by Sterling Thoughts on October 6th, 2012

Can sports really teach us about winning business strategies in a highly competitive market?  

Let’s find out from these real life stories...

1) "I'm on a course."

Peter Murray, a well-established business owner & successful MD of a multi-million dollar nationwide business based in Auckland (featured in the Chamber of Commerce Aug. 2012 Innovate magazine issue, see ‘Our Fans’) likes to recall a conversation he has with one of his clients every so often. The client would answer his mobile phone during business hours with the words, “I’m on a course at the moment. Can I call you back later?”
Duly impressed initially with his client’s dedication to his professional development based on the number of courses he seems to be always attending, it was not until a few more such conversations later that Peter figured out that ‘course’ in that case actually meant ‘golf course’.
The client’s view, it turned out, is that a half-day or even a full-day of golf, which he enjoys tremendously, actually serves the additional underlying purpose of enabling him to detach in order to maintain a healthy and crucial sense of perspective which he needs in order to find that balance of working ON his business as well as IN his business.

This also results in enabling him to work ‘smarter’ rather than ‘harder’, and to focus on the handful of key areas to make the biggest positive impact (80-20), rather than on pages of ‘To Do’ items on a list.
"If the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything like a nail." Abraham Maslow
Whether it is achieving a healthier balance to maintain perspective in your business or it is pursuing a professional development path to acquire new skills to add specific value to your business, ‘being on a course’ can be a good thing.

From the London 2012 Olympics

During August, the whole world was dazzled by the great spectacle in the greatest city in the world where the best physical feats & prowess of humanity were united & celebrated. And what a show it was! Athletes from all corners of the globe turned up in Blighty to represent both themselves and their countries in what they did best.
Looking at HOW they actually manage to be the best in the world in what they do, those critical success factors, one finds that while these are very individual to the athlete on the one hand, on the other hand, they all have something equally unique in common – a very clear strategy on HOW TO WIN
"Nothing is impossible. With so many people saying it couldn't be done, all it takes is an imagination." - Michael Phelps (London 2012 Olympic US swimmer - Most-decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals, 18 of which gold) 

2) Muhammad Ali - Strategic Marketing & Execution

Ali was acknowledged as one of the all-time sporting greats during the London 2012 Opening Ceremony.
One of the biggest contributing feats that propelled Ali to that status was the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight on 30th October 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) which also featured in the Award-winning documentary ‘When we were kings’.

That fight for Ali was a ‘Must Win’- It was either to be a come-back to the world boxing stage or a relegation to the dusty confines of sports statistics.

