29 12 2011

Every year is the same; depending on which survey you read somewhere over 70%, 80% or even 95% of all New Year’s Eve resolutions are doomed to fail. Where will yours stack up in that statistical pile? 

Here are a few tips to ensure this year your resolution becomes reality.

Here at Cowan Global we spend our time helping businesses become successful businesses by helping them be better at strategy. This means not only better at delivering strategy but in establishing challenging but achievable targets to pursue in the first place.

And every year, where so many businesses fall short of their potential (and even fail), most of the population follow. Every year people set targets (aka New Year’s Resolutions) they have absolutely no chance of delivering.

Key to your being successful in whatever you resolve to do in 2012 is to be smarter when you set your target now. By smarter, I mean SMARTER because it is an acronym you can test your resolution against:

S stands for specific. If you aren’t specific about what you want to achieve how can you honestly know when you have succeeded? “I want to lose weight,” simply won’t cut the mustard; “I want to lose half a stone” will. It is specific so that you know what it is you are setting out to achieve.

M stands for measurable. You need to be able to measure progress or you risk losing motivation. “I want to get fitter,” is a laudable aim but is hard to measure. “I want to be fit enough to run 5km without stopping” puts a measure on it and you can tick off 1, 2, 3 and 4 km as landmarks along the way to help keep you motivated.

A stands for agreed. If you are involving other people, they must all agree or you will fail. Beyond that people have a penchant for setting resolutions they think others will be impressed by instead of setting targets for themselves. Put another way, your resolution must be something that, deep inside, you agree you can and will pursue, you must agree your resolution with yourself! Half-hearted = half-arsed = doomed to fail.

R stands for realistic. You will know people (you might be one of them) who have big, often alcohol driven dreams every December 31st who wake on 1st January to realise there is no way on God’s earth they will achieve their resolution and it bites the dust before it sees its first sunset. Unrealistic can mean plain crazy (eg I’m going to swim the Atlantic using butterfly) or ill-conceived such as committing to hit the gym for two hours every day when you know that work and family commitments will make one hour every other day far more realistic.

T stands for time-phased. In short; give yourself a deadline and, if it is a large undertaking give yourself some time-phased check points along the way. So, if you are going to run to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for charity it might be wise to have some progressive targets along the way as you prepare.

E stands for exciting. Does achieving your resolution excite you? If yes, great; if no, bin it and get another because if you aren’t excited by it now the further we get into 2012 the less you will be motivated to achieve it and that will lead to only one thing – failure.

R stands for recorded. Not just a record for yourself but a public record to which you agree to be accountable. This might be as simple as telling your friends you are going to raise over £1000 for your favourite charity or it might be sharing your progress towards fitness, weight loss, giving up smoking or whatever else on a public blog. By recording what your resolution is you make yourself accountable for failure.

There are other acronyms you can employ. If you are aiming to improve at something you already do try CRAMP. Your resolution will need to be Challenging but Realistic, Agreed and Measurable not forgetting Performance orientated. Of course, if you forget to make it measurable it becomes something else altogether!

Whether SMARTER, CRAMP or February wash out, thank you for reading the Cowan Global Blog during 2011, I’m looking forward to writing more in 2012 and hope you will join me then.

Have a great time on New Year’s Eve; see you the other side!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2011

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


23 12 2011

Here we are, Christmas rapidly approaching and, no doubt, Santa and his helpers are busy loading up their sleigh while the reindeer prepare at the pre-event Pasta Party. But are you aware that the scene you are probably picturing was aided by a very clever strategy early in the last century.

It is not widely appreciated that the original colour Santa chose for his work uniform was blue. Then along came Coca Cola with a Christmas advertising strategy which forever changed the colour of Christmas. The idea was simple, dress Santa in Coca Cola’s corporate colours thus making him an unofficial ambassador for the drinks company.

