Bob Skinstad’s strategy for South Africa

Bob Skinstad with recipient of Bobs4Good shoes
Bob Skinstad with recipient of Bobs4Good shoes
Bob Skinstad is best known for his rugby prowess on the field and his informed commentary on Supersport. But lately he has turned his attention to making a real difference in South Africa.

This evening I attended the Cape Town 27dinner at The Wild Fig. It was a great evening with 100 of Cape Town’s top technology, media and business people.

Bob Skinstad spoke about the Social Enterprise he has created with his business partners and how it is, with the help of people like you and me, changing the lives of young South Africans.

The bobsforgood foundation is born out of the need to challenge the detrimental social consequences of the 7 million children in South Africa with no shoes. The bobsforgood foundation creates hope, fosters pride and ensures dignity by providing free school shoes to impoverished children.

There are many ways to support creating a better life for South African children. I like the strategy Bob has taken as it is so much more than just a charity. By creating a business that offers children in need a pair of shoes with every shoe purchase, they have created a sustainable enterprise that can really change lives.

I’ve just bought my pair online at the Bobs4Good website and challenge you to do the same. They ship internationally and it offers you an opportunity to get some stylish shoes while putting a sole under the feet of a South African child who will think of you every time he walks to school.

Are you in the zone?

Getting into flow
Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi grew up in Europe and was a child of ten when world war II ended. His experience caused him to grapple with the question of what makes people happy. He had witnessed a whole generation whose life, work, homes and security were destroyed by war. He wanted to understand what made life worth living.

In this unassuming video, he talks about his life work which has become about understanding and measuring when people are in flow. In sport we might call this ‘The Zone’ or ‘The Field’ and it applies as much to business as it does on the sports field.

You may know it as that experience when times seems to fly by, you have more energy upon completion of what you are doing that when you started and you feel an absence of self consciousness. It is the perfect space for performing at your best.

Mihaly explains why money cannot make us happy and shows us the ingredients for getting into flow or into the zone.

The Barack Obama strategy

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

It is fair to say that Barack Obama took the world by storm, not only with his message of hope for America but also the way that he went about his campaign. In addition to the execution of his campaign strategy, he stepped into the forefront at exactly the right time. America and the world had reached the tipping point in their tolerance of the Bush government and he offered something which was a breath of fresh air in comparison.

This was certainly not the only reason that his strategy got himself elected. In order to get into the game he needed to defeat Hilary Clinton in the primaries which was possibly more difficult that beating John McCain to the White House.

In this short video David Plouffe. Barack’s campaign manager gives an overview of their campaign strategy in June 2008, 5 months before the election. Not only do you get a strong sense of clarity around their approach, but also of the many challenges, money being one of them, which they needed to overcome.

Gary Kirsten on his strategy to get India to #1

India Coach Gary Kirsten
India Coach Gary Kirsten

I caught up with my partners Gary Kirsten & Paddy Upton last night on the eve of their historic win over South Africa yesterday. The game confirmed India’s position as the top cricket test playing nation. I wanted to pick their brains on strategy.

Dale Williams
You’ve now been with Indian cricket for two years, what has your strategy been?

Gary Kirsten & Paddy Upton:
Gary had good ideas on cricket strategy, which he presented at our first meeting with the Indian team two years ago. It “did not land”. Indians saw things differently, and we felt stuck before we started.

So we asked the team, who had about a 50% win ratio, what had  worked for them in terms of preparation and on-field performance. We collated ‘what’s already working’ to become the initial TEAM strategy, which the players found agreeable.

Our COACHING strategy was then to build relationships and trust, to get to know players and understand the Indian way. We asked questions and listened more than speaking, enquiring about players’ families, their past and the things that were important to them. Only with their trust could we have any influence.

Did you set out to be #1?

The team goal was to become the best team in the world, which we referred to seldom. The focus remained on the things we needed to do on a daily basis to get us there.

Key factors included ‘studying the whole book for the exam’ or, leaving no stone unturned in our preparation, having a good dressing-room atmosphere, focusing on what was going well and on solutions.

Players were encouraged to express themselves their way, in an environment that was void of criticism or punishment. Low performances were almost never addressed on the day when emotions were inevitably high, but were discussed in a calm learning environment after the game. Meetings were few and short, and we did things other differently to what is typical in the world of cricket.

Difficult decisions were often made collaboratively.

Where to from here?

Since realising our goal of becoming No 1, we continue to affirm the things that we did to get us there, and continue to ask “what more can we do?”

Every team we play against is plotting our downfall, so our thinking needs to stay ahead of theirs.  Going forward, we have the 2011 World Cup in our sights, which gives us nearly twelve months to prepare to win.

Swimming with the sharks

Swimming with sharksStrategy is about gaining a unique position.


Often strategy is mistakenly focused on the next steps that are needed such as “open new markets”, “expand into China” or “build a strong brand”. These are objectives and are only part of the strategy rather than the strategy itself.

A simple test for your strategy is, does my strategy describe how I/we become unique or maintain our unique position?

