Our primary focus is simplicity. Clarity if you will. The reason for this singleminded approach (not to be confused with ‘narrow’), is that we believe there are many ways of solving the right problem; there are no ways of solving the wrong problem.


 Need an entertaining and insightful KEYNOTE ADDRESS?   Read Sid Peimer's profile here


Strategy is not a mystical science, not an art. It is the basis for persuasion. You will find no leaps of logic in our work, nor data that has no value. We are against the death penalty by PowerPoint.


Definitions are helpful – they allow us to share a vocabulary which provides a common understanding from the get go. These are a select few – if you can connect with them, you can connect with us:



We like them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed. But sometimes it is simply what we need to get, or where we need to get to.



What you need to do to meet your objectives.



What you need to do to achieve your strategy.


(have you noticed the hierarchy above – objectives dictate strategies dictate tactics?)



Where you are, relative to other things, in the consumer’s mind.



An understanding that can be leveraged for a result in a certain dimension (time and space)


Our range of consulting services include:


  • Communication Strategies
  • Business Plans
  • Interim Strategic Management
  • Qualitative Consumer Research
  • Brand Optimisation
  • Repairing Esoteric Research with total commitment to branding that has no link to profitability. Brands are not objectives in their own right – they are just a means to shareholder wealth.

Some of the clients who have either received consulting services and/or attended training since 1994 include:



AAA School of Advertising








Bakgone Consultancy


Beachhead Media

Berry Bush BBDO

Black Sash

Blast Brand Catalysts




Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Caxton Magazines

Cell C



Creative Counsel

Creative Performance

Creative Zoo

Delirium Advertising

Department of Public Enterprise



Elevation Medical




Faction Media


Fine Healthcare



Four Pin Plug

Fuse Net Solutions

Hardy Boys




Hot Salsa Media

Idea Engineers

Imperial Bank Medical Finance

Indigo Marketing

Inroads Advertising

Inzalo Communications


Joe Public

Johannesburg University


King James


Legal Resource Centre

Leo Burnett,

Lesoba Difference

Lobedu Leo Burnett


Luci Ferin

McEwan Advertising

Media Assault

Media Shop



Metropolitan Republic

Mortimer Harvey

Mr. Delivery

MSC Business College


Naledi Media


Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University


Nine Yards Communications

Nkuzi Development Association

Now Media

Ogilvy Healthworld

Old Mutual


PR Worx


Promise Group



Radioheads and United Stations

Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust


SA Institute for Advancement

SA Institute for Security Studies

Saatchi & Saatchi


Singh & Sons

Spur Restaurants

Standard Bank


Strika Communications


Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute

TBWA Durban

The Media Connection


The Jupiter Drawing Room

Traffic Integrated

Troika Imagineering



University of Johannesburg

University of Pretoria

University of the Western Cape

University of the Witwatersrand

Visuals & Interactives

Volcano Advertising

Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism



Stratplanning was established by Sid Peimer in 2004, and has provided training and consulting services to a host of clients


Our values are simple:

  • Curiosity – the drive to find out
  • Clarity – a clear understanding of the problem
  • Creativity – to provide a lucid, profitable and unique solution


All ancillary services are outsourced, ensuring a lean operation providing cost-effective solutions.


If you need a strategic plan or training in the essentials of strategy, new business pitching, consumer insights or presentation skills, contact us today.


Sid Peimer

Sid is the Indiana Jones of strategic planning. His exploration into planning has covered fields far and wide, establishing him as one of South Africa’s most creative strategic thinkers. He has planned in virtually every category – from start-ups to blue chip; corporates to Government; private to NGO’s. He also has the privilege of having mentored and trained strategic planners who have made their mark in the industry today.


Sid began his career as a pharmacist with SA Druggists, and was soon appointed as the National Services Manager for the then 400 Link pharmacies. He changed direction shortly thereafter, choosing a more strategic and creative career, firstly with Grey Advertising, followed by WNA Medical and then Leo Burnett, where he emerged four years later as Strategic Planning Director for the subsidiary Red Nail. The brands he planned on included inter alia: Liberty Life, Chicken Licken, FedEx, Incredible Connection and Cadbury. He then joined Ogilvy Johannesburg, planning on SABMiller, Nestle and Iscor.


After leaving Ogilvy, he founded Stratplanning which later grew to become the full-service agency BEHP. After ten years dedicated to strategic planning and training, he was presented with a unique challenge – to serve as interim CEO for their client IFI – a food chemicals company and processing plant. As the CEO, he was met with the rigours of administration, finance, HR, production and marketing – all the disciplines that our clients face on a day to day business. A successor was groomed after three years and Sid then returned to his passion: strategy.

Sid has a particularly insightful approach to business, gained from his understanding of the entire distribution channel – from manufacturing to wholesale to retail to the consumer’s mind. His working life reads as somewhat of an adventure novel, covering many eclectic areas: strategic planner, shop assistant, door-to-door salesman, copywriter, creative director, national franchise manager, retail pharmacist, manufacturing pharmacist, laboratory assistant, professional actor, suntan sprayer, karate instructor, SARA-rated river guide and lecturer in marketing & consumer behaviour.


He is a popular speaker and trainer for both the private and NGO sectors, and has also been a frequent guest lecturer at UCT and Wits on the application of practical strategy – appreciated for both his keen insights and the entertaining way he delivers his message. He is the author of The Clear Win – Pitching for new business, the strategies that work; the myths that don’t – available on Amazon (only $1 on kindle!). He is also the author of Business for the New and the Free, which was prescribed by Damelin for their Business Enterprise course.


His sense of humour and affable nature come through clearly in the more than 50 articles published on Bizcommunity. Sid is qualified in Pharmacy and holds an MBA from the University of Cape Town. He lives in Cape Town, consulting and training on strategy.


info@stratplanning.com – 082 659 9167


Stratplanning, Milton Road, Sea Point, Cape Town
South Africa


Consulting and course content enquiries – Sid Peimer: +27 82 659 9167

Bookings – Zelda Lawson  +27 84 387 1901

NOTE: All fields marked with * are mandatory.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Hang on tight. This one day course will disrupt everything you thought you knew about strategy. You will discover a new perspective that will allow you to embrace strategy more fully, adding value and - dare we say - enjoying the process. This one-day course bridges the gap between the textbook and the boardroom table. This course does not conflict with existing proprietary planning methodologies, but the strategic principles you will learn on the course will (appreciably) augment the planning process you currently follow. Your thinking will be a lot more strategic. A lot.


Cape Town: Wednesday 9 April, 2014. UCT GSB Waterfront Campus.
Johannesburg: Wednesday 14 May, 2014. FNB Conference and Learning Centre, Sandown.


  • Account Executives/Managers/Directors who want to add      value to their clients’ business.
  • Strategic Planners with less than five years’      experience in the planning function (or seasoned planners who’d like a      fresh perspective).
  • Business Owners or Business Unit Directors.
  • Brand Custodians who wish to develop a greater      understanding of their brand’s strategic options.
  • Creatives who want to produce more impactful work that      is still ‘on strategy’.
  • Other Professionals who wish to evaluate a career in      Strategic Planning.
  • Entrepreneurs and anyone for which strategic planning      is a critical success factor.



The course is divided into modules incorporating all the skills required to master the four-step regimen required for effective strategic planning: extract-analyse-construct-communicate.

These modules do not run sequentially, but are built on throughout the two-day period. Please note there is no popping in for specific content.

 Content includes:

  • Loaded with case studies: LEGO – from near bankruptcy to stardom, iPod vs Walkman, Lion lager (don’t mention the beer), Zima, BN, TomTom, the Belgium Coke incident, Robin Hood and more…
  • The dissection of business strategies, marketing strategies and communication strategies
  • The (somewhat sordid) evolution of modern strategic planning
  • Strategic planning schools of thought
  • Vacansopapurosophobia
  • Kim's happy line and a little bit of Porter
  • Prahalad and Hamel's SICC
  • The crucial role of problem definition
  • The relationship between goals, objectives, strategies and tactics (untangling the mess)
  • Shopper Marketing - just a tad of a very hazy area - what's more important is the currency thereof
  • Why strategies are stories: Kamishibai
  • The inverted pyramid and other communication essentials to get your strategy across
  • Digital strategy (and why nothing has changed since Pompeii)
  • Deliberate, unrealised and emergent strategies
  • Occam’s Razor applied to: Consumer Based Brand Equity, Positioning and Segmentation
  • Insights
  • Sadistic statistics
  • When research goes horribly wrong
  • Brand ecosystems
  • Pitching for new business
  • Lessons from Dr Seuss

 Video image with title


The course is facilitated by Sid Peimer.

Sid is described as the Indiana Jones of strategic planning. He has planned in virtually every category - from start-ups to blue chip; from prescription drugs to FMCG. He has also mentored and trained strategic planners who have made their mark in the industry today. Sid qualified in pharmacy, but woke up with a jolt to discover the creative world of advertising. The agencies he worked for before establishing Stratplanning include Grey, Leo Burnett and Ogilvy. His life reads as somewhat of an adventure novel, covering many eclectic areas: shop assistant, CEO of a chemicals company, door-to-door salesman, copywriter, creative director, national franchise manager, retail pharmacist, manufacturing pharmacist, laboratory assistant, professional actor, suntan sprayer, karate instructor, SARA-rated river guide and lecturer in marketing & consumer behaviour. He is a popular speaker and trainer for both the private, academic and NGO sectors. He is the author of The Clear Win - Pitching for new business, the strategies that work; the myths that don't - available on Amazon (only $1 on kindle!).

He lives in Cape Town, consulting and training on strategy nationwide. He writes extensively for Bizcommunity.



For enquiries and registration, contact zelda@stratplanning.com or 084 387 1901
Cost includes lunch, teas, smoke breaks and all instruction materials.
Delegates need not bring anything – but if you are sending someone from your company please make sure they have gone over the syllabus in this mail so they have some idea of what to expect.


Johannesburg: Wednesday 14 May, 2014. FNB Conference and Learning Centre, 114 Grayston Drive, Sandown, Sandton. