Archives for category: Strategy

Well, they’ve finally done it. They’ve enforced the algorithm. The party’s over.

Let me explain. With Ryanair you pay a base price and then you can pay for optional extras like priority boarding ahead of the plebs, choose your seat, insurance, car hire, extra bags, that kind of thing. You can check in early if you pay to choose your seat, or you wait til 5 days before departure and take pot luck on seat choice for no extra bucks.

If you were travelling with someone, however, and had booked your flight in the same transaction, although Ryanair always said that there was no guarantee you could sit next to that person for free, you always did. Until now. Well, until a few weeks ago, when they obviously tweaked the seat allocation algorithm.

When I checked in, those few weeks ago – 5 days before my flight with my daughter, who’s under 14, I went straight to the boarding pass stage, eschewing the pay-for-your-seat option and – lo and behold – she’s at the back of the plane and I’m at the front. What’s more, both of us got middle seats. Ryanair and sitting together no longer applies unless you pay. There is no more base price if you want to sit next to your friend or family member.

I wonder if the algorithm would still apply and they would split us up, were my daughter 3 rather than 13…either way, it’s a case of Ryanair further squeezing the rag to get another couple of drops out of it. Bearing in mind a few years ago they were making about €11 profit per traveller, another €4 for a chosen seat is a tidy uplift. I wonder how much customer goodwill will leak as a consequence.

Sport is in many ways the descendant of the gladiatorial contents from ancient times. You have your protagonists, or your actors, and you have your audience. The job is to entertain the audience of paying customers.

The other day I took my mother to a cricket match near where she lives. It was a match between England and Ireland, what’s called a One Day International, and the first of a 2-match series. England, as I write this, are the world leaders in this version of the sport, and Ireland are fast coming up on the rails into the top tier of international cricket. England’s pool of players to draw upon is massive, Ireland’s is tiny.

This was a 50-over match, so each team receives 300 deliveries from the opposition to score as many runs as they can. Whoever scores more runs, wins. A lot rides on the toss of the coin as to who decides to bat first or bowl first. The decision hangs on many things, like ability, confidence, the pitch condition, and the weather. Ireland has beaten England once before in a memorable ‘ODI’ in the World Cup over a decade ago.

Ireland won the toss and decided to bat first. ‘Uh oh, I said to my mum, ‘that could shorten the day considerably.’ Ireland were duly skittled out for about 130 – 300 is a good score – , lasting barely half the 300 deliveries they were entitled to, and England knocked off the runs required with about 200 deliveries to spare. Instead of the match being scheduled to finish at 6:45 pm, it finished about 3pm.

I was furious at what I considered to be arrogance on the part of the Irish captain to opt to bat first. He obviously felt he could win the match, but generally it’s better to bat second, because you know what the target is and you know the run-rate you need to get there. In my view, his thought process should have been: ‘You know what, this is a big step up for us, and a big chance for us to shine. It’s also the first game in the series, and there’s going to be an adjustment period as we step up. Let’s put England in, they’ll probably score about 300, and we can give ourselves a chance and not panic.’

What he also should have said was, and this is going to sound like heresy: ‘You know what, we’re in the entertainment business, and there are 15,000 paying fans out there, 90% of whom have come to see England play. They’ll get more value out of the day, and we’ll have more chance, if we bat second.’

We can’t forget that sport is in the entertainment business, with the emphasis on business. If you’re David against Goliath, you should let him do his thing first, give the crowd a show, see what he’s got and then you might see a weakness and sneak a win. You’ve got no chance otherwise, and people will stop paying to see what looks on paper like a one-sided show. After all, look what happened the last time?

The other day I posted on Facebook a sentence lifted from a BBC sports report into a match featuring the professional soccer team I follow. The post went like this:

‘Story of the season, in fact story of most teams I’ve followed, ever: “Wolves were competitive throughout but lacked a cutting edge.”

A cutting edge is a wonderfully graphic phrase which has been so over-borrowed over the last decade that it now risks becoming a sporting cliche, along with ‘we’re taking it one game at a time,’ and many, many others.

It occurred to me at the time, and it still resonates with me now, which is why I’m telling you about it, that having a cutting edge is a vital requirement in so much of our working lives, especially in business. It’s no use being competitive if we lack a cutting edge. In other words, if we’re not executing on our plan, if we’re not getting it done.

