth considering. I think it would open the door wider to that broader world and refresh your passion for your work, and allow you to leverage your new “trusted advisors” through the Group. You will uncover new ideas and challenges in business that perhaps have not yet surfaced – the focus is on the leading edge, using their real world insight and what is happening in their businesses and sectors, today.

I look forward to reading future posts and seeing any direction – even if it remains consistent with the past – that David chooses to take. I’ve no doubt his success will continue regardless.

posted on September 19, 2006

Dr. Leonhard Fopp said:


I advice you the same thing that I advice my clients. Do not ask strangers for a solution, but ask your inner self. Look inside you, feel what is good for you, tomorrow and after tomorrow.

Add life to years, or still add years to life. We are both old enough to go for the first alternative.

Live, love, and be loved. And enjoy your work.


Leonhard from Switzerland

posted on September 19, 2006

Abram Serotta said:

I just turned 60 and understand what you are trying to accomplish. I have been a fan our yours and your writings.

Your audiences are different and require different messages and different methods to attract your audience

For senior executives you need to publish your articles in sources that senior executives read. By publishing on your web site or email a limited list, you are limiting your exposure. If you do not do it, then you need to team up with someone who can oversee the implementation of your theories.

For the younger audience, seminars at organizations and leadership sponsored training will be the best method to have your message recieved.

All types may benefit from your message but today most people are frustrated as how to get it implemented

posted on September 19, 2006

C Anon said:

For what it’s worth, I am drawn to your articles in part because I am NOT aware of many business experts speaking to the professions, in my case law. Most lawyers do not hire a business person to help run their business, with some interesting business management results. I’d prefer that you stick to your niche rather than turning into a business generalist. As to your audience, I think you should be aiming for those who have a few years experience in their field but not yet enough to make big decisions (the future leaders) and on up to the soon-to-be-making-the-big-decisions group. The people at the very top running the show are either on the same page and are already working for change, or have reached a point where they can’t or won’t change no matter what you say. Satisfaction can then come from teaching new converts and guiding them in their individual paths to leading their businesses.

posted on September 19, 2006

Ganesh said:

Dear Maister,

Just as today you are considered the pioneering thought on the management of professional service firms, I think you should look at these two choices on the basis of what will give you a similar standing in the next 10 years time. I would prefer the option of you working with the younger (middle management and aspiring to be top leaders) segment. Since you have also mentioned that the main motivation is not economic consideration, I think this will help you make a more lasting contribution to the future.

This is especially necessary under today’s global pool of aspiring leadership talent available and the low confidence in AMerica’s top lleadership that has plagued corporations of late.

posted on September 19, 2006

Patrick J. Lamb said:

David, I first heard you speak about a decade ago, and have been a disciple ever since, rising from the ranks for younger partner to more senior partner now involved in firm management. I would pose the question differently—isn’t the reward you seek, the real payoff, seeing the successful application of your teachings? Seeing a firm go from nothing great to extraordinary because of you? I don’t think the line between the younger vs. older is the right demarcation. In my view the right distinction to draw is between committed and passionate on the one hand vs. passive listeners on the other. And you need to touch the passionate and committed with more than just a speech to develop the “trusted advisor” relationship with them that you need in order to foster the change that will be your non-monetary payoff. Were I you, I would be looking to eliminate the “one-off” contacts with people and firms in favor of the change to be an intimate consultant for an extended period. And now being at a smaller firm, I would suggest that you mine those firms (under 150) who have the greatest flexibility to change and seek to develop a number of clients in that group who you can help transform into the firms that transform the practice of law. You will need to find the visionaries and maybe “recruit” them as clients, but your phone calls will be returned and people will listen to you as you discuss how you can help transform firms if they work closely with you over time.

posted on September 19, 2006

Douglas Ferguson said:


Several random thoughts.

1.) Whatever you do, continue to write and speak. You are gifted in this area and have found your voice. The simplicity, clarity and practicality are inspiring. How you have managed to use the web is a great example of innovation. Build the ballpark and they will come.