He had lost his boxing license for his involvement in the US Civil Rights movement in 1967, and when he got it back in 1971, he lost his World Heavyweight Championship title to Joe Frazier. He had not fought competitively for over 3 years after that defeat, coming into that highly-publicised event in Zaire.
By stark contrast, his opponent in Zaire was George Foreman (today probably better known for his healthy cooking appliances like the Foreman Grill, which even I have one). In 1974, Foreman was the World Heavyweight Champion, the 1968 Olympics boxing gold medallist, and a younger, stronger, fearsome boxer due to his sheer physical dominance in punching power, size and weight. He had also knocked out Joe Frazier six times within just two rounds. 
Ali’s chances were looking grim at best. The main talking point for sports pundits was mostly about how many rounds Ali would last in the ring against Foreman. Ali knew he had to have a clear strategy to successfully differentiate against Foreman before and during the fight in order to prevail.
And what Ali came up with was remarkable marketing & tactical genius that made history...  
Both fighters spent much of the summer of 1974 in Zaire to train, while getting their bodies accustomed to the local tropical climate and the new time zone. Ali was much more famous to the local population for being his usual provocatively eloquent self during his numerous media appearances. He used this to the maximum in many pre-fight interviews to clearly insist that he was not out of shape (giving the impression to everyone, including Foreman, that he was worried that he actually might be) and that he would be training his hardest, day & night, to ‘float like a butterfly & sting like a bee’, so that Foreman would end up ‘lumbering in the ring not knowing what has hit him’. He did plenty of Foreman impressions for the cameras to illustrate that point.
In private for Ali, however, it was a different story altogether. Both Ali and Foreman had to share the training equipment in a gym. Ali’s trainers recall the state of the punching bag every time they would turn up to use it after Foreman had trained – it would be completely flattened on both sides where Foreman had been practising his punches, known as the ‘haymakers’. Ali decided to focus primarily on one thing – blocks. He would spend hours on end parrying punches from a strong sparring partner and hone his skills in blocking during training, while in public he continued to goad Foreman by showing his ‘floating & stinging’ techniques for the cameras.
After a three-day extended musical festival extravaganza Africa-style, came fight night, to be broadcasted live across the world. Foreman entered the ring quite confident of a win while Ali maintained his outwardly provocative characteristic demeanour. Ali immediately proceeded by attacking Foreman from the start with unconventional jabs with speed & skill to show that he was indeed planning to execute on his publicly stated strategy of ‘floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee’. Foreman responded as predicted by trying to pin Ali with his ‘haymakers’ to stop him from ‘floating’ away. This pushed Ali to the ropes time after time, and Ali focused on deflecting those heavy punches like he did during his long training sessions – a boxing technique that became known as the famous ‘Rope-a-dope’. Ali would also cling to Foreman and goad him with verbal jibes like, “They told me you could punch, George!”, “Is that all you got?”, “Try harder, George!” This enraged Foreman more and more. He kept responding ever wildly with his ‘haymakers’ while Ali parried or blocked. 

By the eighth round, Foreman grew tired from the physical exertion of his powerful punches and Ali knocked him down.
The ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ win by Ali remains to this day one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time. This fight showed the need for awareness of the local environment one is operating within, the versatility required in adapting to a competitor’s strengths & weaknesses, and the tactical genius needed in devising a winning strategy that could be clinically & flawlessly executed for the successful outcome to be achieved. 
Ali and Foreman became friends after the fight. In 1996 when the documentary about the fight, “When we were kings”, won an Academy Award (Oscar), Ali suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease, could not walk up to the podium unaided. George Foreman helped him to climb those steps so he could claim his award.
“What matters is not how many times you get knocked down but how many times you get back up again.”
"I hated every minute of training. But I said, don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion." Muhammad Ali.


3) Mo Farrah & Usain Bolt - Transformative Coaching

Mo ‘Mobot’ Farrah
Mo Farah is the British, European and World record holder for the 5,000m and 10,000m races for which he won double Olympic gold in London 2012 and became a much-loved figure of Team GB. He is an ambassador for BUPA, Lucozade and Nike. His coach Alberto Salazar recently said, "Mo dug deeper than I have seen any athlete do. You're talking about a man who has more heart, more guts and more soul than any athlete I've ever seen."
However, what Salazar had previously said about Mo was, "... the weakest athlete I'd ever trained – in terms of core strength and being able to do push-ups, sit-ups and single-leg squats. He was a 90lb weakling. He was a skinny distance runner with a great engine but no upper body. At the end of races, he would tire and his head would bob around and his arms would flail."
Although Mo had the sheer determination to succeed, he lacked some of the physical attributes that could enable him to do so. His coach recognised both - maximised the effect of the former while improving on the latter, resulting in an athlete being the best in the world in two disciplines, while maintaining the most humble, fun-loving & unifying qualities as an Olympian for his country.
Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt
Usain Bolt holds the world’s record for the 100m and 200m races, and with his team mates, the 4 X 100m relay.  He is the first man to win six Olympic gold medals in sprinting, and is a five-time world champion. He was the first to achieve a "double double" by winning 100m and 200m titles at consecutive Olympics (Beijing 2008 and London 2012). He topped this through the first "double triple" (including 4x100m relays). He is perhaps one of the most recognised modern athlete, hails from the economically impoverished country of Jamaica, and has a trademark ‘lightning bolt’ pose that he ‘strikes’ after a winning run. (Picture showing Mo mimicking Usain lightning bolt, while Usain mimics Mo’s ‘Mobot’ trademark pose).
For Usain, his faith in his coach Glen Mills is much more obvious & public. When questioned about running 10.04 seconds in Ostrava in the run-up to London 2012, he laughed away concerns about his form and said, "I'm confident that myself and my coach can put together a programme to be a champion. I will focus on that. My coach is the greatest coach ever and knows exactly what to do to get me to the top. I'm not worried."
The ‘coolest sportsman in the world’ espouses the virtues of his coach while laughing away the idea that this might be a sign of weakness or might provoke embarrassment. They work together on a ‘Fit for Purpose’ plan; the coach thinks, plans & supports; Usain executes on that plan and wins his races time after time. 

