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Passion, People and Principles

Nothing New Under the Sun

post # 221 — October 22, 2006 — a Managing, Strategy post

I was doing some tidying up of my (computer) files over the weekend and came across this.

It’s the slide I prepared over 20 years ago to give speeches about what was happening in professional businesses.

Isn’t it astounding how much is still the same?


Client Marketplace
  • Short service/product life cycles – constant need to innovate
  • More client demand for specific industry expertise
  • More “packaged” service products
  • Global marketplace
  • Fee pressure on “mature” services
  • Merger activity-client base
  • Continued demand for high specialization
  • Increasing client demand for counseling work (more “front room” / “advisory”)
  • Fuzzing of boundaries between professions
  • More complex client organizations
  • Client use of microcomputer technology
  • Merger activity-professional firms
  • Client skepticism about value of services
People marketplace
  • Rising competition for junior staff
  • Competition for staff from other professions/industries (change in perceived “glamour”)
  • More hiring of senior (lateral hire) staff
  • Computer technology changing work tasks (and hence leverage ratios and organizational structure)
  • Rising proportion of women in profession
  • Cultural shift in work-ethic among juniors
  • Greater diversity of skill backgrounds in staff
  • Greater mobility of skilled staff
  • Increasing ability of paraprofessionals to perform junior professional tasks
Some consequences
  • Rising diversification of services inside firms need to manage different businesses differently
  • Internal coordination of specialists required
  • More investment in technology, r&d, mktg.
  • Rising fixed costs in the practice
  • Rising internal training needs
  • More internal formal structuring
  • Greater need for market intelligence on client needs
  • Effect of changing environment on senior professionals
  • Effects of rising firm size on culture, communications

By presenting all this, I don’t mean to pretend that I was especially prescient. My whole point is that anyone at that time would have readily agreed that these were the major trends.

But who would have predicted that we’d still be talking about many (most?) of them 20 years later.

Here’s the question for all of you out there:

What does it MEAN that the list of trends 20 years ago is still so current?

Does it mean that we’ve learned or solved nothing?

Does it mean that there really are no new business issues?

Does it mean I stopped paying attention 20 years ago?


Francine McKenna said:

Dear David,

Your bullets were at a high enough level to address overall structural trends, but plenty has changed and is new at a more detailed level. This depends on the type of firm (strategy, IT, Big 4, staffing, law, etc) and in some cases the industry they serve.

For example, big structure change in the global accounting firms is theadpotion of the Swiss Verein structure. Big trend in the law and accounting firms is the more serious discussion of the global partnership structure, given the elimination of country specific regulation due to the EU and other regional constructs.

If you look at just the IT firms, you can map the next big thing over the last 20 years (I’m not a real techie, so I may have missed something…)


2)Client server/AS400



5)Specialized software like CRM


6)e-business/digital marketplace

7)Full blown internet

-Linux, etc



Anyway, you get the idea. If you talk at the traditional McKinsey, “mom and apple pie” level, you’ll always be right.

posted on October 23, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Very good comment, Francine. As you suggest, it is possible to earn a good living saying true but not-too-specific things.

I’ll confess, that, at the time, twenty years ago, I thought I was making a real contribution with this presentation slide. Then I noticed that I was seeing the same points being made in all my clients’ own internal strategic plans. And they also thought they were being insightful!

Here’s the rub! I STILL see strategic plans, HR plans, marketing plans, etc filled with statements at the same level of generality. We ALL succumb to the temptation, and all fool ourselves that we are making a contribution when we make lists like these. I do it, my clients do it, and many, many people in the blogosphere do it.

(I’m not sure, Francine, about your phraseology about “traditional McKinsey, ‘mom and apple pie’ level” but they’re big boys so I’ll let them fight their own battles!)

posted on October 23, 2006

Heidi Ehlers said:

The more antique literature you read the more you realize that people, their issues/opportunities and their response to them don’t really change that much at all.

Just the toys we create to manage them do.

posted on October 24, 2006