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Passion, People and Principles

I’m Terrified and Need Help!

post # 264 — December 19, 2006 — a Careers, General post

A European newspaper has decided to drop the weekly business column written by Jack and Suzi Welch (for those who don’t know, he was CEO of General Electric, she was editor of the Harvard Business Review) and they have asked whether I would write a weekly column in their place.

Help! I’m immensely flattered, of course, but terrified at the same time. This is where I have to try to live up to my own principles, and keep stretching myself.

But am I really ready to take on a weekly commitment of writing 1000 words? What an obligation! It’s not the writing that worries me (I can pontificate at the drop of a hat.) It’s having something fresh to say, week in and week out.

Actually, that’s been the fear throughout my career, and is probably every authors fear. Do I have anything left to say? I’m already doing a blogpost per day, a podcast per week and an article per month. Can I realistically do a 1000-word newspaper column as well?

So, help me out here. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, then you know I like to build blogposts around the questions that readers submit. It makes it easier to focus my thoughts, and also to ensure that I’m writing about real issues that address what’s happening in other people’s lives, not just my own.

So, if you’ll be willing to help me by sending me emails (david@davidmaister.com) containing a description of real-world issues you face, I can accept the challenge and keep trying to contribute through the various media I use. (I ask for emails — otherwise the questions and issues will pile up in this blogpost.)

Here’s my guidelines for submitting your “advice requested.” Imagine you are writing not just to me, but to your peers in the blogosphere.

You should not choose a trivial, minor matter of no significant importance to you. Similarly, you should not pose an unanswerable question about which no-one else is likely to be able to offer any truly helpful advice.

A good compromise is to describe, in some detail, a specific situation that you face, or have faced recently, which is likely to re-occur. Describe the alternatives open to you, or how you may have dealt with this type of situation in the past. Ask others how they would deal with the situation. Include sufficient background information for them to understand the important considerations surrounding your problem.

Choose any issue you wish, as long as it passes two key tests: (a) you would really like to hear the opinions of others, and (b) you think others might really be able to help.

Will you help me help you? If you send me questions in the next few weeks, I’ll be able to assess whether I have enough to say for a weekly column (as well as this blog.) Thanks!


Stephen Downes said:

“So, if you’ll be willing to help me by sending me emails containing a description of real-world issues you face…”

Hm. You are asking your readers to respond off-line, behind the scenes, where you and you only can read it, in order to write a column in a newspaper none of us subscribe to.

That’s old economy thinking.

Work through your topics in the open. Write on your blog, “I’m thinking of writing about…” and ofgfer some thoughts. Spent the week working through it with your readers (or simply in public, if they don’t respond).

This will focus your thinking, tap into the wisdom of your readership, and produce much better columns.

p.s. I don’t like this comment editor – it bogged down, and keeps trying to format my comment for me.

posted on December 19, 2006

Wally Bock said:


I’ll second Stephen’s idea of working things out in the open.

For a decade I did a weekly column called “Monday Memo.” I often told folks that if I EVER did another column it would be “Wally Bock’s Whenever I Feel Like It Memo.” The weekly commitment is especially onerous and one you should think through carefully.

Today I do a blog of around 1000 words a day. It’s far easier than the column or my radio commentaries were because I can skip a day or two or three if I choose or post twice a day in short posts if I choose. As you and I have both said in regard to work, giving people choice makes things easier.

The other question that I think should be asked is why the publication is dropping the Welch column. Jack and Suzy do a fine job of answering reader questions. Why was the publication disatisfied? Why would they be happy with a similar column from somone else?

posted on December 19, 2006

Jim Belshaw said:

David, I will think about this and respond. In the meantime, I just wanted to wish you and yours a happy Christmas and a great new year. Do keep on prodding us all.

posted on December 19, 2006

Dennis Howlett said:

Hello David. A lot depends on the title and its audience. But if we’re talking EU and not skewed to a single coutnry then there are a range of management issues to contend with. How about differing management styles across different nation states? What about the ongoing disparity around tax systgems in EU wihch some believe is contributing to an unfair situation where tax arbitrage is becoming common practice. The concern is that this is neither ethical or sound economic practice. There are a certain number of campaigns under way but the problem is challenging the mindsets of professionals involved. Especially the apparent duality between audit and tax compliance regimes. These are serious issues that warrant looking at on an international scale.

posted on December 20, 2006

ann michael said:

David –

When I first read this I thought “wow, good idea to ask for some help” and then I read Stephen’s comment and I was ashamed of myself! He’s absolutely right “That’s old economy thinking.” What surprised me about it, personally, was how quickly it is to fall into that line of thought.

You should vet these ideas on your blog and get feedback.