“Always be confident about your preparation.” Usain Bolt  
For both Mo and Usain, the love for what they do and the pure enjoyment they derive from their races are palpable. They are relaxed and have great fun racing. They are in their element. It does not feel like work to them. Just like running our own business, the journey is as enjoyable, fulfilling & rewarding, as is crossing the ‘finish line’ for each race, striking a pose and climbing the podium for the medal. 

4) The Team GB Rowing team - Having a secret plan - “Growing a bigger heart”

New Zealand achieved an incredible feat during London 2012 for being the 4th most decorated nation in the Olympics per population size (capita) and also for the NZ Rowing Team to achieve 2nd place in the world, despite the absence of two of the country’s rowing world champions from the Athens & Beijing Olympics - the much-loved Georgina & Caroline Evers-Swindell, twin sisters from Hastings.
Team GB were no.1 in rowing during London 2012, with a total of 9 medals, 4 of which gold. It is the old team of the legendary Sir Steve Redgrave who remains one of the world’s most decorated rowers from Great Britain with 21 medals in total (incl. 5 Olympic gold, 9 world championship gold, 3 Commonwealth Games gold). He took the Olympic flame from David Beckham to pass on to the younger generation of Olympians to light the Olympic flame during the Opening Ceremony. 
In addition to the usual comprehensive training that is required at this level, it seems the Team GB Rowing team had a hidden ace up their sleeves when it came to physical conditioning with a difference, as shown recently in the fascinating BBC’s Horizon documentary presented by Dr. Kevin Fong, consultant at UCL Hospital in London.
A normal person’s heart rate at rest is between 60 – 80 bpm (beats per minute) while about 160 - 220 bpm at its peak. The Team GB Rowing team work closely with a cardiologist who regularly monitors the heart of each rower through ultra-sound scans during specially-tailored training sessions. The aim is to exercise in such a way that the actual size of the athlete’s heart increases so that more blood can be pumped out throughout the body for each beat. 
A normal person’s heart rate might deliver about 15 litres of blood while the athlete’s would deliver 45 to 60 litres for the same about of beats per minute, thereby allowing more oxygenated blood to fuel the muscles required to row and for much longer too. The athlete would also achieve maximum heart rate level much later than a normal person would, enabling a much longer ramp-up period, as well as much greater ongoing endurance performance during the race.
In business too, we find that developing that hidden key differentiating edge is ever so crucial, especially during these highly-competitive and economically-sensitive times.
Whilst the external factors impacting our business cannot be easily influenced, we do have full control over our internal operations, our tactical initiatives and in developing our core strategic strengths.

“If we want to change the world around us, we must first change the world inside of us.” Mahatma Gandhi

From now on, whether you decide to ‘go on a course’ or (as many mostly male business owners tend to do) settle yourself down comfortably on your favourite sofa in front of the telly with a few beers to watch some sports, you can always reply when asked, that you are in fact learning about strategies & tactics to improve your business!

