27 09 2011

While most people know Cowan Global as a strategy consultancy, few realise that we also support charity by coming up with, designing and launching new fund-raising events.

We are very proud to be working with the Royal British Legion on the launch of The Poppy Run on 30th October this year when there will be a number of Poppy Runs dotted around England. In future years we anticipate The Poppy Run growing in size so that by 2015 everyone in the country will have a Poppy Run close to where they live.

The Poppy Run is new national series of 5km fun runs, open to all, which aims to raise funds and awareness for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. You don’t need to be super fit to take part; whether you run it, jog it, walk it or even crawl it is not important as long as you do it!

If you don’t live close to one of our 2011 venues, you can still support the Poppy Run by visiting the Poppy Run store (coming soon) which will stock a range of Poppy themed items for you to show your support.

2011 saw the last surviving British soldier from the Great War pass away and it sees the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion and of the Poppy Appeal. The intervening years have seen countless soldiers, sailors and airman risk and sometimes lose their lives so we could enjoy our freedom.

Iraq is still fresh in our minds and our troops are still serving in Afghanistan. And it is not just military personnel that the Royal British Legion supports, it is their families too.

We don’t think it is asking too much to ask people to give up a Sunday morning in October to run, jog or walk 5km. As we say, Run To Give For Those Who Gave; it’s a small effort and a very easy way to say ‘thanks’.

Visit The Poppy Run website here

Enter The Poppy Run here

Contact The Poppy Run here

Follow The Poppy Run:

Twitter: @poppyrun

Facebook: @ThePoppyRun

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2011

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


23 09 2011

Former Sports Minister Richard Caborn has hit out at “disastrous” results  in the drive to boost sports participation on the back of the London Olympics.  In doing so, he once again highlights the myth of the promised Olympic legacy  and the failure of successive governments (his own included) to plan properly  for its provision.

Speaking on the BBC, Caborn says that  Sport England’s aim of increasing participation by one million is facing “complete failure” before going on to  say; “The  Olympics will be a spectacular success but we are not capitalising on that. We  are in danger of failing completely on the long-term sporting legacy of the  Games. There needs to be a major change of direction in the strategy on this if  the disastrous decline experienced by many of the sports is to be reversed.

Sport  England’s ‘Active People Survey’ supports Caborn’s position showing that since  2007/8 only nine sports have seen an increase in participation while 21 have  seen a decline. The reality is likely far worse with athletics being reported  by Active People to be one of the nine growth sports while independent analysis  of participation in the sport suggests the opposite is true. Athletics is the  only sport to have received independent analysis of its reported figures.

However,  where Caborn calls for “a major change of  direction in the strategy” what is he actually asking for?

It was  Richard Caborn who was the Minister for Sport when, in 2005, London won the  right to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in 2012. It was at  this time that the target of one million more participants was set by him but  no strategy (worthy of the name) was ever presented for public consumption by  Caborn’s department. Instead a series of initiatives were launched in the hope  that they would support the stated aim.

Caborn  told the BBC that in 2008 it was decided that Sport England should merely fund  governing bodies instead of involving local authorities and regional sports  councils in boosting participation. Sport England insist that is not the case.

Of  course, it should be remembered that Sport England’s primary role is to support  government policy via the distribution of Lottery cash and therefore the  government and Sport England are not that separate.

The fact  is that both are right. Caborn’s successor as Minister for Sport, James  Purnell, decided that the governing bodies (NGBs) should play a larger role in  raising sports participation. Sport England were briefed to change ‘strategy’  to reflect this and agencies like the County Sports Partnerships were, as a  result briefed by Sport England to focus more closely on working with NGBs.  This did not stop them also working with local authorities, education, health  and others, it was the prioritisation of such partners which changed.

Purnell  did not stay long at the DCMS but for the remainder of its life the last  government continued on a policy of ‘initiativeitis’, a term coined by Tory  Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson, in place of one involving proper strategy  aimed at the integrated development of sport.

When the  Conservatives won the election, Robertson lambasted initiativeitis and  promised to deliver the missing strategy. That was in May of last year and yet we  still await the strategy while initiativeitis continues unchecked.