I’m not talking about the kind of cutting edge or leading/bleeding edge you hear trotted out with technology companies. We’re on the cutting edge of nanotechnology. Purlease. Indeed, in that context it’s another phrase so well-worm as to be threadbare.

Lacking a cutting edge in sports and business means we’re not sharp, we’re blunt, unsophisticated, ham-fisted even.

So what gives you a cutting edge? Focus, practice, skill, anticipation, commitment and timing. These factors combine to allow you to capitalise, not capitulate, on opportunities.



I came across a new word the other day, courtesy of a link from a friend of mine that I also am lucky to work with occasionally. It’s called deloading. It’s taking proper down-time to recharge the batteries and ensure that when you get back on the horse you’re still super-productive.

The link is here. It’s written by a chap called Tim Ferriss, who many of you will know as the author of the 4-Hour Work Week, and other books on a similar theme. I thought he was a good bit older than he is. Not that he looks older, but that he seems to have packed an annoyingly large amount of stuff into his CV already.

You might know from my own blog that I’ve been an advocate of deloading for a long time, although I can honestly say I’ve never referred to it by that term. I guess I’ve always been practising the exercise of taking regular breaks, but not time-wasting breaks, from more run-of-the-mill activities like writing, work or study.

I guess you could boil it down to the time-honoured phrase that a change is as good as a rest. There is so much to be said for the productivity benefits of taking regular time out. It seems counter-intuitive that you can get more done in less and with less. Perhaps that’s the reason why many employers and managers are keen to get as much work time from their people as possible. But’s never been about the hours you put into work, it’s about the work you put into the hours.

Most of us procrastinate to some degree. Whether it’s a big work project, a domestic chore or a niggling thing we need to get done, we find reasons to put it off.

We’ll start it at the top of the hour, we tell ourselves, or maybe the next day, because we won’t get it done today, even though we often don’t know how long it will take. That new fitness, diet or health regime, we’ll get that rolling Monday, or perhaps the first of the month. You know, make a clean start and all that.

And then that imposed deadline comes and goes and the tiny little switch that blocks out the feeling of serenity kicks in.

I think I know the antidote to procrastination. Get into it. Just get into it!

Once you get into it, you’re fine. You’re always fine. It’s usually not as bad or as time-consuming as you imagined it would be. Thinking about the thing grew in your head until it was bigger than the thing itself.

Make a start. Get into it. Dip in and see what’s involved, see what bits you can break off and get done. And then you’re away.

We’ve all heard the horror stories and domesday predictions about the death of the High Street, as shoppers move out of town to the malls, or into their homes to their computer, or right where they are via their mobile phones, tablets, phablets and any other form factor you can imagine. Except that is, the move away from the quaint corner shop.

In Europe we still have corner shops, loads of them.

The corner shop I’m thinking of is in the small town I live in (a village by England standards). It’s not quite on the corner, but it’s next to 2 public houses, as you would expect in Ireland. It’s a health food shop. Ironic, given its location, but there you are.

Now if we’re in the very big city we can go onto a colossal online marketplace and get the thing we need delivered within an hour, for a premium, or the next day for probably next-to-nothing extra. But most of us aren’t in the very big city.

My wife asked me to pick up something for her during my lunch break the other day, since I was doing a couple of other errands. She was in a city and the vast supermarket she visited didn’t have said item. I went into the health food store and asked for the item. It has quite a long title to it, but even before I’d finished articulating its name the lady had pulled it from the shelf next to her till and it was ready for purchase. I was out in 120 seconds, the amount of time it takes to properly pour a pint of the black stuff.

This why the corner shop will never die. They are often specialist providers. You can always find staff to ask something. They can give you a knowledgeable and immediate answer the vast majority of the time. They usually smile and are grateful for your business. And, you are done in a matter of minutes.

In certain circumstances, then, the corner shop is alive and well and still a great retail experience.

I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and blogs. A few of them I even get around to reading too. One in particular focuses on start-ups.

If you’re in a start-up, you should read this chap’s stuff. He’s memorably called Tomasz Tunguz and he’s a VC investor in software-as-a-service companies with a firm called Redpoint.

One particular post that sticks in the mind is called: Which To Prioritize – Churn or Growth? The answer, in case you didn’t have time to read his article, depends on your maturity as a business, but for early stage start-ups it’s churn. The one thing you need to establish as a start-up is product-market fit. You want to demonstrate how difficult your early customers think life would be without your product, which is why they’re all staying around. The stickier it is, the better your long-term prospects.

Tom – I don’t know him personally but I suspect he prefers to be addressed as such – offers many more reasons why churn is what you focus on instead of growth. For me it boils down to the business model. If you’re in an annuity-based business, founded on recurring revenues, then the more customers you can retain and renew, the greater your revenue starting-point is at the first of the year, before you’ve even begun to win new bookings.

I recently finished reading a 2012 tome by Daniel Pink called To Sell Is Human. I thought it was excellent. It revolves around the premise that we all practice selling, even those of us in non-sales roles. We sell our kids on going to bed on time, our company on our project over someone else’s, our spouse on this holiday destination over that, and so on.

One of the sections is about 6 different ways to pitch a product, service or idea. They’re developments from the tried, trusted and a little outdated elevator pitch. Here they are:

  1. The Once Upon a Time pitch. You tell a story as follows: Once upon a time [there was a situation]. Every day [something happened, like a problem]. One day [introduce your solution or idea]. Because of that [something different happened]. because of that [there was a specific benefit or good outcome]. Until finally [there was a new situation brought on by your solution or idea].
  2. The twitter pitch. As it sounds, can you get your basic idea over in 140 characters or less, ideally less to allow others to retweet it?
  3. The rhyming pitch. Something is more memorable, catchy, lasting and prone to propagation if it rhymes. Example: if you don’t make it rhyme, you’ll need to make more time
  4. The one word pitch. If you had to distill everything it’s about into one word, what would it be?
  5. The question pitch. A pitch can be more powerful than a statement as it invites you to think about fairly solid facts. Think: what could you do with a faster internet connection?
  6. The subject line pitch. Designing your offering like the subject line of an email that you really want people to open is a really good way to tighten your pitch

All of these have their merits and situations they’re best suited to. The book has loads of other thought-provoking recommendations and is well worth a proper read.

There’s a guiding principle for all businesses, regardless of their size, industry or stage of life. It applies across the business or for a specific project or initiative within the business.

What’s the revenue avenue?

By which I mean, what is the quickest path towards revenue? What do we need to do to get the sales? After all, nothing really happens in a business until somebody sells something.

Sometimes we can get too caught up in the planning, or do too much analysis, or maybe overcomplicate our strategy, making it too hard for ourselves. When this happens, we need to keep it as simple as we can and ask ourselves what we need to do to get it going, to get the revenues going.

It’s far easier to make decisions for the future of the business from a position of income. Always look to take the revenue avenue.




What do you do when you come up with what you think is a genuinely new idea for a business, product or service? Inventions, as we all know, are 1% perspiration and 99% inspiration, so you probably still have one foot in the starting blocks even though you have a great idea.

Maybe it’s such a great idea, so obvious that when you make it a success people will say ‘that’s so obvious, why didn’t I do that?’. Maybe you don’t know if it’s been done before and you’re anxious to get it off the ground before someone else who’s better resourced and financed than you comes in .

I’m not an expert in this area, as I tend to help people scale their start-up, which is a step or few beyond what I’m describing here. Nevertheless, there are two things you can assess pretty easily. First, does this thing, or something close to it, already exist? Second, is there a market for it?

If it doesn’t already exist, it’s often a good indicator of viability if your idea dovetails into some of the emerging mega-trends. You need to look out for articles like this one from people who know the field. Who knows, you might be nicely aligned with some of the future ‘big things’. There’s no guarantee that someone somewhere isn’t already developing precisely your new idea, and you could argue that if it’s been identified as an emerging trend you’ve missed the boat, but who knows, there might be room for more than one player in the truly hot areas.

Sometimes it’s a genuinely new idea that there isn’t a market for, and we’ve all had those, probably several of them. And perhaps it’s a genuinely new idea that we don’t have time to work on, because of other commitments. I had a genuinely new idea about two years ago. I researched it and nothing like it existed, which amazed me, because it seemed so obvious. Two years on, I’m still working on my idea, and it still doesn’t exist.

At some point, you have to forget the genuinely new idea and move on, or go for it. Nothing ventured…