“If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford
Successful Olympians and successful business owners have one thing in common – they both believe that they can. And with a bit of help & support, at the right time, in the right direction, they are both right.

“As is a tale, so is life. It is not how long it is but how good it is”. Seneca (4BC to 65AD).

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.
Olympic success and business transformation are both examples of a caterpillar realising its full potential & turning into a butterfly.
Contact us to find out how we can get YOU to realise YOUR full potential.

by Sterling Thoughts on April 21st, 2011

I am sure we all sit back at times and reflect how deeply the Internet (and technology in general) has irreversibly changed the way we do the ‘normal’ things in our lives these days – from the way we work, to the way we communicate & connect with people; from the way we entertain to the way we learn & develop ourselves and our businesses.
“The Wisdom of Crowds” and “Crowd-Sourcing” provide us with a glimpse of one particular direction where that trend is heading and how we can maximise the benefits to our business in an ethical manner by both knowing about them and how to make the best make use of them in improving both quality & bottom-line performances.

The recent fundamental shift in the way we learn & develop ourselves
Whilst for the past millennia, the efforts to comprehend the universe and everything else therein were once the preserve of a select few experts in religion, art, philosophy and science; with the recent explosion of the Internet, social networking, media content proliferation & accessibility, there has been a fundamental shift in the way we learn.

To “Google” something we want to know more about has become such a well-known and global phenomenon, the term “Google” now features in the English dictionaries as a proper verb! From the traditional ways of the past to learn, which most of us have been through, directly from experts (through established & renowned establishments like schools & universities and through books written by most of the same experts), these days more and more people are self-taught, easily researching and learning ‘online’ what they need specifically, to further enhance their personal & professional development. All the material, that traditionally were only available through taught courses or books, sometimes at substantial costs, are now out there, mostly for free, for people to disseminate and assimilate in their own times - We have the flexibility to pick exactly what we need, when we need it, in order to fulfil the exact purpose we need it for.

The 'Many' are smarter than the 'few'
“The Wisdom of Crowds”, which in fact is a concept that has existed since the 1840s, but only recently making a more substantial impact in societies and in businesses, refers to the reason why ‘the Many’ are smarter than ‘the Few’ and how collective wisdom, as opposed to traditional ‘few experts’, shapes businesses, economies, societies and nations more and more. It is well-explored in a book written by James Surowiecki about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group. The book presents numerous case studies and anecdotes to illustrate its argument, and touches on several fields, primarily economics and psychology. Its central thesis, that a diverse collection of independently-deciding individuals is more likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts, draws many parallels with statistical sampling, which is a standard & well-established business tool already (E.g.: market research, etc).

One example the book describes relates to Sir Francis Galton's (a Victorian scientist in Birmingham, UK, also a half-cousin to Charles Darwin) and his surprise that the crowd at a county fair in his local community more accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged (the average was closer to the ox's true butchered weight than the estimates of most crowd members, and also closer than any of the separate estimates made by long-time cattle experts).

Getting 'the Wisdom of Crowds' right
To ensure we fully understand how it works and how to best apply it into our own business environments for maximum benefits, means getting the below elements right:

- Cognition (Thinking and information processing): Understanding that market judgment can sometimes be much faster, more reliable, and less subject to political forces than the deliberations of experts or expert committees.

- Coordination: Realising the natural coordination that exists within crowds (such as when we see pedestrians optimising the pavement flow or the extent of crowding in popular restaurants & bars, or in the London Underground if you have experienced it – in all cases, people naturally expand or contract their needs for “space” depending on how much they can have – automatically adjusting). It is also recognising that common understanding within a culture allows remarkably accurate judgments about specific reactions of other members of that same culture (for informed predictions & forecasting purposes as an example).

- Cooperation: How groups of people can form networks of trust without a central system controlling their behaviour or directly enforcing their compliance (E.g.: free market economy).