2.) I don’t see a conflict between your two groups. You pose a bit of a choice where I don’t see you actually haivng a choice given what you have done so far. The work with the senior leaders gives you the lessons and the insights that lets you lead the younger generation with stories and paradigms. I bet you know Paul Farmer. If you don’t, buy his book – Mountains Beyond Mountains. Its an extraordinary story about how one of the world’s leaders in healthcare practice and policy, a leader whose counsel is sought out by the WHO, the FDA and many, many others, who also trudges through the mountains of Haiti to track down a tuberculosis patient who isn’t taking their medication. You need, and should, do both.

3.) There are several elephants in the room for you to challenge. Several examples include: how do we handle the change in work from technology where command and control hierachies don’t make sense? what is the leadership model in the era of globalization? what happens when senior white collar jobs get outsourced to India and china? why can’t American firms adequately deal with issues of race? how do we manage in a world of terrorism, culture wars, and religious antagonism? how should businesses interact with government policy makers? (we are moving from a period of laissez faire market knows best to egads complex problems like health care, pollution, and security needs require etc). Globalization, race, environment, terrorism etc. all lurk in the background. Don’t be afraid to cull them out.

4.) Scratch the non-profit itch. Drucker had some interesting contributions to make to the non-profit world and I believe you should have even more since they are inherently service oriented. With the exception of the Gates Foundation and possibly MacArthur there haven’t been significant new non-profit institutions emerging to the same degree that we see with corporate growth and destruction and thats not right.

5.) Beware analysis paralyis. I like some of the previous comments about focusing on the emotive side. Many consultants and analysts tend to focus too much on analytical problem solving. If they can convince somebody of their model’s insight they should change their behavior, right? In my experience organizations change based on a complex array of factors, or which rational analysis counts for 25% max.

Good luck and I look forward to learning from your deliberations.

posted on September 19, 2006

Stuart Maister said:

David – I just read this blog on returning from a breakfast seminar led by friend- John Smythe – who is a guru in the field of employee engagement. It struck me that many of his approaches and passions are similar to those you have always advocated along with others who seek to lead the revolution in leadership and management.

Therefore the idea that struck me when reading your blog was that the time may be right for you to create an international network of senior collaborators who share your values but who may have related but slightly different focuses (or is that focii..?!). I know from our conversations that employees are absolutely not your thing, but this would of course be different – more of a group of industry-leading peers who together will have more impact at the most senior level than any one could alone. The key would be to develop a consistent set of principles, approaches and maybe even methodologies – and, of course, agree the way the money works.

That may be too much hassle at this stage in your life but it sounds like it could be incredibly exciting.

PS I recommend John’s book when it comes out next year – The Chief Engagement Officer.

PPS To other readers: yes David and I are related (we’re cousins) but he’s the famous one.

posted on September 20, 2006

Dave Glynn said:

Do something fun and different – stretch yourself out, take a risk. Keep the CDs, books and articles going as that will provide a steady income. Set youself up for some premium speaking engagements or one-on-one sessions with top level executives, but garner a higher rate for those and limit them so you’ll be in higher demand.

Finally, if you’re not doing something philanthropic, shame on you. Now’s the time – maybe that’s the fun thing you end up doing that will also contribute greatly to society. Non-profit organizations desperately need professional help even if that’s just speaking to the Board of Directors at a homeless shelter.

Hope this helps.

posted on September 20, 2006

Patrick Jacques said:

Your strenghts:

Your ability to get to the point and not waste your audience’s time is, in my view, unsurpassed.

Your humility, your unselfishness, and your respectful nature transpires in everything you produce.

Your public speaking skills and your ability to inspire and to deliver common sense is comparable to that of the likes of Joel Osteen, Tony Robbins, Joyce Meyer and so forth…

Your weaker points:

I think you’re not quite the book writer Jim Collins is (based on what I’ve read from you). That does not mean your books aren’t good, but your writing style works better for articles than book.

Some of your ideas lack applicability in the real world.