It would give you both blog and magazine topics. You’d truly be test marketing an idea and be able to cut the ones that won’t work well for the magazine. AND – it will make both of your writing efforts more interactive.


(PS – Happy Holidays – and thanks for writing this blog!)

posted on December 20, 2006

Steve Roesler said:


Yep, of course it is scary. But that is different than being “scared.” I am reading your invitation for ideas as a gesture that you are much more strongly considering the opportunity than not.

The commitment to 1000 words/week/fresh does sound daunting to one whose principles would demand a high degree of quality, usefel application, and freshness.

I’m not as concerned about helping via direct email as others, although I believe their point is well-taken—put it out on the blog.

What this all leads me to is this: why not use guest writers periodically to take some of the pressure off? You can put out topics in advance, ask for a response from qualified folks, read and evaluate, then publish your column using the writing and your own commentary. This does three things: reduces your pressure for originality every week; allows you to showcase others and give them a level of exposure that may not have been available to them thus far; and allows you to do what you do well: synthesize through your “lens of life” and comment accordingly.

Finally: I’m actually writing this during a, um, conference call with clients in Europe. The EU angle certainly is important to keep in mind as there are issues and context that are different than the US.

I know you’ll make a thoughtful decision…best wishes in the coming weeks.

posted on December 20, 2006

Dennis Howlett said:

Steve: – this area of cultural difference is, I think, genuinely interesting to follow. I spend a lot of my time working with US people though I live in EU. We get muddled just on day to day language at least once/twice a week. It can be embarrassing.

Sorry David – that was a diversion – and I guess you see that as well as people like myself who live offshore but in my case in a non-English speaking country. Apologies if I’m teaching granny to suck eggs.

But if we want to be really grand, then maybe David can be encouraged to tackle globalised relationships. Ahem – he said not the impossible. I don’t think this is impossible. I do thiink there’s a huge amount of work to do. Enough to file the upcoming columns for at least the next 3 months without trying too hard.

posted on December 20, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Dennis – your comment contains a perfect example. The phrase “teaching granny to suck eggs” would be completely impenetrable to most people who did not grow up in the UK (or a Commonwealth country.) It’s almost as impenetrable as “Bob’s your uncle!” (another UK phrase that every Brit knows and no-one else does.)

For the uninitiated, “Teaching your grandmaoher to suck eggs” means (approximately) trying to give advice to someone who is an expert and knows much more than you do.

“Bob’s your uncle” means “just as easy as that – very quick and simple.” It derives (most people think) from the time when Arthur Balfour (who later became Prime Minister) got his first prominent political position from his uncle Robert, Earl of Salisbury. In othere words, nothing’s too tough if your uncle is in a position of power.

posted on December 20, 2006

Anonymouse Coward said:


I think a newspaper column would be a natural extension of the other work you’re doing. The podcasts are reflective and have (so far) been based on your previous wirtings. The blog is somewhat less formal and could act as a place to try out ideas for the column and reflect on feedback received. After all, newspapers are so old fashioned and one-directional!

Much of your work deals with professional issues at a firm level. I would be very interested in hearing your opinions about working as professional within a larger business. What are the unique strategies that can lead to greater success.

So to my question… I’ll post this (semi)anonymously due the nature of the question.

I was recruited to develop a statistical analysis function for a medium sized ccompany where no such work has been done previously. I am a professional in the field, I have set up new teams before and done work that I’m proud of in previous roles.

However, since joining (5 months) I am unable to pin down my objectives in detail and unable to get my requisitions for people and technical resources signed. I get vigorous agreement when I make the case for the resources, but they are simply not forthcoming.

In the meantime I’m being dragged into all and sundry other issues that have a vague stamp of being analytical (but are not). To me, analysis is like a blade that must be regularly honed and I don’t want to stall for a year here while my skills slowly dry up.

This reminds of your podcast about how the proposal is merely the first step in a relationship with a new client. However, if a firm walks away from the cleint they do not have to publicise this, whereas I will have this on my resume and will need to explain it.

So, do you have any suggestions for pushing my board to meet the commitments they made to me before I joined? And, if I decide to cut my losses, do you have any suggestions for how to position this with future employers?



posted on December 21, 2006

Stuart Jones said:

I’m sorry to throw a spanner in the works but now that we have chavs in the UK the expression Bob’s your uncle has progressed to:

Bob’s your uncle and your dad as well!

posted on December 21, 2006

kelvin said:


I am an engineer by profession , working with Shell

Petroleum company, as one of the supervising engineer here,

but also have a great passion and concern for less privilege .

I found your email address on website .As a lover of donating fund for the need i want

to donate for health care and development and improvement of your charity home.

So, i want you to send me your address,name and phone number to enable me to send out my donation.

waiting to hear back from yo

posted on October 11, 2007