- Within the “Crowd”, there should be:
Diversity of opinion: Each person should have private information (to form their own opinions) even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts (which in most cases with people one tends to get! But it can be a good thing too!).
Independence: People's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.
Decentralisation: People are able to specialise and draw on their local knowledge.
Aggregation: Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision (like consensus).

If you have successfully performed brainstorming sessions, off-site planning meetings and market research (to name just a few) in your business in the past, you will know exactly what the above means, and also how valuable the output & results of these initiatives can be for you when you get the above elements right.

The impact of getting it wrong
The “Wisdom of Crowds” can also work negatively – we have all heard of the rise of the Nazis in Germany and Soviet Communism in the USSR; we have seen stock exchanges and financial institutions running amok causing global financial crises and recessions; and organisations doing their ‘planning in a vacuum’ and operating in a disconnected manner to their market, their customers & their staff, like Enron in the US and Arthur Andersen, Northern Rock in the UK; and in NZ, companies like South Canterbury Finance, Feltex, numerous property developers and many more.

The “wisdom” of those “crowds” although collectively they did generate a momentum, vision & direction towards particular objectives and was very successful for a time, they did not stand the test of time, nor did they align to the wider & greater good.

“Crowd-Sourcing” – A glimpse into some modern, smart & very cost-effective business procurement

“The impact of “the Wisdom of Crowds” to modern business procurement
In addition to the above, “The Wisdom of Crowds” has also impacted the ‘procurement of products & services’ quite substantially over recent times, through initiatives like “Crowd-Sourcing” (a term combining the words “crowd” and “outsourcing”). Some of you may already be aware and even use these techniques already.

“Crowd-Sourcing” refers to the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by a paid employee or contractor of yours, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a "crowd"), through an open call. The Internet allows us to do this in an almost seamless manner, tapping in a much wider pool of talents, experience, expertise and points of view than the traditional models have allowed us to in the past.

What is “Crowd-Sourcing” and how does it works?
Jeff Howe, one of the first authors to employ the term in his June 2006 “Wired” magazine article "The Rise of Crowd-sourcing", established that the concept of “Crowd-Sourcing” depends essentially on the fact that because it is an open call to an undefined group of people, it naturally gathers those who are most fit to perform tasks, solve complex problems and contribute with the most relevant and fresh ideas.

Howe explains that because technological advances have allowed for cheap consumer electronics (like computers) and cheap data connectivity and global access (the Internet), the gap between professionals and amateurs has been diminished. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design and distributed participatory design), refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm (E.g.: human-based computation), or help capture, systematize or analyse large amounts of data (E.g.: citizen science). We see this more typically and locally when Local and Central Government organisations, as well as some large private companies, issue tenders to the public to seek qualified & experienced groups to provide a set of products or services. The term has become popular with businesses, authors, and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to better achieve business goals.

“Crowd-Sourcing” has grown massively in popularity among the SME (Small & Medium Enterprise) sector globally over recent times as well as within some smart Large Enterprise organisations. In addition to the technological advances, greater global business community awareness, social & networking media advances and the reduction in data access costs, the recent GFC (Global Financial Crisis) has caused a massive economic impact to most OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, known as developed countries. Many businesses have folded while others have been forced to consider drastic cost management strategies in order to survive the economic downturn. There has been a considerable amount of services outsourced to developing countries (like contact centre operations from NZ to the Philippines or from the UK to India or from the US to Bangladesh, etc). The cost of procuring some services through traditional methods in order to provide another set of products & services to a company’s end customers, proved quite prohibitive for some businesses. Of course, a number of organisations have jumped on the GFC bandwagon as a justification to make operational changes and deep cuts to improve their bottom line rather than to boldly grow the top / revenue line instead, but most businesses have started to look at smart alternatives to get some expertise, design, resourcing and manufacturing support at a cheaper cost but also using a hugely wider pool of skills, experience and outlooks.

Rather than the more traditional and normally fully ‘local’ business model, “Crowd-Sourcing” allows for a more distributed problem-solving and production model. “Problems” (or service requests) are broadcasted to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. The “Users” or “the Crowd”, typically form into local or global online communities, and submit solutions for the “Initiator” of the call to evaluate, to accept or to reject. “The Crowd” also sorts through the solutions, finding the best ones. These best solutions are then owned by the “Initiator” who broadcasted the problem in the first place, the “crowd-sourcer”, and the winning individuals in the crowd are sometimes rewarded. In most cases, this labour is well compensated, either monetarily, or with prizes (if the “call” is run as a competition for example), or with recognition like testimonials. In other cases, the only rewards may be kudos or intellectual satisfaction. Crowd-sourcing may produce solutions from amateurs or volunteers working in their spare time, as well as from experts or small businesses which were unknown to the initiating organisation, hence tend to come in with impartiality and objectivity.

The key benefits of “Crowd-Sourcing” to your business
With Crowd-sourcing:
  • Your problems can be explored at comparatively little cost, and often very quickly.

  • Payment is by results only and sometimes quite cheap in comparison as the labour is provided by home-based rather than office-based people.

  • You can tap into a much wider range of talent than would typically not be present through the existing service providers you tend to use traditionally.

  • By listening to the crowd, you gain gain first-hand insight on your own customers' desires (if the “crowd” is within your market demography – like Vodafone NZ, as an example, “Crowd-souring” its logo design & tagline to everyone in NZ and offering a prize for the winning ideas).

  • The wider community may feel a brand-building kinship with your company, the crowd-sourcing organisation, which is the result of an earned sense of ownership through contribution and collaboration (Like in the Vodafone NZ example above).

  • You can tap into the global world of ideas, helping your company work through a rapid design process. The surprising part at times is that this is usually available at relatively no cost, as people are always willing to share their ideas on a global scale for free as part of an intellectual challenge. This applies to cases where there is a much wider pool of experts and skills who also may have “solved” similar “problems” many times before. A broad example might be a NZ NPO (Non-Profit Organisation) supporting problem gamblers within Auckland & Wellington cities looking at how similar services are better provided in more complex socio-economic conditions within larger population groups like in London, Las Vegas & Reno in Nevada, Atlantic City in New Jersey, etc.

Some known issues with “Crowd-Sourcing
The ethical, social, and economic implications of crowd-sourcing have been subject to continuous & wide debate. For example, author and media critic Douglas Rushkoff, in an interview published in Wired News, expressed ambivalence about the term and its implications, with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales also a vocal critic of the term. Some reports have focused on the negative effects of crowd-sourcing on business owners, particularly in regard to how a crowd-sourced project can sometimes end up costing a business more than a traditionally outsourced project because the Quality Assurance, Governance and some compliance issues might be missed. With regards to those, I feel it is the responsibility of the “Initiator” or “Crowd-Sourcer” to ensure which components are “crowd-sourced” and to have the end-product properly reviewed and managed throughout the process. The output or end product of a “Crowd-sourced” initiative or project is only as good as the brief the “Initiator” provides, with the quality standards & feedback review periods it ensures the project has, etc.

Some other possible pitfalls of crowd-sourcing and how to avoid them:
Added costs to bring a project to an acceptable conclusion as the “initiatior” sometimes falls in the trap of not adequately briefing or reviewing the outputs properly or simply assumes that the “crowd” will read his or her mind!

  • Increased likelihood that a crowd-sourced project will fail due to lack of monetary motivation, too few participants, lower quality of work, lack of personal interest in the project, global language barriers, or difficulty managing a large-scale, crowd- sourced project. Again, this is up to the “initiator’ to ensure the right disciplines are in place from the very start to ensure a quality output or deliverable from the “crowd”, and the right “crowd” is sourced in the first place, as well as adequate remuneration or incentives being in place.