Everything else’s already been said. Good luck in whatever you do. A guy like you deserve to be heard.

posted on September 20, 2006

Karen Love said:

The Professional Services World needs the continuity as well as the ingenuity of David Maister. Unless you tell me you are broken, then simple evolvment to match what your marketplace is needing is your future. And, You are already doing this… example to follow.

I just returned from a “fly in” of a National Network of Accounting Firm’s Practice Development Group. On the panel was a President of an Innovative Accounting Firm. One of his comments was ” I am not sure how many of you know David Maister—(most heads nod “yes”)..But, I read his blog daily and if you want to keep abreast of important cerebral thoughts that have use, please look into his wise counsel”….

To be cognisant of the next generation is imperative and the CEO’s that you care about do read and follow you.. I think you are hitting both with same slingshot. If you find that a slightly varied approach will work better, then fine.. Right now, from an innocent bystander—YOU are The Man!

posted on September 20, 2006

David (Maister) said:

The complliments here are very gratifying, anf the constructive criticism I have received (mostly by email) is also VERY valauble.

Contrary to what some people have said, i don’t think doing this has been courageous, risky, (humble!) or clever.

I’m just trying to live up the the principles I advocate: you can’t do strategy for an individual or an organization until you know what the AUDIENCE thinks – for better or for worse.

Frequently my clients ask me to rveiew their strategies and I always ask “What do you rclients think of your plans?” They repond with shock and horror:”Oh, we couldn’t think of asking them!”

My simple point is that is doesn’t matter what the idiot from Boston (i.e. me) thinks of your plan – it’s only the audience that matters. If you’re too afraid to ask, you’ll learn less and develop less quickly.

I hope more people will replicate the process for themselves!

posted on September 20, 2006

Prem Chandavarkar said:

As someone has mentioned earlier – it feels strange giving advice to somebody who one has considered a mentor. However – since you asked for it – here goes.

First of all I agree with your statement “it is not just about me”. A fundamental human need is to connect with a reality that is larger than us. And the urgency of that need seems to increase as one gets older. Do not lose sight of that.

Second, I do not suggest stepping back to being a generalist – unless you have a real mind-blowing contribution at a general philosophical level to make. And if you already had that contribution in hand, then you would not be asking this question. So without it, to step back to being a generalist would mean a dilution of identity. I feel that unless some spontaneous internal force is driving you in another direction, it is more rewarding to achieve personal growth by building upon and extending an established identity rather than discarding it for another.

Perhaps the queries implied in your initial post are not accurately phrased. The impression I initially got is that the primary questions are:

  1. Should I remain a specialist, or should I move to wider horizons by becoming a generalist?
  2. Of the two possible target audiences that I have observed, which one does it make more sense to focus on?

But reading between the lines, it appears that the real questions are:

  1. What kind of work can I do that builds on all the effort of the past, but moves beyond it to connect with wider levels of meaning?
  2. What kind of an audience is there for such work?
  3. Would it be possible to engage with such an audience and produce meaningful results?

Starting from these more general questions, my intuitive reaction is that rather than looking at a choice between the two audiences that you have observed, it may be more rewarding to first ask why the audience has split into these two distinct segments.

It is intriquing to note that when you describe the first group, you do not confine it to people in large firms who are outside the power structure; but you also include small firms and solo operators. And you go on to say that this group is drawn towards your emphasis on core principles and staying true to dreams and principles.

And when you talk about the second group – the “top officers in top firms” – you seem to imply that the strong internalised connection to dreams and principles is not so strong. One gets the impression that when you talk about “top firms” you mean large firms – large enough to hold highly visible market presence. And that seems to lead to a definition of success that is defined in quantitative terms such as profitability, market value and market share as opposed to the more qualitative bottom line of internal fulfillment (which seems to characterise the first group).

It appears that the problematic issue is that of growth – more specifically the growth that involves the shift from small firms, solo operators and junior positions in large firms towards top positions in large firms. Some kind of a fundamental transformation takes place in this shift – and this causes the split into the two audiences that you have observed.

