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Nine out of ten business cases that cross my desk contain material errors, which often lead to incorrect recommendations worth tens of millions of dollars. If you ever wondered why two thirds of change initiatives fail, here’s your answer: many of them are based on a fallacy, a case that does not exist.

The issues run the gamut from poor understanding of objectives to complete disregard for the established methods of economic analysis, from strategic ignorance to financial ignorance.

Decisions on outsourcing and insourcing are also not immune from this flawed approach. In fact, many of them are deficient for one specific reason which I will outline here.

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Losing is not pleasant, especially if you are not used to it. How did it happen? What did go wrong? How is it possible?

Losing is daunting, heartbreaking, horrible. You are not the best at it, despite what your mother or spouse told you. How can one carry on?!

Oh, pleeeeeaaase! Get over it.

The very best of us are not immune to setbacks every now and then. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. You can make a mistake, your employee can make a mistake, your client can make a mistake or any other living soul close enough to  you can make a mistake. You are also bound to meet reprobates, thieves, liers, egotists and others you’d rather never know.

However painful, get over it. Jay Leno, a brilliant comedian in my books, has just had his new show cancelled. Did his famous chin quiver as he tried to hold back tears? Nah, he laughed it off. Nothing he coulc do, nothing to do with his performance.

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Cola was a flop. Guess what, he didn’t get into bouts of self-pity, nor did he blame anyone for it.

I think that two key points are important. On the one hand, you should always learn from your setbacks, figuring out what went wrong. On the other hand, you should never dwell on them. Move on. Live your live,

Sometimes, things don’t work out. Don’t take it personally.

If you are looking to open a restaurant, you probably know that location matters a great deal. There is one particular strategy in deciding where to drop the anchor that you should entertain. There is a staggering amount of underserved standalone business buildings and whole business parks, with no restaurant within the walking distance.

Meanwhile, those companies that have on-site cafeterias often outsource them to large corporate catering outfits (I am not naming them here), which provide uninspiring, mediocre and, frankly, expensive for what you get for your money, chow. So, a great many people at such locations are desperate to get away from this and their lunch boxes.

There are always business meetings with vendors and clients, as well as birthdays, service anniversaries and other occasions. If you can identify such businesses and find a location nearby, I think you will do very well at lunch time. If you can get the dinner and weekend crowd through other sources, you are laughing.

“Fudge!” exclaimed I when I saw the present that my wife’s parents brought for us from their recent cruise.

It was, indeed, excellent vanilla fudge in an ornate tin box. While no fudge can sneak into the close proximity of yours truly unscathed, and despite this particular fudge’s superior quality, it is not really the main actor of this post. But the tin box, which contained it, is.

How do customers make a decision to purchase (or, not purchase) your products or services? Why do they choose you over your competitors? If you understand their decision making process, you can influence it, improving the likelihood of the outcome you prefer. This is the point of intelligent marketing. Businesses that do it well, do well.

It is customary to bring little gifts from a trip, especially for friends and family who enabled your happy travels by looking after your kids, house, garden, or pets. The choice of souvenirs is infinite on the one hand and difficult on the other. Knickknacks, confectionary, alcohol, art, books, and small kitchen implements are ubiquitous, yet the choice is often paralyzing as no one wants to appear obvious (shot glasses, anyone?). Then, there is a chance that you forget altogether until you about to board the return flight. This is why airport shops are overpriced.

The fudge people did something very cool – take a look at the picture of the tin below. When you see it on the shelf, you are guaranteed to remember that someone back home is looking after your cat and that a box of fudge is as about a perfect of a gift, not too big and not too small. A simple message jogs the memory and, unless the kitty-sitter is anti-fudge (or a dentist), you cannot help to reach for the wallet.

Then, it is a clear differentiator. Without the box, it competes with a wide array if like products. In the box, it is pretty much the only logical choice. Great marketing at work.

Fudge box

If you run a retail business frequented by tourists, order nice packaging which reads “Thank you for looking after my cat /dog /iguana / garden /plants /house.” Display it prominently in your store.

If you run any other business, take this as an idea of precise market segmentation for your products or services. No, it does not create a sustainable competitive advantage, but it can make a great deal of a difference.

I am in California enabling an IT company to develop a strategy that will leave their competitors in the dust.  It is early in the morning and I am writing this sitting on a patio by the pool.

The hotel in which I am staying placed a little card on my bed (shown below as taken with my phone) in a bid to save the world on labour and laundry.

Every time I help an organization to dramatically improve their decision making, I place a lot of emphasis on the non-rational aspects of decisions, using the most recent research in behavioral economics. In this particular case, there is something that the hotel can do right away to significantly improve the card’s effectiveness. The card should ask the guest to place it on the bed if they want to have the sheets changed.

