David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

How to Keep Your Resolve

post # 115 — June 22, 2006 — a Careers, Strategy post

Peter Gwizdalla writes:

I love your Strategy and the Fat Smoker article. It helps me, as an organisational psychologist, in my conversations with my clients about change in individuals and organizations. The only area I still feel needs more ‘tools’ for me is “how do we remind ourselves (and others) on a daily basis, why we’re going thru the discipline and discomfort of doing things differently in such a way that the resolve is renewed and refreshed and consistent? David, do you have any thoughts in this area?

Peter, I don’t have one magic formula for “renewing resolve”, but here are some possibilities, mostly drawn from personal life, that could be applied to organizational life:

  1. Do it in teams. It’s hard to find the discipline and determination alone, and people will stay true to the effort not to let their team-mates down. The size of teams matters. 5 is best, 10 less good, 25 very weak, and more is pretty useless for the “bonding” effect to work well.
  2. Keep a visible graph. When you’re losing weight, the mere fact of recording pound by pound progress is helpful, and being able to see the right trend is very encouraging. It even helps you keep things in perspective when you stumble – you can see that it was only one bad day amid a generally good trend. A large part of maintaining resolve is the ability to get back on the horse when you fall off. You always fall off – the only issue is whether you get back on or give up.
  3. Find yourself a coach – a chief cheerleader, chief critic. Even if that person is not an expert (or a superior), the mere fact of having to be accountable to him or her, having to check in regularly will help. As I often say, guilt doesn’t change a lot of people, but the right degree of embarrassment does. Design the embarrassment mechanism – not too much, but not too little.
  4. Set small incremental goals, and forget the enormity of the total task, remembering to (over-) celebrate the early successes. (Wow, David! You lost two whole pounds this week. Way to go! You’re on the path, mate!)
  5. Invent games. (When I’m running on the treadmill I switch between silently counting my steps numerically, first up from 1, then down from 100, then reciting the alphabet forwards and then backwards. It’s the VARIETY of ways of counting that keeps my mind distracted from the effort.)
  6. I hate to mention this one, but while I prefer to believe in carrots rather than sticks (positive rather than negative motivators), I have to acknowledge that sometimes “scaring” myself works. I have one of those screen-savers that comes built-in to Windows that cycles through my photo collection. And a interesting thing happens. I get a little (a very little) positive motivation out of the pictures that make me look good. But the ones that show me as I was thirty pounds heavier REALLY help me with my resolve. I REALLY don’t want to look like that again.

What’s the business equivalent of putting the “fat picture” on the refrigerator?

I shouldn’t leave this topic without referring you to Gerry Riskin’s blog post The Seven Immutable Laws of Change Management.

OK, everyone. Your turn. What are the tools and techniques and tricks that help you stay the course when you’re really trying to change yourself and your organization?


Duncan Bucknell said:

Hi David

I think that the ability to focus on the goal and the benefits of achieving it are amongst the most important requirements to maintain resolve.

If you ask world-class musicians or athletes, they will almost always say this.

When I say focus, I mean FOCUS. Not everyone can do this well (it takes practice), and probably no one will do it without a reason. Pin a picture of it on your wall, recite it at the bus stop, read about it just before you go to sleep, etc. Understand how everything you do is helping you get towards that goal and visualise (pre-experience) what it will be like when you get there.

In a team setting, everyone has to buy-in to the goal and the benefits. So, you probably need to get them involved early on in designing the outcome and the path to get there. The best way to do this is to take a leaf out of Socrates’ book – derive the problem, and potential solutions, and set a program together. (Actually, if you do this, you may well come up with a better goal and path to get there than if you had designed it by yourself. You will certainly have more committed team members – they set the program, now they have to deliver too.)

Best regards


posted on June 22, 2006

Stephanie West Allen said:

David, I think you might find thought-provoking this article called “Change or Die.”


What if you were given that choice? For real. What if it weren’t just the hyperbolic rhetoric that conflates corporate performance with life and death? Not the overblown exhortations of a rabid boss, or a slick motivational speaker, or a self-dramatizing CEO. We’re talking actual life or death now. Your own life or death. What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act? If you didn’t, your time would end soon—a lot sooner than it had to. Could you change when change really mattered? When it mattered most?

Rest here:


My best,


posted on June 23, 2006

Stephanie West Allen said:

Here is included a link to an even more recent article about the physiology and neuroscience of change:


One of the authors is at the UCLA School of Medicine.

We have learned much of what we know about the brain in the last 5 years. The next 5 years will be quite exciting and what we discover will inform processes such as change and management. Will be intriguing to watch.

Yours in the spirit of change,


posted on June 23, 2006

Bill Peper said:

An excellent book that has helped me a great deal in this area is Al Secunda’s The 15-Second Principle. This is an easy read, but a book that makes you think.


posted on June 24, 2006

Katherine said:

Dear David,

thanks for helping us with your books and articles. Your way of narration is simple enough to make a reader understand everything and at the same time to be interested in what he/she is reading. Your books are in a great help. Thanks one more time.

posted on May 21, 2007