But what  of one million new participants in sport? Caborn is right when he says the aim  will not be delivered but he has missed an important fact; no one is trying to  deliver it anymore. In an interview with The  Guardian newspaper on 29th March (and reported in this blog) the  Olympics Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that the previous government’s target  had been quietly dropped by the present government shortly after the election.

What the  revised target may be we don’t know. What the strategy for achieving the  revised target may be is also unknown. The sad fact is that despite promising  to the world that a legacy from hosting the Games in London would be an  increase in the participation in sport, no one in government has yet seen fit  to produce a strategy (worthy of the name) to deliver on that promise.

When  Caborn calls for “a major change of  direction in the strategy” what he should be asking for is a strategy  designed to deliver on our promise to the world however the evidence of the  past and of governments of both hues does not suggest we should be getting too  optimistic.

Speaking on BBC  London yesterday, Hugh Robertson reminded us that no other host nation has ever  managed to achieve the feat of raising participation through hosting the Games,  something we knew already and something which the bid presentation in 2005  pointed out, telling the world that Britain would deliver.

Not  without a strategy we won’t and time is fast running out!

More from Cowan Global on the Olympic Legacy issue:

Initiative-it  is – A Welcome End?

Initiative-it  is Returns Before It Had Even Left

Is It Initiative-it is? The Minister Says Not

The Public Funding Of Sport And A Legacy From 2012

How Government Policy (Past & Present) Undermines Our Children’s Future

School Sports Partnership Likely U-Turn Begs The Bigger Question

Sports Strategy Still Absent While Initiative-it is Continues Unchecked

School Sports U-Turn Further Evidence That The Government Lacks Strategy

Legacy Or Smokescreen?

Now The Stadium Is Decided Can We Please Debate The Legacy?

The Clock Finally Stops For The Promised Legacy

Olympic Legacy Report Is Right – But For The Wrong Reasons

Sky Sports News On Legacy – Not Such A Special Report

© Jim Cowan, Cowan  Global Limited, September 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal


20 09 2011

Blue Ocean Strategy is not for everyone, it requires a special set of skills and abilities. But for those who have them, identifying the Blue Ocean and swimming towards it can be great news for business…..

Much within corporate strategy hinges on either the development of or the protection of competitive advantage. You have a strategy and the strategy seeks to exploit ways in which you have an advantage over those in the sector with whom you compete.

In some sectors this is becoming harder and harder, it is becoming difficult to differentiate in over crowded market places and bland conformity appears to be winning out (or at least that is the impression given).

In 2004 W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne defined this crowded market place as the ‘Red Ocean’ – the known market place, limited and bitterly fought over. Kim and Mauborgne proposed that there is another place in which to do business, the ‘Blue Ocean’ – the unknown and uncontested market space. Blue Ocean Strategy was born.

But the Blue Ocean isn’t for everyone. First and foremost it requires you to be innovative, without innovation you are not going to be able to swim away from the Red Ocean to the clear waters where competition no longer lurks.

What does a successful Blue Ocean Strategy look like? Think of Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque du Soleil was created in 1984, before anyone had even coined the term Blue Ocean Strategy. The circus trade was dying. It couldn’t compete with the growing number of alternative leisure activities available to children and animal rights protesters were beginning to win the battle to ban performing animals.

Competitive advantage was sought by having bigger big tops, more famous clowns, more grandiose shows but the public wasn’t being fooled; it was still the same show in (slightly) different clothes.

It would appear to be an act of lunacy, of corporate suicide to decide to enter this marketplace but that is what Cirque du Soleil did. However, instead of competing in the overcrowded Red Ocean, they innovated, they created a whole new market for circus performers.

Instead of children they targeted adults, instead of big tops they used theatres and vast indoor venues, instead of being the same as everyone else they found ways not only to differentiate but to operate in new markets. Suddenly adults were queuing up to go to the circus and were happy to pay a lot more money for the privilege!

The key is to mix innovation with the identification of ignored or unchartered waters in the way Cirque du Soleil did. When identifying the Blue Ocean so clearly twenty years after the advent of Cirque du Soleil, Kim and Mauborgne were also kind enough to provide a kind of handbook with four guiding principles:

1. Reconstruct market boundaries.

It sounds obvious but instead of continuing to hunt in the same crowded waters, look for where the competition isn’t operating. This might be among users in place of purchasers, it might be an ignored demographic, it could even be in service as oppose to product sales. Try anticipating rather than following trends, identify the emotional appeal over the practicality.