There is overwhelming evidence that people comply with defaults offered to them.  The current default is that the sheets get changed daily… but who would remember to put the card on the bed if they don’t want it? If the default is changed to “sheets changed by request”, far fewer sheets will be changed. The results will be seen immediately.

Now, where do I send my invoice?


Really, not a fresh  subject.  Why on earth would anyone want to tell the world how important it is to communicate, yet another time?

Actually, after the recent plane flyover accident that cost the White House Military Director Louis Caldera his job, it is quite appropriate to write a few lines about the effective communication.

If you are initiating a change or a project of any scale, remember:

– to identify all stakeholders (those who will be affected by it )

– to plan communication: determine how you will communicate with them (time, frequency, means)

– to communicate as per the plan without fail.

Watch the video below to see how White House staff would benefit from memorizing the three lines above.

Business is about common sense, which is not as common as the name implies, but that’s a different story. If you are not happy about performance of your team, results, project outcomes, or whatever else, there is no need to engage in flagellation.

Just change, do what needs to be done.

In a recent workshop with a group of incredibly smart managers, someone told me about the need to improve  communication among the participants and asked an advice on how to go about it.

I said that they should talk to each other. There is nothing recondite about it.

Here is a timeless skit with Bob Newhart, which demonstrates the effectiveness of the “common sense” approach.

I came across this video which demostrates so wonderfully how diverse English language really is. I find that some people understand different accents well, while others become lost in no time.

Similarly, in business, you will find that there are people (I am happy to be one of them) who can understand the language of any organization, diagnose issues promptly and suggest correction. In often find myself acting as a translator between IT departments and the rest of my clients’ businesses. I wrote an article on this for CNET (link to article).

Perhaps, I’ve just learned to listen.

Have you ever been frustrated with the obvious lack of service in customer “service”, such as being footballed around, having to explain the problem again and again and being offered explanations that are insulting to your intelligence?

If so, you probably know that every once in while you find a person who can resolve the problem quickly and efficiently, when the previous ten warm bodies you talked to at the same organization couldn’t.

Why? My consulting experience suggests that the key issue in poor customer service is the ingrained belief that the lowest seniority employee, such as a CS agent, is a choiceless doer, while all of the decisions are made by the management. This is the good old “Brains in the centre, fools in the field” concept, which is so deep-seated, it is often incredibly hard to disabuse people of it. 

In fact, we all have a choice of how to go about our jobs, no matter how scripted they are. The only way to ensure great customer service is to develop the agent’s ability to make the right choices by asking the right questions. You cannot script everything – ever – because business environment does not stand still, but you can develop decision making and judgement.

Case in point. I use iContact to keep in touch with my network of clients and subscribers. Yesterday, I tried to send a time-sensitive communication about an upcoming event, but it just sat in the queue and did not feel like going anywhere. I called their Technical Support and spoke to a couple of people there who assured me that it would go out “soon”.

I fond the message still in the queue this morning.  I called again and was lucky to have my call picked up by Tyrone. He asked me about the steps previosly taken, listened well and escalated the issue promptly without wasting my time. He had to make decisions along the way and was not afraid to escalate when it was necessary.

All was resolved in about 30 minutes, while I was working on something else. As a customer, I am happy.

I trust you’ve seen martial artists demonstrate their strength and skill by smashing a stack of bricks, blocks or boards with bare hands.

There is first a moment of intense concentration, with breathing carefully controlled. Then, in a bat of an eye, the hand comes down crashing upon the target with an incredible force, shattering an enormous stack of decidedly flesh-unfriendly objects. How do they do that?

Not surprisingly, the mental preparation has as much to do with it as the physical prowess. During the intense moments before his or her upper extremity comes down on the pile of building material, the practitioner visualizes the desired impact in a slow motion, with one crucial nuance.

You have to see the impact go beyond the immediate obstacle and deliver the blow as if you intended to hit that target. In other words, if you see five bricks in front of you,  you have to strike to smash the sixth brick sitting just below them. Don’t even think about the other five.

Business leaders can learn from martial artists and use this technique to propel their organization forward with dramatic acceleration. Set stretch goals and you will breeze by the conservatively set milestones.

Why plan for conservative growth when you can grow dramatically? Why strive to hit the $2 billion revenue mark when you can reach for $5 billion, define the strategy accordingly and leave the previously intimidating $2 billion mark in the dust?

This is how mankind planted its first step on the moon and this is how you can touch the previously unthinkable frontiers too. 

Just think of the sixth brick.

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