There are some widely held visible causes for this change:

  1. As firms grow the need for formal systems and processes grow. This tends to move into the foreground as compared to the tacit sense of the presence of key movers and shakers (along with personal chemistries) that had dominated in the small firm.
  2. If growth cannot be financed totally by internal accruals, external investors and shareholders enter the picture. The obligation toward these constituencies makes management focus on the consistency of quantitative measures of performance, and a qualitative sense of personal fulfillment has to take second place

It is widely believed that such transformations are inevitable. That is the way the world works, and one must accept it. It was also observed in an earlier post that you need not be concerned about the split into two audiences because the first will inevitably morph into the second. While that is true, one must also ask in what way will they fundamentally change (as people) in the process. Will they lose their core?

It may be argued that there is still opportunity for persoal satisfaction at both levels. If the smaller organisation provides an opportunity for intangible fulfillment through core principles and dreams, the larger scale offers a personal sense of satisfaction through institution building. But there is a fundamental difference between the two. The former involves a connection with a wider reality, whereas the latter tends to feed on ego.

But does it have to be this way? Is it possible that we believe it to be so only because we lack the conceptual tools to envision an alternative? I believe the problem lies in the fact that we lack a disciplinary definition of practice. Most of us enter a profession through a formal training in the discipline. The training tends to focus on enabling us to acquire a strong conceptual understanding of the profession as a discipline – its core realm of knowlege, its value to the world, its methodologies. Success, within this academic context, is defined in terms of the intellectual contribution one can make towards the extension of the boundaries of the discipline – and this builds a strong sense of self worth and personal fulfillment because it constructs higher realms of reality.

But when we talk about forms of practice (such as the structure and strategy of firms) we are unable to talk about it in disciplinary terms, and we shift outside the discipline toward a language of management. It appears that practice is seen as a method rather than a philosophy. As Donald Schon points out so well in his wonderful book “The Reflective Practitioner” – we tend to believe in a process of ‘reflection followed by action’, where reflection tends to be produced within academic settings and action is only applied reflection. Our notion of practice tends to overlook the fact that effective professionals actually work through ‘reflection-in-action’. We need to build on Schon’s observation and construct a definition of practice that is central to disciplinary understanding. We need to shift the concept of practice from a site of applying knowledge to a site of producing knowledge. Without this we are forced to shift systems of measurement as the firm grows. When the firm is small, the relatively informal methods and visible influence of key individuals allow a strong disciplinary understanding to occupy the foreground. But as the firm grows, explicit conceptual clarity is required to hold it together. And if there is no strong disciplinary definition of practice, then when practice is seen as method rather than philosophy, the quantitative measures of method dominate over the intangible rewards of philosophy. However the firm still has to define its identity in terms of its discipline. It therefore sustains disciplinary understanding through its junior members (who remain peripheral in influence as they are outside the structures of power) or through senior individuals who are granted relative autonomy to operate outside the regular formalised processes, and remain the exception rather than the rule. Generally, larger firms are driven to focus on leverage rather than value, and their disciplinary contribution veers to the systematised and formulaic rather than the innovative.

I have yet to see writing that focuses on the philosophical changes caused by a firm’s growth. I have only read a couple of your earlier books, and am not up to date with your recent writing. I have only recently discovered this website, and am yet to explore its content. So if you have already written on this, then please forgive my ignorance and please point me in the right direction.

But I feel that rather than posing it as an either-or choice between these two audiences – look at both, specifically the transitions from one to the other. Accept the fact that the first will morph into the second, and ask how they can do so without losing their core. Or to put it more succintly – the burning (and meaningful) question of the hour is “Are dreams scaleable?”

I sense that I am only mapping my wish list onto your personal strategy. But I do wonder if you would find a focus on this question personally rewarding.

posted on September 20, 2006

Van Lanier said:

Having done turnarounds for 30 years, I offer a simple transition tool: write your obituary and work backwards to today. This usually clears the air and sharpens the focus to what you consider really important.