Examples of great descriptions of strategies for businesses are, ‘the only Hong Kong wine merchants of Chilean wine*’ or ‘the largest art auctioneers in the Czech Republic’.

Examples of great descriptions of personal strategy are, ‘the most prolific adventure sports writer’ or ‘the first African in space’.

The way to check your strategy is to ask if you are the only one in the world who has your strategy. If not, then what’s the point? You’re swimming with the sharks and climbing into water where there is probably already a feeding frenzy. You may as well go and work for the other guy who has your strategy already.

Marty Neumeier best describes having a unique strategy in his book Zag (when everyone else is zigging you need to zag).  W.Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne take a more academic approach in Blue Ocean Strategy. You’ll find a short video summary of the book on the Incredible Strategies page.

* When your strategy gets copied this position will move to ‘The first Hong Kong wine merchants…’

Photo: Source Mike Berceanu Photographs Sharks

What Apple and Vida e Caffè have in common

If you were to start a business tomorrow how would you approach your strategy? Would you follow the traditional analytical approach? Analyzing environments? Analyze customers’ needs and competitors to see what they are doing?

This all seems to make sense and it misses a key component. Good taste.

The strategy that satisfies potential customers, finds a niche with the competitors and will work in the current environment is often so watered down and lowest common denominator by the time it gets out the door that it goes nowhere.

Asked about choosing strategy, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs says*, “We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants. The only consultants I’ve ever hired in my 10 years is one firm to analyze Gateway’s retail strategy so I would not make some of the same mistakes they made [when launching Apple’s retail stores]. But we never hire consultants, per se. We just want to make great products.

“When we created the iTunes Music Store, we did that because we thought it would be great to be able to buy music electronically, not because we had plans to redefine the music industry.”

This struck me as very similar to the conversation I had with Rui Esteves who along with Brad Armitage founded the very successful Vida e Caffè coffee chain in South Africa. “We wanted to build a place that we would like to visit to have coffee”, he said, “Good quality coffee and food in a special environment.”

They did no research, no environmental analysis and no picture of the competitive landscape. They built something using their best taste and worked hard.

Both Vida e Caffè and Apple stand as beacons of success proving that there is at least one alternative to following the text book approach when strategizing a new business.

The lesson, follow your own sense of taste about what would make an incredible product.

When I spoke with Rui, we were sitting in his new venture &Union, a beer salon which is the retail face of of he and Brad’s new business Cervejas São Gabriel. The design of the beers and the salon? “Made of the type of healthy things we think are important,” says Rui.

Switching back to Apple, I’ve included a video where Steve Jobs walks us through the first Apple Store before it opened showing what he thinks is important in a retail computer store. How many companies the size of Apple have a CEO who dictates as much of their own taste into their products (and in this case store)?

So the thing that Apple and Vida e Caffè have in common, is the founders good taste, which I happen to agree is, well, good taste.

What other examples do you have of companies with good taste?

* Fortune magazine March 2008

The worlds #1 blogger

Seth Godin has a very simple strategy for his business of being an author, speaker and publishing the world’s #1 marketing blog. As with most great strategies, there is lots underneath it but at the top level it can be explained simply as focusing on ‘doing what he does best’.

For his blog he writes short, relevant and opinionated pieces (sometimes more than once a day). They are quick reads and instant gratification to people wanting to keep on top of the world of marketing, which is his specialty.

He is able to do what he recommends all good marketers do, create something that people want to talk about, every day.

On the Incredible Strategies page I’ve included a a video from outside the TED conference where he talks about his strategies and some of the people who get it right. You’ll be interested to hear why he doesn’t do Twitter nor Facebook. His reason, he wants to be a meaningful specific rathar than a wondering generality.

Facebook vs MySpace – The writing’s on the wall

Looks like MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta ran out of options. I think if I was him I may have run out too.

Inside News Corp (who own MySpace) he has less room to move than independent Mark Zuckenberg of Facebook (who have sold only 1.6% of their business to Microsoft).

Earlier this week Jon Miller (the Newscorp Chief Digital Officer) fired Van Natta in favour of his two more recent appointees COO Mike Jones and Chief Product Officer Jason Hirschhorn.

But that’s all boardroom maneuvers of an obviously troubled company which is showing stagnant growth compared to its main competitor Facebook. (The stats tell the story

Besides the stats, there are a number of key strategic reasons why Facebook will make MySpace more and more irrelevant:

  1. MySpace within a corporate will never be as hungry as independent Facebook
  2. Facebook makes it easier for others to write applications for users
  3. The user demographic of FB has more legs (older and more professional)
  4. The FB user interface is more understandable (although less creative)
  5. Big gets bigger much much easier than small gets bigger

Crucially the advertising deal that MySpace has with Google is up for renewal in Aug 2010 and based on performance is likely to dramatically change and reduce revenues.

Will this cause another loop in the death spiral of MySpace? And what of Google’s Buzz launched last week?

Jeremy Owyang did a useful analysis of the situation.