Category

Strategy

No One Will Ever Thank You for Keeping Prices Low

I was in a Board meeting last week (not Return Path’s), when one of my fellow directors came out with this gem:  “No one will ever thank us for keeping our prices low.” When I first heard this, as is the case with most great quotes, I was drawn to its wit and simplicity. But then I started thinking – is it true?  My mind first went to retail.  Having a reputation as being a low-cost provider can be in and of itself effective marketing – if that reputation is strong enough and your selection is wide enough, at least in retail-oriented industries, customers may consistently buy from you even if you’re not ALWAYS the low-cost provider.  Wal-Mart and Amazon…

Why You Won’t See Us Trash Talk Our Competition

We’ve been in business at Return Path for almost 18 years now.  We’ve seen a number of competitors come and go across a bunch of different related businesses that we’ve been in.  One of the things I’ve noticed and never quite understood is that many of our competitors expend a lot of time and energy publicly trash talking us in the market.  Sometimes this takes the form of calling us or our products out by name in a presentation at a conference; other times it takes the form of a blog post; other times it’s just in sales calls.  It’s weird.  You don’t see that all that often in other industries, even when people take aim at market leaders. During…

Book Short: Scrum ptious

Book Short:  Scrum ptious  I just finished reading Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, by Jeff Sutherland and JJ Sutherland. This reading was in anticipation of an Agile Facilitation training my executive team and I are going through next week, as part of Return Path’s  Agile Everywhere initiative. But it’s a book I should’ve read along time ago, and a book that I enjoyed. Sutherland gets credit for creating the agile framework and bringing the concept scrum to software development over 20 years ago. The book very clearly lays out not just the color behind the creation of the framework, and the central tenets of practice again, but also clear and simple illustrations of…

Luck Matters (and You Can Only Make Some of It)

Luck Matters ( and You Can Only Make Some of It) There was a great article recently in the Financial Times that’s worth reading here.  (Warning – you might have to complete a free registration in order to read this article.)  The premise is that most outliers, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term, achieve their super status at least partly through luck.  And once that status is achieved, the good things just pile on from there.  This concept is as much Gladwell’s as that term is. I always say that “you can make your own luck.”  And to some extent, that’s true.  Hard work and persistence and creativity can eventually open up doors on their own, no question about it.  While…

Learning Through Extremes, or Shifting Gears part II

OnlyOnce is 8 years old this week, which is hard to believe. So it is fitting that I got halfway through a new post this morning, then a little alarm bell went off in my head that I had written something similar before.  The topic is around moderation versus extremes.  I first wrote about this topic in 2005 in a post called Shifting Gears but I have thought about it more recently in a different way.  Instead of phrasing this as a struggle between “Meden Agan,” which is Greek for “everything in moderation,” and “Gor oder gornischt,” which is Yiddish for “all or nothing,” I’d like to focus here on the value of occasionally going to an extreme. And that…

Book Short: Awesome Title, So-So Book

Book Short:  Awesome Title, So-So Book Strategy and the Fat Smoker (book, Kindle), by David Maister, was a book that had me completely riveted in the first few chapters, then completely lost me for the rest.  That was a shame.  It might be worth reading it just for the beginning, though I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend the purchase just for that. The concept (as well as the title) is fantastic.  As the author says in the first words of the introduction: We often (or even usually) know what we should be doing in both personal and professional life.  We also know why we should be doing it and (often) how to do it.  Figuring all that out is…

The Best Laid Plans, Part IV

The Best Laid Plans, IV I have had a bunch of good comments from readers about the three posts in this series about creating strategic plans (input phase, analysis phase, output phase).  Many of them are leading me to write a fourth post in the series, one about how to make sure the result of the plan isn’t shelfware, but flawless execution. There’s a bit of middleware that has to happen between the completion of the strategic plan and the work getting done, and that is an operating plan.  In my observation over the years, this is where most companies explode.  They have good ideas and capable workers, just no cohesive way to organize and contextualize the work.  There are…

The Best Laid Plans, Part III

The Best Laid Plans, Part III Once you’ve finished the Input Phase and the Analysis Phase of producing your strategic plan, you’re ready for the final Output Phase, which goes something like this: Vision articulation.  Get it right for yourself first.  You should be able to answer “where do we want to be in three years?” in 25 words or less. Roadmap from today.  Make sure to lay out clearly what things need to happen to get from where you are today to where you want to be.  The sooner-in stuff needs to be much clearer than the further out stuff. Resource Requirements.  Identify the things you will need to get there, and the timing of those needs – More…

The Best Laid Plans, Part II

The Best Laid Plans, Part II Once you’ve finished the Input Phase (see last week’s post) of producing your strategic plan, you’re ready for the Analysis Phase, which goes something like this: Assemble the facts.  Keep notes along the way on the input phase items, assemble them into a coherent document with key thoughts and common themes highlighted. Select/apply framework.  Go back to the reading and come up with one or more strategic frameworks.  Adapted them from the academic stuff to fit our situation.  Academic frameworks don’t solve problems on their own, but they do force you to think through problems in a structured way. Step back.  Leave everything alone for two weeks and try not to think about it. …

The Best Laid Plans, Part I

The Best Laid Plans, Part I One of my readers asked me if I have a formula that I use to develop strategic plans.  While every year and every situation is different, I do have a general outline that I’ve followed that has been pretty successful over the years at Return Path.  There are three phases — input, analysis, and output.  I’ll break this up into three postings over the next three weeks. The Input Phase goes something like this: Conduct stakeholder interviews with a few top clients, resellers, suppliers; Board of directors; and junior staff roundtables.  Formal interviews set up in advance, with questions given ahead.  Goal for customers: find out their view of the business today, how we’re…

Articulating the Problem is the First Step Toward Solving It

A while back, we were having some specific challenges at Return Path that were *really* hard to diagnose.  It was like peeling the proverbial onion.  Every time we thought we had the answer to what was going on, we realized all we had was another symptom, not a root cause.  We’re a pretty analytical bunch, so we kept looking for more and more data to give us answers.  And we kept coming up with, well, not all that much, besides a lot of hand-wringing. It wasn’t until I went into a bit of a cave (e.g., took half a day’s quiet time to myself) and started writing things down for myself that I started to get some clarity around the…