Best wishes for continued success, however you define it.

posted on September 20, 2006

Petri Darby said:


Maybe you should think about expanding the concept of the David Maister brand to that of a professional services “think tank” and training center catering to different audiences:

1. New law firm leaders

2. Experienced law firm leaders needing a fresh approach

3. Law firm leaders at troubled firms

4. Law firm leaders at growing firms

5. Law firm managers and directors

6. I’m sure there are plenty others

If you are looking to make an even wider impact than your solo consulting, speaking and writing efforts can make, a David Maister Center for Professional Services that produces research studies, strategic industry conferences, etc., may be just the avenue to pursue. However, it will require you to face your instinctive distaste for the thought of adding staff.

posted on September 20, 2006

Warren Miller said:

Let me try to weave together parts of what Duncan, Lindsay, Van, and Petri wrote.

  1. Write two obituaries. The first would be one that would likely be written if you were run over by a beer wagon in the Back Bay today; the second is the one you’d like to have written 30 years from now (be optimistic!). Be sure to take the time that a project of this gravity deserves – a weekend of peace and quiet should do it. Create the two obits around three subjects: Affiliations; Career; Personal Fulfillment. I was at a crossroads 18 years ago and did this. I’m always skeptical of anyone who uses the phrase I’m about to use, but I’ll use it anyway: It changed my life. In looking at the differences between the two obits, I realized the path that, deep down in my heart of hearts, I had to take. I took it, and I’ve never looked back. Aside from marrying my lovely wife, it’s the best thing I ever did for myself.
  2. My own view is that you should “dance w/who brung ya,” as we used to say in Texas – stick w/PSFs. If folks from outside PSFs seek you out, sell something to ‘em. But don’t go looking for them. If what you’re saying through PSFs is interesting to them, they’ll find you. Don’t worry about that.
  3. To reach the two groups—and send the message you want to send about your own person—have an “Enter” sign on your home page with two entry buttons: “For Worker Bees” and “For Business Owners/Officers.” Any individual s/b able to log in on both, of course, but by those very labels, I think you’re sending the message you want to send to both cadres. If you offend some in the latter group, they wouldn’t have been your kind of people anyway. (I’m reminded of an old Rodney Dangerfield story: He said he ran home from school one day, came in the house, and saw his Dad home early from work. He said, “Daddy, Daddy, nobody likes me, nobody likes me.” His Dad said, “Cool it, son. You haven’t met EVERYBODY.” Hear, hear.
  4. Create some longer DVDs and sell them. Those snippet freebies you have are fun, but you’re missing the opportunity to really sink the DM hook (and put a few bucks in your pocket in the process). As I’m sure you know, the Harvard B-School has now begun making some lectures of its most popular professors available on DVD; I’ve grabbed several of them for a couple of hundred bucks each. They run about an hour each. I’d gladly pony up for a pricey DVD from you, and so would a lot of other people (those in your Group #2).
  5. Start an association devoted to what you believe – maybe something like “The Institute of Passion, People, and Principles in Professional Services.” That’s too cumbersome, but I’ll bet someone can build on it and come up with something both descriptive and pithy. Charge an annual membership fee and send out a monthly newsletter (hard copy). A good business model (from an extraordinarily good guy): http://www.claytonchristensen.com.
  6. Have an annual conference. You’ll be surrounded by like-minded people, and you’ll have a ball. The Institute will be just off-beat enough to attract some press coverage (you know how to create a buzz). Be sure to have the conference in boffo places that people will want to come visit—not too hot, not too cold, plenty of ambience appropriate to your membership, etc.
  7. Within the ass’n, begin to create some continuity for your ideas. Identify younger disciples and bring them along. That way, the organization can live on, and you can have the satisfaction of watching it to do if/when you want to throttle back a little.
  8. That’s my top-of-the-head contribution. Hope it’s helpful.

posted on September 21, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Amazing! Does anyone NOW think I was crazy to ask for input? Just SEE what happens! Warren , you couldn’t make more sense.

