Saturday, September 12, 2009

Too much action without enough strategy is a sure route to bankruptcy!

As a management consultant, I would like to respond to Simon Cooke's blog post that there is too much strategy and not enough action. I read with interest his blog and was interested to see that he started his argument at the point when the goods and the place of exchange were selected. Selecting the goods you want to sell (the market you want to be in) and the place of exchange (the distribution channel(s)) are two key elements of strategy and if you get them wrong you will find yourself in an unattractive market, trying to sell products that nobody wants in a way that will not reach the intended customer, assuming there is one in the first place. So, whilst his friend may need to focus on tactics, that could be because he has already done the strategic leg work.

There are many definitions of strategy. The one used at my old firm (The Monitor Group) was the following: "Strategy is an integrated set of choices about what market opportunities exist, or can be created, that are organisationally and economically practical for your company to capture." This is a longer way of asking five questions:

1. What are my goals (market position, financial targets, non financial aspirations, etc.)?
2. Where should I play (product lines, customer segments, geographies, etc.)?
3. How will I win (distribution channels, pricing, brand, make vs buy, etc.)?
4. What capabilities must be in place (skills, resources, etc.)?
5. What systems do I require to manage (IT, decision making, cost management, manufacturing, governance, etc.)?

Question One is a heartland corporate strategy question. Questions Two and Three get us into the realm of marketing strategy. Questions Four and Five are about operational strategy. In an ideal world, executives start at the top and go to the bottom, moving from corporate strategy to operational strategy in a linear fashion. Practically speaking that is rarely possible because companies are living, breathing organisations that are impossible to freeze whilst we answer all of the above and the world changes around us. The important thing is that all the questions should be answered so that executive have integrated and robust corporate, marketing, and operational strategies that re-inforce each other and are difficult for the competition to copy.

As for strategy consultants charging you more than other consultants, let me reassure him that I will charge him just as much to do a marketing project as I will for doing a strategy project!

Friday, September 11, 2009

In exercising our "rights" are women asking for it?

Listening to Between Ourselves this week I followed with horror the stories of two women who had been raped. Although most rapes are apparently conducted by rapists who know their victims, on the programme, both women had been raped by strangers. The stories were terrible in different ways. One of the women was violently raped by a man who was known to her friends and who offered to walk her home from a night club. The other woman was taken advantage of by a man who had sex with her against her clearly stated will in a dark corner of a hotel at a party. Again, this man was known to friends of the victim. In both cases the women were drunk and in the second case the woman was raped while she was physically incapable of putting up a fight.

Although both victims bitterly regret getting so drunk that their judgment/physical capabilities were impaired, they both articulated that woman should have "the right" to go out and have a good time in what ever way they choose. They maintain that raping someone is a choice and rapists can choose not to rape. I agree with them on both points, but sadly feel they are being unrealistic.

Second point first: Committing any crime is a choice. I agree, criminals make choices to commit crimes. Pointing out the blindingly obvious is not going to stop rapists from choosing to rape if they get the opportunity. In an ideal world, there would be no rapists. In our world, surely the real issue is making sure the rapists who clearly exist do not get the opportunity to exercise their choice? First point second: I wonder if either of these women leaves her doors unlocked, her purse unattended, or the keys in the car? I doubt it. It would be great if they felt they could do so but I am certain they do not. I am certain they take preventative measures to avoid being burgled as, with regret, do I.

Today, I consider staying relatively sober and relatively modestly dressed as preventative measures against rape just like locking my front door is a preventative measure against burglary. I have not always taken precautions against rape and I have been lucky: At a university frat party I passed out stone cold due to too much vodka and when I came to several hours later I was on the floor of the loo with my coat over me and my hand bag and shoes next to me. A year later, at a different frat house, a girl was gang raped while she was unconscious. Believe me, I count my blessings most days.

The problem is that a lot of women react with hostility if you suggest that part of a rape prevention plan should be relative modesty and relative sobriety. Suggesting either seems to be tantamount to asking them to wear a bin liner and stay home and scrub the loo. The "asked" inevitably think the "asker" is some kind of unliberated desperate square who is on the side of the potential rapists and who believes women wearing short skirts are "asking for it" and I resent that.

