All in Strategy

The One Question You Should Ask In An Interview...Isn't Enough

If you spend any time online looking for advice (of any sort - personal or business), you’re bound to come across articles that espouse the “1 question you need to ask” or the “3 signs that you’ll be successful”. The intention behind these articles is clear - if you’re on the path to X, and if you pay attention to these one or two or three things, then you’ll get there.

I get the simplicity of the approach and I appreciate it’s allure, especially if the advice is coming from someone we consider to be successful (or from someone who works for a company we consider to be conventionally successful).

Get Used To Criticism

If you’re going to do anything different, you’re going to get criticized.

There’s no shortage of folks willing to offer you advice if you’re thinking about a new venture, a new project or a new position. They’ll range from friends, family as well as business colleagues - well intentioned or otherwise. Some of it you might actively ask for, but a lot of it will be offered to you, at no extra cost.

Cater To Who Matters - Not To Everyone Else

I’m reading a book called “Coal Black Mornings” by Brett Anderson, the lead singer and founder of the British band, Suede, which had their heyday in the BritPop era of the 1990s through early 2000s.

(Suede is in my Top Five bands of all time, but while popular in Britain, they’ve been largely ignored in the US. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re absolutely worth checking out - start with the first two albums.)

There’s a passage in the book where he talks about his song writing process, and writes:

Engage And Entertain (Or It's Always Better to Pull Than Push)

The advent of recording technology (from the cassette tape to the VCR to the current digital formats) as well as the ability to access audio-visual entertainment on demand has allowed us to do the one thing that marketers hate:

Skip their ads.

For the most part, you don’t have to sit through a 15, 30 or 60 second ad just to get to the content you’re actually there for. You just hit the forward button and presto! No marketing message, no advertiser trying to sell you something.

It’s Personal, Not Personalized

There’s a difference between “personal” and “personalized”. 

In an age where Marketers are working to find ways to make their messages more customized, more tailored, more specific to who we are, there’s still a marked difference between the two. Just because that email is addressed to you, or there’s a special offer made on your birthday, doesn’t actually make it personal. It’s simply programmed to appear that way.  

You Won't Change The World By Cutting Costs

Strategy is an interesting topic.

You and I can be working in similar areas of management. We can have gone through the same set of experiences in our time at our organization. We can even have a similar view of what defines success in our chosen markets. Yet we can have markedly different perspectives as to what approach it will take to get there. And that’s perfectly normal - in fact, it’s almost always a good thing.

When It's Too Soon To Quit...

In my last post, I talked about the thought process we (should) go through when deciding if it’s time to quit what we’re doing.

While there were multiple idea threads that inspired that post, one of them was an article by Mariam Naficy, the Founder and CEO of Minted, an online design marketplace. In that article, Mariam talked about how she raised a small seed round from friends and family and then launched the business, originally intending it to be a lifestyle business. And then:

How Do You Measure Success?

We’re in a business environment that, for the most part, is fixated on growth. One that values year over year, double and triple digit revenue increases as absolutely essential to being considered a “successful” company, to not be considered a failure.

In particular, if the organization is funded, that’s almost always a base level expectation. You aren’t being funded to simply create a going concern, you’ve been given a charter to create something transformative, huge, the next proverbial unicorn. (The more prominent the funders, the more prominent this expectation becomes.)

There's Always Room For Value (Part 2 - Competition)

In my last post, I talked about how there’s always room for value when deciding to enter a market and that the key is in defining that value in a way that matters to the customer, and is profitable for you.

In this post, I’ll discuss the idea of competition and how defining who you compete with, as well as how they go to market, can and should influence your decision to play within a specific space.

Now, our initial tendency as we evaluate a specific market will be to consider the most obvious competitor in that space. This is our direct competition, and they are always the ones with the biggest brand, revenues, mindshare.

There's Always Room For Value (Part 1 - Markets and Customers)

All too often, when we’re evaluating a new product or service idea, we get caught up in the notion of '“competitive dominance”. That there can only be one competitor who owns that space and, hence, competing in that market is a non-starter. Or, alternately, that there are so many players that that market has become commoditized. Either way, there’s no point playing in that space because the opportunity (for us) is gone.

When You’re Sick of Fitting In...

“People want companies and the world around them to align to their values, their goals, their needs, their interests. People want to find where they belong. They’re sick of fitting in.” Chris Brogan

We’re in a very different age from the one I grew up in. Back then, consumer brands exhibited personalities along parameters that were, generally speaking, non-controversial. It was important to offend no-one and “to stand out” was to do so along ‘conventional’ lines (sexy was cool but in a heterosexual way; models were never plus-size; family units started with a man and a woman, etc.).

When You Need A Burning Platform

Change doesn’t tend to come easily to most of us.

For the most part, we don’t typically choose to change. More often, change - or at the very least, the need for it - is thrust upon us due to some exterior event, shift or development. When profits are severely impacted, when a competitor introduces a revolutionary new product or when an external environmental shift occurs, shifting the steady state we’ve become so comfortable with.

Lessons From Springsteen On Broadway

By the time Bruce Springsteen released his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, in 1973, he’d already had almost a decade of playing experience under his belt. He’d started playing back in 1964 with a band called The Rogues, then another, then another, ultimately morphing into the now famous E Street Band.

That first album met with critical acclaim but little commercial success. The one after (The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle) fared pretty much the same, and he didn’t really achieve commercial success until Born To Run was released in 1975.

What Is Your Ambition Based In?

I think most of us accept that ambition is a necessary ingredient for success.

Whether we’re growing a business, launching a new initiative or pushing forward on a creative project, ambition is needed to not only get the project going, but more importantly to take it to fruition. It’s a foundational requirement for creating lasting, meaningful change.

So the important question to ask is not whether or not we have the ambition needed to succeed. That’s a hygiene factor. If we don’t, there’s no point even getting started.

When AOL Tanked (Or Paying Attention To The Right Metrics)

Sometime between late Spring and early Fall, 1996, AOL’s stock fell from a high of $70 all the way down to $24.

These were the early days of the internet. The space was booming: startups were popping up everywhere, investors’ ears were perking up, and the big, established players were taking notice and/or beginning to get involved.

Creativity Is About Being Fearless

As someone who grew up on Queen’s music, I remember how good they were in their prime. I especially remember their performance at Live Aid back in 1985, as I watched it on TV in my living room in Hong Kong. When Mercury and Queen came on, they electrified the crowd - both those sitting in the audience at Wembley, as well as the millions who watched from their living rooms around the world. In fact, there were two acts that really stole the show that day and Queen was one of them.

Fight - Even When You Want Flight

Sunday morning, I woke up to watch the Arsenal-Spurs game, famously known as the North London Derby. It’s a game where form goes out the window and these two arch-rivals go all out for bragging rights as to who is the best team in North London.

It’s a game that hasn’t gone our way in recent years and as I anticipated the stress and emotional rollercoaster I would go through over the next couple of hours, I briefly debated staying in bed and waking up when it was all over. To just not have to deal with it all.

Just Focus On What's Next

Sometimes, the goals we set for ourselves are overwhelming. The bigger the goal or the more challenging the objective, the harder it can be to fathom how we will get there.

We get caught up in the sheer scale of our idea, or we start setting all sorts of impossible timelines and expectations that we think we need to achieve on our path there.