Scott Cook


As Intuit CEO Brad Smith puts it, “Strategies alone don’t move mountains. Bulldozers do.”  Smith and former Intuit CEO Scott Cook were together on last week’s earning’s call.  That in itself is remarkable because Cook stepped down as CEO in 1994. Yet he’s still involved, passionate about the business and working everyday with a focus on “creating a solution where there has been not one .” (1)

Intuit’s Value Proposition

Smith and Cook are together on Intuit’s value proposition as well. Their digital tax products have garnered higher Net Promoter Scores than their main competitors (tax stores) and are sold at a much lower price point (around 75 percent less). Creating a better solution is good. Delivering it less expensively is valuable. Recall, this was one of the main planks of Sam Martin’s efforts at A&P as well.

Smith and Cook are together on what their bulldozers need to do and how they need to do it. Smith’s full bulldozer quote is “Strategies alone don’t move mountains. Bulldozers doAnd that’s where execution and a set of rigorous financial principles also come into play.” Strategy is theoretically elegant and practically useless until it becomes strategy in action.

Finally, Smith and Cook are together on the importance of agility. If you scan through what they’ve said through the years, it keeps reappearing:

No team is bigger than two pizzas can feed” – Smith on Bloomberg TV

Leadership by experiment… (instead of) politics, persuasion, and PowerPoint” – Cook at Intuit’s leadership conference

Got to go from idea to end market in less than six weeks” – Smith on Bloomberg TV

A Clear, Consistent Strategy

Intuit has a clear, ongoing imperative to help people manage their financial lives and help them save time and be more productive doing so. That imperative is driven in sync by its original founder and current CEO. Now, just as Cook is letting Smith drive the main bulldozer, Smith is letting others drive their own bulldozers and experiment their way to success.

Part of Intuit’s ongoing success has to be attributed to the clarity and consistency of its strategy and way of working. People working there know what they are expected to do and how they are expected to do it.

Another factor in its success is still having Cook around. Well into the 1980s, people at the Walt Disney Company asked “What does Walt want?” It was a good way to keep in touch with the founder’s vision, even though Walt died in 1966. At Intuit, people stay in touch with the founder’s vision by interacting with the founder himself. There’s no doubt that Brad Smith is in sync with that value proposition.

Make sure you’re getting the full lesson here about what makes for strong burning imperative. The best are:

  • Customer-focused, drive a customer-relevant value proposition
  • Sharply defined and crystal clear to all
  • Intensely shared by all – across the generations
  • In sync with the organization’s purpose and founder’s intent
  • As urgent today as they were when they were originally drafted
  • Continually evolving through experimentation as the team adjusts and improves along the way
  • The engine that powers executional bulldozers

This is a good example of step 6 of The New Leader’s PlaybookEmbed a Strong Burning Imperative

The burning imperative is a sharply defined, intensely shared, and purposefully urgent understanding from each of the team members of what they are “supposed to do, now.” Get this created and bought into early on—even if it’s only 90 percent right. You, and the team, will adjust and improve along the way.

Get your imperative in place. And then leverage it across your team and organization with the appropriate combination of relentless discipline and agile leadership.

Click here to read about each step in the playbook


Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step


The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, third edition to be released fall 2011). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube

(1) Scott Cook during Q4 2011 earnings call – thank you Seeking Alpha for the transcript