  • Below-market wages or no wages at all. Barter agreements are often associated with crowd-sourcing. This is slowly being resolved through open expectation settings from the outset, and more and more fairness being introduced into the process. Just because someone provides a great quality deliverable from Uzbekistan (just picking a completely random country) does not necessarily mean a remuneration should be set in “peanuts” because the country has a much lower GDP than ours. It is advisable for the “initiator” to set the expectations of end product(s) right from the start, together with the incentive or remuneration component. A guide would be to ascertain how much that would have costed locally or by using traditional methods, then depending on the nature of the project, make the incentive a decent and fair fraction of that cost.

  • No written contracts, non-disclosure agreements, or employee agreements or agreeable terms with crowd-sourced employees. This needs to be properly mitigated, and sometimes avoided altogether by the “initiator” for highly commercially-sensitive and competitive initiatives. There is a very real risk of leaks with “Crowd-Sourcing” due to its very nature of openness.

  • Difficulties maintaining a working relationship with crowd-sourced workers throughout the duration of a project. Again this is a parameter for the “initiator” to evaluate in terms of the size of the set task. It is sometimes more advisable to break a “project” into different work-streams that can be individually “crowd-sourced”. This keeps the QA, control & governance firmly in the hands of the “initiator” who will also need some basic project and programme management skills.

  • Susceptibility to faulty results caused by targeted, malicious work efforts. It is advisable for the initial brief to be as comprehensive as possible, with the expectations & quality standards clearly defined from the start, as well as regular review periods throughout to ensure the effort is being put on the right areas. The “project” can be discontinued at any time if the results and expected quality are not obtained.

Some well-known “Crowd-Sourcing” websites as examples:

There are loads of others out there. If you do decide to give “crowd-sourcing” a try, please ensure:

  • You define your brief comprehensively

  • You research the site you will use well

  • You set the appropriate Quality Assurance standards & review periods

  • You offer fair remuneration or incentives

  • You maximise on the benefit of drawing from a much wider pool of talents, ideas and experience

  • You provide regular and useful feedback to the “crowd” to help fine-tune your own product through its development lifecycle. Do please also note that when using a wide pool, you may well get some really creative & innovation ideas that you may not have considered before. This is one great ancillary benefit of “crowd-sourcing”, the wide range of different perspectives from the “crowd” normally throws both some fantastic ideas (as well as some really rubbish ones which you can ignore straight away).

  • You have no obligations to accept any product so make sure that when you do, the product actually meets with all your requirements (as set out in your original brief)

  • If things do change in the process and you want to alter the brief, make sure you communicate the expectations & changes properly to give the “crowd” a fair chance to understand, then respond to your new needs properly.

I personally know of a lot of people who use “crowd-sourcing” successfully and on a regular basis, with very good results for their businesses. I hope this provides you with another “string” for your bow of existing business skills and gives you a different dimension of expertise & talents to draw from to add more value into your business, cost-effectively, and innovatively.

Sterling Results Ltd.

by Sterling Thoughts on April 3rd, 2011

Hi All,

I hope you had a restful & pleasant weekend and are looking forward to this week with much revived passion!

This growth tip features lessons from the book “Chaotics” by Philip Kotler and John Caslione – in which the authors address the major changes in the marketing landscape and companies have tried to stay afloat.

Customers are better informed
They are empowered. They can find out almost anything about any product, service, company or person - by searching the Internet and asking questions of their social networks. We must develop a new mindset of always being on hot standby to respond to customer concerns and issues.

Competitors can copy you faster
Competitive advantages have a much shorter life today, shortening the innovator’s return on investment (RoI). Research your customers more frequently now because their needs and wants are in flux. Don’t get caught relying on old “tried-and-true” offers that no longer resonate. Get the strategic long-term vision right.

Focus on all that’s safe and emphasise your core values
Do everything possible to communicate that continuing to do business with you is safe. Sell customers products and services that continue to make them feel safe – and spend accordingly to retain and grow the existing share of wallet. It is much cheaper to up-sell to an existing customer than it is to win a brand new one.

