The Great Oracle of Professional Services, David Maister, writes:
"The parallel between the market for business advice and the weight-loss industry fascinates me. We have in most countries a huge industry which basically doesn't have much to say except "eat less exercize more." Is there really any difference between Jennie Craig and Weight Watchers except the psychology of the process you voluntarily put yourself in, in order to provide structure to what you know you should be doing anyaway. Why do weight loss books sell so well? Why is everyone looking for the latest fad diet?"I asked a similar question about self-help books in general a couple of years ago, and came up with a strong opinion. For those of you looking for a quick read, I'll net out the posts. The reason there are a zillion self-help books saying the same thing has little to do with the books themselves and everything to do with the individual reader experience.
Since I wrote those posts I stumbled onto an additional nuance. Earlier this year Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book entitled The Black Swan [link takes you to the corresponding ChangeThis manifesto]. His basic thesis is that our lives are heavily influenced by Black Swans, which he characterizes thusly:
"First it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point out its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable."For the fat smoker, the experience of losing the weight / stopping smoking fits the description. And the fat smoker's mind goes into concoction mode. While the reality is that the conditions just happened to be right for him or her to "eat less and exercise more", they're more likely to glom onto the book or program that got them going in the right direction. And so they tell their friends about this wonderful program, some of whom may also be just on the edge of a mental state that will allow them to "eat less and exercise more". They'll have success, too. If this happens to enough people, the book becomes a runaway best seller! Of course, for reasons discussed in the previous posts, not everyone is going to be able to use the book/program to keep them in the proper mental state. But the Black Swan of the "ultimate diet book" keeps them looking for one of their own.
In business, as in self-improvement, the key is not some new recipe, it's the motivation an organization or individual brings to the effort. Wally Bock notes in the comments section of David's post that the key to success in major initiatives, from losing weight to learning to golf or implementing Six Sigma, is in keeping motivated when the you hit the inevitable plateau or dip. And here's where the mental concoction apparatus does its finest work. After all, "I just bit the bullet and kept plugging away" doesn't have much story value.
What is the moral for managers and consultants?
- As we discussed in When Bad Things Happen to Good Concepts, it's vitally important to understand the difference between concept and context.
- Success ultimately boils down to motivation, and not everyone is motivated by the same things. You need to know what really motivates your employees/customers.
- Plan for, and watch for, the plateau or dip. When it happens, be ready to inject experiences that will bolster the motivation of the dipees.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? How would you answer David's question?
posted by Mike at 12:58 PM