I’m not saying I have the guts to do it ALL, but the ideas are immensely sensible.

posted on September 21, 2006

Eric Boehme said:


I have been a bit tied up this week and did not get back to this post until now. You may be at saturation point, so I will keep this brief.

Your comment back to me has me thinking even more about elephants.

You said:

“What are the self-delusional, self destructive practices that we get drawn into as individuals or as organizations?”

Dilbert has provided hundreds of examples for us. Dilbert is entertaining, but not attempting to address the core issues.

“Where are people and firms doing things that they thing are solving their problems but that are only making things worse?”

Everywhere. Every company I have worked for, worked with, even my own company – we tend to look for solutions before we understand the problem. Assumptions are dangerous. Allocating the time to understand the problem is something that we convince ourselves that we do not have enough time to do. The issue is as messed up as that sentence. ;)

“How can we save people from themselves (US as well as THEM), eliminating self-inflicted wounds?”

This is a tough one. We can’t save everyone, but creating true accountablility within leadership goes a long way to stop someone from shooting themselves in the foot. It can stop someone from carrying out a habitually dysfunctional act. I have to really think more about this.

“Answering those questions will give me my strategy for the next decade!”

These are great questions that deserve some ruminating and cogitating. I am printing them out and taping them to my wall.

posted on September 21, 2006

Johan Sleegers said:

David, maybe the world is moving towards your speciality. But not in the sector i’m in: healthcare in the Netherlands.

Way back when, doctors were trusted advisors. Nowadays they are spending a lot of time on balanced score cards, planning & control, marketing — all in a very bureaucratic way.

The healthcare business surely could use some of your expertise and precious time, to get back on track.

Conclusion: stay with your speciality as long as it is needed. Start a counter-movement!

posted on September 22, 2006

Paul Brown said:

David –

The issue you are wrestling with appears to fall into the “legacy” arena; i.e. “What will remain?” “What do I want my life’s work to be known for?”

When working on my graduate degree in leadership I stumbled upon the Robert Greenleaf’s “Center for Servant Leadership.” Why not consider a similar center organized to perpetuate and grow the areas of management that are most important to you: Passion – People – Principle.

The center – if couched in a university – would continue to build on your work through research and application.

Annual (or more) conferences would equip current and future leaders in some sort of shared generational-lapping experience (thereby touching both sets of your audience).

You would be able to move into the final chapter of your work by establishing the center in a manner that perpetuates the influence of your values to professional service firms first and other industries second.

Over time, the center could be charged with creating applications to your insights to other arenas thereby allowing you to continue to concentrate first on service firms.

Paul Brown

posted on September 22, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Paul – and everyone – please see the blogpost about “How to Get Ahead: Lie and Cheat?” Maybe we really do need a “Center for the Advancement of Professionalism.” We need people to take the pledge. We need a base from which to spread the word that cynicism, skepticism, treat-others-for-only-what-you-can-get-out-of-them is NOT the best way either to run a profitable business enterprise. We neeed to do a lot more of the researcht hat proves this and goes beyond treating it as an article of faith.

Anyone with ideas on how I can help found or advance such a center, send me an email (david at davidmaister dot com) or join in here.

I’m serious if you are!

posted on September 22, 2006

Vicky Wright said:


I have just picked up this blog following your email for non bloggers. I fall into your second category of the older members of the consulting profession, and also have only picked up this blog as a result of your email. After being on the leadership team of two firms, I have decided to give up management to return to my first love which is consulting in human resources. Your written publications for managers of professional service firms remain of tremendous value – the fact is that those who get to run professional services firms are often badly equipped to do so and you are still the great guru both for the older generaltion and new generation of professional service firm leaders.

So my first real comment to you is that your legacy is there in at least two generations of professional services firm leaders who recognise that they have been able to do a better job because of what they have learnt from you. So if you want to go and explore another area in which you can have fun I will be sorry but recognise that the David Maister brand may be enjoyably broadened.

