Category Archives: case studies

Are You a Slave to Process?

I have heard this many times — “I know that X doesn’t work that well, but there is no other way to do this.”


This is the type of statement made by folks who are “slaves to process”. They are completely wedded to one way of looking at what they need to get done. As a result, they will not learn from what they do. And if there is a better way to get things done, they will never see it.

The problem is worse than it appears. It is worse because the longer you are married to a single way of doing things, the harder it gets to change. That is the message Jeff Bezos is giving to his shareholders. I couldn’t agree more. That is the message that United should hbe listening to after its fiasco in customer relations.

Turning a Customer into an Investor

In short, that is the Disques story, as told by Fred Wilson.

It illustrates an interesting phenomenon that we will likely see much more of. The “roles” that we assign to actors in various games — whether they are “managers”, “staff”, “customers”, “investors”, “partners”, etc. used to be fixed. They will become less and less so. For example, a staff person —  let’s call him Dan — may come up with an idea with a customer  — let’s call her Diane —  that a firm doesn’t want to do itself. That firm may help  Dan and Diane set up a new firm and may even invest in it. Dan and Diane may develop new partners that are welcomed into the network.

Instead of “roles” and “rules” the above is generated by perceptions of potential value added.

Finding a Gap and Filling it

Perhaps the simplest way to add value in a give context is to !fill the gap”.

A young entrepreneur who was engaged in a project to help handicapped people in Uganda realized this. She found that it was difficult to find a bra in Kampala that fit her. And she noticed that a significant number of Ugandan women had breasts that were similar to her own. Bingo — she began importing large sized broa, and has built up a nice business.  She filled a gap.

This strategy can be applied in a more generalized way. Consider this ecology(1) people want better solutions to problems that the have and they turn to the market for products and services that offer these better solutions (2) companies profit by listening and fashioning a steady flow of upgraded solutions. (3) companies need intellectual resources to fashion those new solutions – they need to connect with researchers who spend their time thinking about this sort of stuff

So you would think that there would be no gaps between customers and firms, nor between firms and researchers. Wrong. Greg Satell writes about those gaps.


Trust as a Strategic Asset

The highest level of strategic gaming is social. The question or challenge here is how to add value at the community level.

BTW,  this raises an interesting question — how much value is actually built at the community level? I would argue that modern western society has reduced the relative value of community as it has increased its focus on economies of scale through mass production. So big cities, the coordinators of mass production, grow rich, while small villages and towns shrivel on the vine.

So, back to our game. If we want to add value, we need to establish and build connections that make it possible. Amy Cuddy argues that the first impression that we make is critical to get this game started There are two critical measures – (1) can we be trusted, and (2) are we competent. According to Cuddy, establishing a basis for trust is the pre-condition for the second.

A blueprint for Transforming Protest into Change

I wrote a while back in this blog that the huge protests against Donald Trump are not enough in themselves to bring about change. My concern at the time was that protests will not persuade Trump supporters to change their positions on Trump.

So what will work? Greg Satell offers a list of the “more that is needed”

  • commit to an identifiable goal
  • build a coalition step by step
  • find and use power levers
  • attract don’t overpower
  • survive victory

It is an interesting list and I agree that each idea is important.

So how will this turn out?  We don’t know yet.  All we know is that large numbers of people have turned out  on various occasions to protest actions taken by the Trump Administration. Passions are high.

Greg is offering cautionary wisdom against trying to move too quickly from passion and protest to concerted action. I agree. At the same time, I would argue that Greg concerns are more tactical than strategic — and that strategy matters.

What is the difference between tactics and strategy? Good strategy and good tactics are both needed to win, but strategy comes first.  The reason is that strategic goals transcend what can be achieved by tactical maneuvering. Bad strategy and good tactics are not a winning combination.

So how to look at this situation from a strategic point of view? The first strategic question is what type of future do we need? What is it that we lack now that must be achieved? In this case, the discussion of this strategic question must include how we got to where we are. What caused the problem? That cause or those causes are our enemy, not the people who are on the other side of the argument.

Once we have a more clear sense of the “enemy”, we can think how to build conviction around the mission of achieving the future we want. This opens the door to tactical considerations of how to do it. As we do this, we “gamify” the conflict. We create a logic that makes the path towards winning possible. It also  starts raising the level of communication to a strategic level.  Messaging can “scale”.

Of course, timing is everything. It may be too early to decide these things. But at some point, decisions will be needed and they will be needed fairly soon — or the conflicts that are growing from expressions of heightened passion will start to splinter.

Iceland’s Strategic Insights into Teens

Here is a question – how long have western societies fretted over teen abuse of alcohol and drugs? As far as I can tell, it has been at least a half century, if not longer.

So how do we develop strategies to counter this disturbing trend? Many countries have tried education. The presumption is that teens lack information about the negative effects of what they are doing. This has had marginal results at best.

You might reflect why this has been so. It may be that the presumption is wrong. Teens may be attracted to this behavior by other factors. And if so, giving them information about health risks may be a futile gesture.

Folks in Iceland have taken this view. And they have gone further. They are using an evidence based approach to find out why teens are abusing alcohol and drugs, and developing strategies that directly confront those causes.

They have discovered something that many would not like to admit.  Teens drink because of “angst”. They need to cope with their angst. Drinking etc. is nothing more than the best available —  if less than perfect — coping strategy. From a strategic point of view, you might call this a “foundation decision” on the part of policy makers .They can test it by providing alternative structures — including reducing freedom and offering activities — that help teens use other strategies to cope. The tests provide a path towards more efficient tools to deal with the problem, and so far, it is working — at least in Iceland.

That raises an interesting question which is posed in the above linked article – is this strategy transportable? There certainly is interest in it. That leads to an exciting ongoing story – learning from best practices!

Stay tuned!

The Strategic Reality of US health Care

From Fred Wilson

Our problems in healthcare are largely structural. We have allowed employers and insurers to finance our healthcare system and take control of it. We need to get people back in control of healthcare. Technology can be the lever that will do that. If we allow it to happen.

This is not the way you hear health care discussed in Washington. Could it be that our lawmakers are not listening to the people?

Heaven forbid!