Don’t discount your best brands
If you have a wide variety of brands and want to appeal to more frugal customer needs and wants with lower prices - create a new, separate and distinct offering / bundle under a new brand name so you maintain the value-based selling.

Save the strong; lose the weak
Do not waste time or money on marginal brands or service offerings that are not supported by market-leading and competitive value propositions, and a solid customer base with strong growth prospects. Companies must remain focused on their core business first and foremost, and satisfying their target customers - paying particular attention to their best customers. Profitability analyses conducted regularly as a matter of business discipline (e.g.: revenue by product) will demonstrate the high margin products & services (and also show that while some products may be popular, they may not necessarily be profitable !).

90 Day Strategic Planning & Quarterly Business Performance Reviews
Strategic planning, as part of business planning normally done prior to the start of a financial year, should be reviewed (and for some businesses re-done) at three-month intervals, rather than reviewed and adjusted once a year. More stakeholder representatives should be included in the discussion and decision making process, including key customers.

Dual vision
Companies need to operate with one eye focused on the short term - and the other eye focused on the long term. Short term is about managing the present – operationally & administratively. It should include projects related to improving the current core business, and meeting the needs of today’s target customers with excellence and authenticity.

Long term is not about performance improvement – rather it is about forgetting the past and reshaping the business to compete more effectively in the future – strategically and tactically. Often, this demands bold, disruptive strategic moves away from the present to reorganise and reshape the existing Go-to-Market model and organisational alignment for future success.

I hope this provides you with some insights as well as some brain food. Do have a very good week ahead!


P.S.: For those of you who've started your new FY on Friday last week, a very Happy New Year once again ! It is the year the business plan takes shape for some of you, while for others it is getting to know the pleasure of over-achieving targets originally thought to be too ambitious! As for the rest, you know what I mean, as you will be doing this one more year! Woo-Hoo!! :-)

Posted on April 3rd, 2011

Ever wondered about the strategy behind the Apple brand...? How it started from a garage & got to where it is today?

...And if your business capture some learnings from this journey?

Read from Steve Jobs himself - if he were to start selling jewellery!

Great article.

Posted on April 3rd, 2011

"Absolutely, it can".

How many times have we sent or received requests to catch-up with someone for a coffee? It is one of the most natural occurrences in the business world. In 2004, Wellington had overtaken New York in the number of coffee shops they had per capita!

Just think about it - Assuming it's your treat, coffee & muffins for 2, average cost would be about $20, say, $5 for each. Now, if it takes about 20 mins for you to get there and 20 mins to get back to the office and just over one hour to have the meeting, that's nearly 2 hours out of your day. At cost, that would roughly be about $220, $100 per hour (internal labour - your time as a Business Owner / MD / Director) plus the coffee & muffins.

Now if you consider opportunity costs - if you were doing chargeable work for example in that time, you have just missed out on 2 hours, which you would probably charge out at about $250 per hour or more as someone with your calibre & expertise.

On top of braking your productive flow during the day, that coffee may have cost your business over $500!

I am all for having coffee meetings and catch-ups. I even believe they are an essential relationship management tool in today's world. But we almost never tend to think of the TRUE costs and certainly not of the OPPORTUNITY costs. Could a phone call or an email have been more appropriate? Or is dinner & drinks or a nice gift more appropriate than a coffee for that person, even? He or she could be a major & loyal client of yours or could be someone bringing in loads of decent business your way.

Marketing initiatives are very similar. If they do not generate enough value or you could get a better return on those same investment dollars in doing something else, you should do so. If one of them is working really well, you should do more of it - dinner & drinks or gift, not coffee!

The cost-to-benefit analysis applies to everything in our daily business life and includes everything we do, even THINKING about things - are we thinking about the right things? If it takes time, it costs money. And there should be a healthy return on that cost.

Both thinking & doing what's most beneficial for your business, always!

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