However, I still feel that your voice is an important one in the field of professional services management, and that there is more fun to be had by you if you still have the hunger for applied research as well as writing. For example reading your standard text book on ‘Managing the Professional Service Firm’ I think there areas where research has been done and needs to be done to make it really relevant for the audience of 2010 – are Partnerships really the model for the future? What is the implication of being a quoted company professional service firm? Should there be more on leadership competences and management of leadership succession? How can firms manage leadership risk? Should you research further into the management of diversification of professional services firms?

David, you have the brand and knowledge platform to advance thinking in these areas; the question I have is whether you want to do it? I sense that you may have just lost the real interst in doing it. If you have move on, if you have not then go for it!


posted on September 27, 2006

Constantinos Stavropoulos said:

Hello David,

Wish I can humbly offer some help, even though I might be “biased” since I’m in your first group audience (solo business value advisor) and have cherished these past few years your valuable insights. Moreover, I would like to investigate some common collaboration grounds in the future. I’m stationed in Athens, Greece, and operating throughout South East Europe.

But, first things first.

Why not continue serving both audiences, since you’ll retain your unique cross-merging capabilities with two connected ‘think tanks’? You may probably be able to do it by continuing serving individually the first group and upgrading them into “premium members”. You may even give space to these “premium members” to co-create with you your next book, methodology, insight, etc. Then, you may also select the finest “premium members” and facilitate cultivating “new pioneers” under your guidance to serve the second group.

Why not also give a new “framework twist” on imagination, creativity, innovation and knowledge across service industries globally?

David, you’re a leader and true leaders create their heritage by cultivating new leaders to come.

Hope I’ve been of some help.



posted on September 28, 2006

Prem Rao said:

As others have said, it takes a lot of courage to raise such an issue in this forum. Congratulations. By doing so, you are getting others to think and look at different angles to the issue. You are already serving one segment you wrote of by having them share this experience. Many of us gain valuable insights through these exchanges.

As far as the top corporate segment is concerned, my two bits: You have earned a great name in the Professional Services Business. I would suggest you stick to this. My suggestion is in keeping with ” Be The Best In What You Are Good At”!

posted on October 8, 2006

Bo Warburton said:

Focus on the top. Everyone looks up. It’s the natural direction for our attention and the sign of what we value. Don’t try to speak to the young crowd. They will listen as you speak to those in charge.

posted on October 11, 2006

Dan Griffiths said:

One theme has stood out to me in a few of the postings: University Education. From someone who finished school in the relatively recent past, I believe that one of your greatest contributions could be in promoting the teaching of true professionalism to people earlier in life. A couple of ideas from previous posts stand out.

1) Create a “Center for the Advancement of Professionalism” at a well-respected university. Not only could the center spread the message (and provide additional data in support of your ideas) through established academic research channels, it could provide direct outreach to student organizations. Beta Alph Psi is the honor society for accountants and I imagine that there are other similar groups for aspiring lawyers or other professionals. Involving these groups would go a long way towards teaching true professionalism to a younger audience.

2) Create good multi-media materials to teach true professionalism to students and new hires. This could be developed/distributed/marketed in part through the Center described in the previous point.

This may not be an area where there is a ton of money to be made, however, it may be where the most influence could be exerted. A small course correction at age 20 makes a bigger difference by age 60 than a similar correction at age 45.

posted on October 12, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Dan, I think you’re on to something! I just may do that

posted on October 12, 2006

Sharon McGann said:

I’ve just come home from watching the movie Sketches of Frank Gehry and my mind is whizzing all over the place regarding purpose, talent and leaving a legacy. I’m not sure why your posts stopped on Oct 12, but here is my belated reply.

I’m passionate about results and ideas and people. For a while now I have been noticing that there’s not enough happening in the educational space regarding ongoing professional development. I see lots of courses I could do, but what I really want is a community who will challenge me and help me continually challenge myself to live in accordance with the principle and practices I espouse to my clients. David, the ideas in your books, blogs and articles have challenged my for a long while so I love the idea about a University for ongoing professionalism. Count me in.

posted on November 6, 2006