Within a few years, people had forgotten about Santa’s preferred blue hue and the whole world had adopted Coke’s new colour for Santa. Nowadays, Santa dresses in red – period. Coke still use him as part of their seasonal advertising, possibly one of the longest running celebrity endorsements in history, but the original campaign was so successful in changing Santa’s uniform that the link in colour scheme is no longer recognised.

Depending on whom you ask this story is true, a myth or a combination of the two. But it seems a nice little story of strategy changing the way we see Christmas through which I would like to wish everyone who subscribes to, reads or accidentally happens across the Cowan Global Blog a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

See you the other side!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2011

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Twitter @cowanglobal


18 12 2011

The last couple of weeks have seen two important reports published, neither of which has been linked to the other by media or politicians but which together add weight to my oft-repeated suggestion that far better vertical integration of strategy is demanded of our politicians and their quangos.

First came Cancer Research UK’s report telling us that 40% of all cancers are due to the lifestyle choices we all make. This was reported (correctly) as a ticking time bomb for the NHS and while it hasn’t really added anything to the body of knowledge on the subject, it did come as a timely reminder that lack of exercise and poor dietary choices have more downsides than just the thickening waistlines visible on every high street.

The second report was Sport England’s Active People survey which, although suggesting physical activity is slightly up did not provide evidence that the government and its agencies are in any danger of delivering the participation legacy promised to the world in 2005. (Add to that, that other than the figures for athletics, none of Active People’s reported figures have undergone independent scrutiny and those for athletics have been shown to be wildly over-exaggerated the picture is likely far worse).

In July last year Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson insisted a national strategy for the development of sport was in place. Following the announcement of the latest Active People figures he told Sky News that a strategy would be in place early next year. The apparent contradiction needs explanation and, further demonstrating poor understanding of strategy, neither has anyone in government yet explained how scrapping New Labour’s targets for participation but not replacing them gives any strategy (current, future or imagined) meaningful measures?

If DCMS is failing in its duty to honour the sporting participation legacy (and in providing any strategy at all for the development of sport) it should realise that has impact far beyond the world of sport and what Cancer Research UK’s report reminds them is that a healthier nation will require far less intervention from an NHS facing obesity and cancer (and other) time bombs in the future.

I pick on the DCMS but in general, strategy emanating from all government departments, where it exists, continues to be poor. And where it shows any degree of integrated thinking is limited to the horizontally integrated only. There is no evidence whatsoever of any of the vertically integrated strategy demanded to link (for example) the needs identified by Cancer Research UK’s research and the promises made for physical participation when securing the 2012 Olympic Games.

In tough economic times it should also not be overlooked that ensuring strategy is well-integrated vertically doesn’t only help to recognise broader (but related) issues and increase the likelihood of strategy being successful; vertically integrating strategy always offers far greater value and economy.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2011

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Twitter @cowanglobal


16 12 2011

Fund Raising Officer – East Midland Region (1 Year Fixed Term, although subsequent extension may be possible)

Salary: £23,085

Hours: Full Time Post – 35 hours per week  

The ASA is the National Governing Body for Swimming and its associated disciplines in England with its headquarters situated in Loughborough.

Applications are invited for the post of Fund Raising Officer – East Midland Region.

East Midland ASA is seeking to recruit an experienced Fundraising Officer. To be considered for this position you should be able to identify future funding streams, demonstrate the ability to establish, maintain and support relationships with potential sponsors, and pro-actively generate income for the Region and its partners.

The person should, ideally, be educated to degree level or equivalent, have previous experience of raising income through grant applications and sponsorship, have experience within a charity or the third sector and possess excellent written and oral communication skills. An ability to develop relationships with partners within and outside the organisation is essential as you will be liaising with people at all levels. The successful candidate must be able to work on their own initiative and as part of a team.

An understanding of the structure of aquatics and the needs of teachers, coaches, volunteers and swimmers at all levels would be desirable.  Location for the postholder is flexible.

The ASA is committed to diversification of its work force and welcomes applications from all sections of the community.  The ASA is committed to being an equal opportunities employer. We currently hold the Foundation and Preliminary levels of the Equality Standard and are working towards the Intermediate Level.

The successful applicant will be subject to an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau Check and reference checks.

The closing date for applications is:  Monday, 16th January 2012

Interviews to be held: Thursday, 26th January 2012

For an informal discussion please contact Roger Glithero, Regional Director on 07887 526054.  To obtain further details about this post please email  or write to The Personnel Department, ASA, SportPark, Loughborough, Leicestershire, LE11 3QF.

Visit the ASA East Midlands website.

Please do not contact Cowan Global about this vacancy, please contact the ASA as outlined above.


10 12 2011

Last week, following Jacques Delors’ criticism of the flawed process behind the creation of the Euro, I looked at how solving the Eurozone Crisis was being handicapped by an absence of sound leadership and good strategy. The article (The Eurozone Crisis – The Management of the Continuation of Mediocrity by the Unaware) closed with the following paragraph:

“Where will we end up? Eventually the flawed structure will be patched up; fear or dire circumstance will eventually force it. The word strategy will continue to be employed without being fully comprehended and future strategy will be hampered by the requirement to be force fit to structure. Managers will manage resources advised by economists while leaders and strategists ponder (and write about) what might have been.”

Unfortunately, for both the Eurozone and the UK, I fear I may have been proved right far earlier than I envisaged.

After a week of frantic activity by Europe’s top politicians (read ‘managers’) have we moved on from where we were this time last week? Depending on which part of the UK media you read, listen to or watch the answer is “yes,” “no” or “maybe.” The more that media tends to the liberal the more Friday’s events were a disaster for Britain while the more right leaning are trumpeting a triumph for the Bulldog!

Of course, all these views come with political bias and/or varying degrees of nationalistic pride. Setting all of that aside, what is this strategist’s view of events which, let us not forget, had been billed as the fight to solve the Eurozone Crisis and/or the battle to protect Britain’s interests (viewpoint depending)?

Starting with the Eurozone Crisis, quite clearly what was required was an issue-based strategy which would address the mountain of national debt threatening to swamp the continent. The issue was urgent and needed addressing now as a precursor to setting a course to the future. Indeed, without addressing the current, there might not be a future.

What we have is a structural solution to a strategic problem. The issue has largely been ignored, instead ‘the management’ deciding to address the future first and then not in strategy terms but by yet again defining the structure future strategy would be forced to fit (did none of them hear Delors’ warning?).

When Europe’s current management talk of saving the future of the Euro they overlook one small but somewhat pressing matter; the Eurozone Crisis! They have forgotten to address the issue that required addressing.

Of course, why would you believe a solitary strategy consultant when 26 heads of state and the UK’s media are telling you otherwise? Good question. I might turn to the UK media for a view but, as explained above, that view is tainted by whichever set of political goggles they wear. Instead, let’s take a view from outside Europe, from the New York Times:

At the meeting, member governments agreed to raise up to $270 billion (£173 billion) that could be used by the International Monetary Fund to aid indebted European governments, and they moved up the date that a European rescue fund would come into operation. But the sums involved fell well short of what many investors and some Obama administration officials have argued are needed to ensure the survival of the Euro. Administration officials on Friday welcomed the long-term overhaul of the Eurozone’s rules, but argued that stronger measures were needed in the short run.”

If the US administration is underwhelmed, perhaps it might prove useful to put their view and the value of that £173 billion into perspective. For that, let’s stay away from polarised European views and listen to Bloomberg News:

“What worries many is the size of the Eurozone debts that must be refinanced early next year. Eurozone governments have to repay more than €1.1 trillion, nearly $1.5 trillion (£0.94 trillion), of long- and short-term debt in 2012, with about €519 billion, or $695 billion (£443 billion), of Italian, French and German debt maturing in the first half alone.”

It appears that by overlooking current (issue-based) strategic need in the headlong rush to define a structure for the future, Europe’s managers (I can’t use the word ‘leaders’) have protected the future while forgetting the present. They have sought a fix for the future of the Euro but not for the current Eurozone Crisis.

This view must sound like we should be getting out the champagne and applauding David Cameron for saving the day for the UK. As suggested in last week’s blog, he has managed the UK’s interests but, as also suggested in last week’s blog, he has continued to overlook leadership and strategy. He has taken the opposite approach to Europe’s managers and addressed today but with little sign he has considered tomorrow.

It is not my intention to take a pro or anti Europe stance in this blog, instead I intend to look at the Prime Minister’s position and where it places us.

It has been suggested that the Prime Minister’s stance has been all about protecting the City of London; that he represents and therefore protects the interests of bankers ahead of all others. I can’t speak for Cameron’s motivation however the stark fact is that 11% of all the UK exchequer’s tax revenue is raised via the City. For the Prime Minister not to have protected that would have been foolhardy indeed.

Rightly or wrongly the UK economy currently relies on financial services to keep it afloat. For the PM to manage the UK’s best interests he had to protect that part of our economy. This is no different to France’s veto on agriculture, Spain’s on fishing and the way Germany might react had the auto trade been under threat. The managers gathered in Brussels to manage their own national interest.

But my praise for our government’s stance stops there. If the Banking Crisis of 2008 and the Eurozone Crisis of 2011 have taught us one thing and one thing only, it is that we would be foolish to believe we can rely on the financial sector to support our economy forever. And where the managers of ‘the 26’ appear to have overlooked their need for issue based strategy to address the present, ‘the 1’ (the UK) appears to have overlooked the need for any vision based strategy aimed at diversifying British industry and at reducing our over-reliance on a single sector.

Any board room worth its salt will have seats for the manager, the economist, the leader and the strategist and as long as the governments of the UK and Europe continue to ignore the latter two, their electorate have the right to wonder, “where is all this ‘management of interests’ taking us?

I repeat my oft stated message; there are four seats at the top table and while two remain unoccupied any solution offered will only ever be political. It will continue to be the management of the continuation of mediocrity by the unaware.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2011

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Twitter @cowanglobal


7 12 2011

Today’s BBC TV programme ‘Rip-Off Britain’ has rightly highlighted the damaging effects on business of low Broadband speeds. These low speeds, usually in rural areas, can seriously undermine the potential a business has for success. The issue also impacts on domestic users and has been recognised by the government who are investing £530m to address the problem. In the meantime we have sympathy with these customers as they are ripped-off with charges relating to far better service than they receive.

But what the ‘Rip-Off Britain’ programme also highlighted without being aware of it, is how not doing your homework can have a drastic effect on the success or otherwise of your business.

This blog recently highlighted how investing a small amount of money in the services of a good strategy consultant could have saved a Reading baker their whole year’s profits. What the Rip-Off Britain programme did was highlight how not getting your research right can seriously undermine your business’s health. Some might say it’s common sense, which is easy to say in hindsight, but the obvious is not always so obvious in advance.

Living and working in London, Martin and Diane Verlaine were successful people but, as Diane explained to the BBC, they were like ships passing in the night and they feared that if they didn’t change something all their endeavours would benefit only the tax man on their passing.

So Martin and Diane decided on setting up a holiday cottage business and they bought a beautiful cottage in Devon and left the rat race but are now far from happy. Why?

Slow broadband speeds are having a negative impact on business. Diane (a former IT Project Manager) would like to keep all their IT ‘in house’ but is having to outsource sales and booking because rural Devon’s broadband isn’t up to the task. Furthermore, the slow connection speeds upset guests who are used to faster connection at home.

Martin explained; “I don’t think we thought, with having lived in London and other towns, that to have such a slow broadband connection was something that we needed to take into consideration. I don’t think that we believed that it wasn’t a problem that there wasn’t a solution for.”

Frankly (and I know this sounds harsh), he could have stopped at; “I don’t think we thought.” How often do you hear the excuses from underperforming businesses that start with, “we didn’t think…?”

I have sympathy with businesses who are suffering because they are located in slow broadband areas. Something must be (and is) being done. There is an exception to how far my sympathy goes; those who chose to move to such areas even after the slow broadband speeds were known; they are not victims of slow broadband they are victims of their own poor strategic planning.

Whether it is a bakery investigating a Groupon offer, a holiday cottage business requiring good broadband or designing rockets to send people to Mars it is folly to put your business at risk by not undertaking the research which can make the difference between success, mediocrity and failure.

Business owners have their areas of expertise; strategy consultation is rarely part of that skill set; that is where Cowan Global and businesses like ours come in. You are passionate about your business and your products or services, we are passionate about helping businesses become successful businesses. Yes we charge, so do you for your cupcakes, holiday cottages or rocket-science. But what we sell offers you medium to long-term business viability and ultimately success.

It’s your business. How successful do you want it to be?

View the 7th December episode of Rip Off Britain on iPlayer here (expiry date unknown).

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2011

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


5 12 2011

Today we are handing the Cowan Global Blog over to Cerebral Palsy Sport (or CP Sport as they are usually referred to). We love what they do and we hope you will too…….

Hello, my name is Cambell, I am 15 and I have cerebral palsy.

I am asking for your help this Christmas, and here’s why…

I remember when I was younger my disability made my life very difficult for me to do all the things normal kids do. My friends didn’t really understand me. I couldn’t join in. People were always looking at me differently. I felt inadequate.

When I was eight, I found CP Sport. They gave me a sporting chance – focusing on my ability and not my disability. With the help of their friendly and experienced coaches I learnt to swim.  With the support of my parents and CP Sport I am now swimming confidently and I am part of an elite disability swimming club, winning medals on a regular basis – it’s great!

I’ve been swimming for over seven years now but I didn’t stop there. I also gave athletics a go. In fact I was such a good runner I broke the CP Sport junior record in the 100m when I first ran in the CP Sport Athletics Championships.

Being involved with CP Sport has changed my life in other ways too. I feel healthier, happier, more confident and independent and have lots of friends – including friends with cerebral palsy. It’s great to fit in.  Now I don’t always need to explain my disability. I can just be myself.

I feel very lucky and privileged to be involved with CP Sport. However I know there are still thousands of children with cerebral palsy throughout the country who are experiencing the same problems I faced when I was younger. Children with cerebral palsy need your help now if they are to have the same sporting chances as me.

This will only be possible with your help.

Thank you.


How to help

Please make a donation on the CP Sport Big Give Christmas Challenge Project web page at 10am on any day from Monday to Friday next week and whatever you give will turn into twice as much!

It is all part of the Big Give Christmas Challenge Week 2011 – an unmissable chance for you to double the value of your donation to CP Sport this festive season, making sure more children with cerebral palsy like Cambell can enjoy the life-changing benefits of participation and competition in sport at any level.

We can only achieve our £10,000 target if you can help us to raise £5,000 in donations next week.

If you want to be sure that your donation is doubled you need to do all three of the following.

  1. Make your donation via the dedicated weblink
  2. Make your donation on any day from Monday to Friday next week (5th to 9th December)
  3. Make your donation at 10am or as close as possible after 10am because limited doubling funds are available each day and once the allocation for that day has been used, no more donations will be doubled.

It is really important to realise that if you make your donation via any other webpage or means, on any other day, or too late in the day, your donation will not be doubled.

Please visit our website for more information to ensure your donation packs the maximum punch this Christmas.

For those of you living in  the nottingham area, we will be hosting a donation station at our office, so you can come in and get some help to make your on-line donation.

If you would like any additional information or advice on how to make your donation to the Big Give Christmas Challenge 2011, please call Jo on 0115 925 2620 or email