2. Think ‘big picture’.

Yes, (good) strategy should always do this anyway but in reality many corporate strategies have become bogged down in budgets and spreadsheets. They over-rely on historical data and give too little consideration to common sense and intuition. When looking to the future think blank canvas; think what could we do?

3. Look beyond existing demand.

Don’t only look at existing customers, look at non-customers. How can they become new and repeat customers? Cirque du Soleil did it by taking the circus to adults in adult venues. Calloway Golf found out that many of their ‘non-customers’ didn’t like playing golf because hitting the ball was too difficult and so designed a club with a bigger head.

4. Get the strategic sequence right.

If the answer to any of the following questions is ‘no’ you need to rethink your strategy:

  • Buyer utility – does your idea offer exceptional buyer utility (not the same as exceptional technology)?
  • Price – does your pricing make you accessible to the mass of buyers?
  • Cost – can you hit your cost target and make a profit at your strategic price?
  • Adoption – Have you identified and are you addressing the hurdles to adoption up front?

The Blue Ocean is not for everyone but for those who are innovative and who can see a big picture it does offer opportunity. A word of warning though, just because your new ocean was blue does not mean it will always stay blue. When Karl Benz invented a replacement for the horse-drawn carriage he was swimming from the red ocean to the blue. When Henry Ford saw the opportunity to mass produce and popularise the automobile he was doing the same. But no one today would suggest that either Mercedes-Benz or Ford operate in Blue Oceans!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2011

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


15 09 2011

No, not that sort of showing off, the sort of showing off that involves offering free help and advice to businesses, the sort that comes with attending Antenna’s ‘Show Off’ Event in Nottingham next Monday (19th September). Want to know more? Then read on…..

Show Off at Antenna is a great new business advice and support event which takes place next Monday, 19th September between 10.00 and 17.00.

It involves over thirty specialist companies offering their time and their expertise free of charge for the day with the idea of supporting other businesses. Companies offering support are from a wide range of specialisms, there is bound to be something on offer which will benefit your business and, for one day only, you don’t have to pay!

Cowan Global are offering a drop-by strategy surgery where we will chat about all things strategy for anyone who wants to ‘drop-by’. What sort of things will we be covering? Well, that’s up to you, it’s about the advice you need. Topics might range from how effective your strategy is to do you even need a strategy? We might help you clear up the confusion between your business plan and your company strategy – and the function of both.

Those are the obvious things for strategy consultant to cover but don’t forget the less obvious. For example, do you tender for public contracts? If so, have you considered the strategies and policies you might need in place if you are to be successful? Increasingly environmental policies and ethics strategies are being requested, not forgetting your health and safety policy.

Public tenders will also require a policy on equality. A lot of businesses view the Equality Act (2010) as yet more red tape but it is to your advantage to understand it and act on it, not just because the law says so but because it is good for business to do so. How? Drop by and see us at Show Off at Antenna on Monday and we shall explain!

Antenna is on Beck Street, Nottingham NG1 1EQ. Tel: 0115 993 2350. Email: Web:

We hope to see you there!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2011

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


12 09 2011

Much of the information that is available, whether printed word or online, to those seeking to learn how to better develop strategies tends to refer to what strategists term, ‘Vision-Based Strategy’ falsely giving the impression that all strategy should be vision based.

If all in the garden is rosy, this might be the case however reality does have a habit of throwing up problems which side-track us from our vision. When this happens, what do we do with strategy?

Ever since H. Igor Ansoff’s ‘Corporate Strategy’ (1965) popularised the concept of business strategy to a wider audience, strategy has evolved at an incredible pace with numerous models, theories, versions and methods arriving (and frequently departing).

How many different models of strategy are there? Probably over 1000 and, as in many other areas of life, some are good, many are mediocre, most lag behind or have fallen by the wayside.

It sounds confusing but it doesn’t need to be. Fundamentally nearly all of the successful models fall into one of two camps.

Model One; Vision-Based Strategy (aka Goals-Based Planning)

This will be the more familiar model to most working in and with strategy. It is ‘vision-based’ in that it defines the future before working (planning) back to the present by defining specific objectives that will need to be achieved against a set timescale if the Vision is to become reality.

These objectives will typically be specific (e.g. to increase profit margins on ‘product X’ by 10% by the end of the next four years). Actions will be attached to each goal clarifying the what, when, why, where, who and how to each objective.

A good Vision-Based Strategy will consider both external and internal factors, clearly identify organisational priorities and utilise both historical intelligence and analysis of current factors. In looking to the future, consideration will be given to informed forecasts, intuition and common sense.

Vision-Based Strategy tends to be longer term planning, certainly longer than 3 years with sounder models looking 10-12 years ahead although it should be noted that this will be subdivided into strategic planning cycles (frequently 3-5 years in duration).

Model Two; Issues-Based Strategy

This model will be less familiar to many although that is not to say it doesn’t have its place.

With Issue-Based Strategy we begin with the present and Work (plan) forward to the future. As the name suggests, it is typically used to identify issues faced by the organisation and work them forward toward solutions.

Common practice is to identify issues as questions (e.g. “how will we recruit our Board of Trustees?” or “how will we address the shortfall in expected funding?”) Action plans are then compiled describing the what, when, why, where, who and how required to address each issue.

Although this model can be used to address external factors it is more commonly utilised to focus on internal matters and the establishing of strong internal structures and systems.

Issue-Based Strategy tends to the shorter term, typically one year and never more than three. It is generally beneficial for young organisations, those facing critical current issues and/or those with far less resource (e.g. personnel or funding) than is required for its desired development. Generally, through sound Issue-Based Strategy, once issues have been addressed organisations will emerge stronger and then benefit from more Vision-Based planning.

The Hybrid Model

It is possible for a Vision-Based Strategy to incorporate Issue-Based planning. For example, if short-term, unpredicted problems arise while working towards a longer term vision it will make little sense to ‘bin’ a Vision-Based Strategy which is otherwise delivering. Far wiser to incorporate into it Issue-Based planning designed to address and solve the problem so delivery of the longer term vision stays on course.

Don’t overcomplicate it

As stated earlier, since 1965 there have probably been over 1000 different models of strategy of which those which have stood any test of time are based on either Vision or Issue.

Regardless of which model you are applying, it is worth remembering that at its most basic, strategy is about identifying and working through the challenges which hinder you from reaching your chosen destination. Challenges that can be predicted should be planned for via ‘Vision-Based’ thinking, those that can’t will likely require ‘Issue-Based’ thinking as and when they arise.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2011

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


4 09 2011

It is a way of thinking, a way of approaching challenges which I have long felt defines a healthy approach to the development of Vision-Based Strategy but for which I did not know there was a word. Then I came across the word ‘sceptimist’…..

Developing ‘Vision-Based Strategy’ requires a healthy mix of optimism in believing the long-term vision of better things to come and realism in believing it is achievable. It demands a desire to achieve better things while running those expectations through a constant checking process. It requires understanding of research and historical data balanced finely with intuition and common sense as to what the future might realistically bring.

Until now, for me, explaining and describing all of that (and more) could be quite a long handed process. It had to be, clients need to have positive expectations for the future but those expectations cannot be allowed to drift in a world of hopeless dreaming.

Today I was passed a copy of the September 2011 issue of ‘Psychologies Magazine’ with a post-it note on the cover suggesting I look up the ‘cool word’ on page 32. I flipped the pages and there it was:

“Word of the month; ‘Sceptimist’ – The best type of optimist; someone who’s positive about the future, but maintains a healthy sense of realism. Being able to hope for better things while keeping expectations in check is a great combination: you have the benefits of being an optimist, but are better prepared for and better able to cope with disappointment.”

It might not cover the full range of thought, but which of us who have worked in developing Vision-Based Strategy hasn’t at some stage felt the need for a single word to describe that healthy balance? Which of us hasn’t sceptimistically looked to creating a pathway to a brighter vision of the future sensibly tempered by expectations of reality?

It might not be perfect, but it is a very healthy mind-set for a Vision-Based strategist.

Be sceptimistic – I know I am!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal