Monthly Archives: June 2014

Playing Defense

There was a valuable business lesson to be learned from yesterday’s Mexico/Netherlands game.


(Photo credit: colin.merkert)

I don’t know if you watched it, but the Mexicans took a lead early in the second half. This was more than a bit of a surprise – the Dutch are one of the favorites in the World Cup and the Team Mexico had barely qualified. El Tri have rarely made it past the round of 16, the stage of the tournament in which this game was played.  They didn’t make it this time either and we can learn from what they did.

After a quiet start, Mexico dominated the first half and scored early in the second.  They played attacking football.  Once they scored, however, the went into a shell and were content to sit back on defense, making the occasional counter-attack but mostly allowing the Dutch to come at them.  Holland is one of the best teams in the world and features three of the best players in the world in the attacking end.  It was only a matter of time before they tied the game given many chances to do so.  yet Mexico played defense.  Sure enough, the game was tied after a corner kick (Mexico had kicked the ball out defensively) and lost when a Mexican defender gave the ref a reason to call a penalty on a (perhaps phantom) trip.

Why the sports report today?  Because we often make the same mistake in business.  We get to a point where we’re happy with what we’ve got and then we play defense.  We don’t develop new products or services.  We don’t encourage our people to advance their skill set.  We sit back and allow the competition to come at us and put all of our resources into defending or delaying their attacks instead of making them wonder how to defend ours.

The time to play defense in business is when there are overwhelmingly negative forces in the market and not when you have a lead.  There will always be other companies attacking you and playing defense is part of any business plan.  However, building a small advantage and then expending all your resources to defend it usually puts you out of the tournament.  Thoughts?

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Vegas And Veggies

For our Foodie Friday Fun this week I’d like to ask you what your local supermarket and a casino have in common?

Casino Royale en Las Vegas

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might not have noticed but neither of them have clocks that are highly visible.  In the case of the supermarket there is a general rule that says the longer someone is in the store the more money they will spend (I suspect the same is true of a casino) so they don’t want anything to remind the customer that time has passed.  That’s one of the things each of these very different types of establishments do to increase sales.  You’ve probably never seen windows in either place (in fairness very few stores have windows other than up front), and both deploy a wide range of sensory stimuli to encourage spending: music, fragrances, lighting, even nuances like colors.

It’s really about engagement.  Does it surprise you that both casinos and supermarkets have researched how to create engagement for a very long time?  In my mind, the only reason that it should is that both do a fairly good job about not being obvious in the psychological tricks they use to create engagement.  Here is a quote from an interview with the manager of a Fairway store:

“The real secret of Fairway’s success is to make the shopping experience emotional,” the manager concluded. “We want our customers to be wowed by our unique product selection, service, and merchandising.”

Which is very good guidance for any of us in any business.  The strongest connection you can have with a customer is an emotional one.  Your pricing may change (for better or worse in the customer’s eyes) but their memories of having been treated like a special guest won’t.  If you’re tending to their needs and making sure they’re content instead of “doing transactions” you are creating a bond.  It can be with content or it can be an in-person interaction but engagement through an emotional connection is as good as it gets.

Think about that while you’re wandering the aisles!

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It’s summertime and I’m sure you’ve already had your first run in with a swarm of gnats.

English: A female Black Fungus Gnat.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are lots of different types of them and you can almost see clouds of them at time during summer evenings.  You might not realize that business has gnats too and those are our topic today.   We create these business gnats ourselves – they don’t hatch from egg clusters as do the bugs.  I want us to think about why we do so.

Gnats are little bugs and I find them very annoying.  Yes, they’re harmless but they’re unpleasant.  They can also be a distraction – let’s see you read at the beach with a gnat buzzing around you.  Business gnats are the same way.  These are the little problems which serve as distractions from the things we ought to be doing.  Instead of worrying about big questions – what are our business goals and how do we align everything that’s going on in our enterprise with those goals – we focus on little stuff.  How many Facebook “likes” did we get this week and how can we get more?

Making things complicated is akin to creating optimal conditions for hatching gnats.  Yes, I’m an advocate for things like A/B testing to improve conversion rates but only after we’ve dealt with the business fundamentals that make conversions necessary.  Moreover, what are we measuring and why is a much bigger and important issue and the gnats of tweaking our Instagram strategy.

How does one get rid of gnats?  For the flying kind one good thing to do is find their food sources and cut them off from it.  For the business kind doing that is easy – go look in the mirror or around the table at a staff meeting – there’s the food source.  Discourage people from finding little problems – or even worse, making them up – so there aren’t distractions flying around.  Maybe you could hand out fly swatters to everyone in order to remind them to kill the business gnats around them.  Make sense?

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