As women (and men) of course we have the "right" to go out, get pretty naked, get hammered, and dance on tables whilst snogging the bouncer if we want to. We also have the "right" to leave our doors unlocked but I bet that most of us don't. I wish it were different, I really do, but until it is different I will continue to advocate that a little modesty and a little sobriety are the best preventative measures we have got.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Summary of the interview with Sandy Nairne

Extremely tall, and looking more like a director and less like a luvvie, Sandy Nairne warmly shook my hand and suggested we start our interview by having a brief look at the gallery itself. Given it is my favourite gallery in London, the fact that the director was going to give me a tiny private tour was a dream opportunity. During our tour, he pointed out certain works and told me a bit about their stories and their role in fulfilling the aims of the museum. He also filled me in on the types of people who get to be on the walls in painted, sculpted or photographic form. There are some splendid secrets and I cannot possibly reveal them!

Back in his office, Sandy and I had an energetic conversation accompanied by a welcome cup of coffee.

For Sandy, a virtuous person does things that contribute to the public good - things that make a positive impact on the world in both small and large ways. He thinks about virtue actively - although he may not use the word "virtue" itself. It strikes me, however, that he both looks for and welcomes opportunities to serve others: he has various pro bono advisory roles (he is an advisor on fabric to St Paul's Cathedral, for example), he enjoys nurturing junior curators, and he takes time to manage his team at the Portrait Gallery sensitively and bravely, creating a safe place where they can generate ideas and work together. In all cases he uses his skills and experience to serve others. A self-confessed optimist who also is public-minded, Sandy gets a great deal of quiet pleasure when he thinks he has made a positive impact on the people around him.

Sandy believes he was influenced by his parents who stressed the importance of "giving back", and led by example. He believes positive role models are crucial if we want to embed virtue more widely in our society, and that positive role models are everywhere if we choose to see them: they are standing up for strangers on busses as well as heading up organisations. Sandy does believe that "doing good" makes people feel good although he concedes that people may not always be able to articulate the connection between the two. The biggest barrier to bringing virtue to consciousness is social deprivation, including poor health and education, which negatively impacts people's behaviour and their interactions with others. Social deprivation prevents people from even realising the many ways - large and small - in which they can contribute and, as a result, make themselves feel more positive.

Sandy claims he is no preacher and he refused to be drawn on what he would advocate people change "on Monday morning" in order to embed virtue in their lives. He was clear, however, that the gallery has an important role to play in providing the public with an opportunity to be inspired and intrigued by the lives of others and maybe, just maybe, be transformed.

For more on the virtue project and links to other interview summaries, please see an earlier post: Behavioural Change: The Way out of this Mess? (for the virtue project)

Related links:


The shadow baby
lay between us
crying in the night

we had no peace
we had no rest
we had no speech
we had no sex

the shadow baby
crying in the night

the shadow grew
a barbed wire fence
and you went left
and I went right.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Artificial Trees: possibly the shortest blogpost ever

Plant more real trees.

You can stop reading now if you like as that is the main message of this blog post.

I have listened with growing concern all week about the plans to "plant" lots of artificial "trees" to trap and store carbon "for a long time." This morning on Today, a man from the Royal Society was in on the act promoting artificial trees as one of our best radical, scientific hopes for combatting climate change.

OK science (as represented by the man from the RS), you are officially up your own backside, you have ceased to do any integrated thinking, and here is my longer response:

Most of us know the benefits of real trees, including the fact that they transform CO2 into O2. Many of us know the complexities of cutting down rain forest to grow crops, for fuel and building materials, and to create grazing land for cattle. We should tackle the issues that are causing the real trees to be cut down and restore some kind of natural balance to our world rather than add to the imbalance by putting sunglasses in the sky to sheild us from the sun or plant artifical trees that store carbon but don't do anything productive with it.

To his credit, the man from the RA did say that it was best to tackle the problem "at its source" by which I think he meant, "stop cutting down trees and plant some more" but I cannot be sure. If that is indeed what he meant, why did he not say so and why does he not spend his time tackling the issues to do with the loss of real trees rather than the development of artificial ones?

Thus, the key message of this blogpost: Plant more real trees.

That is why this is the shortest blog ever.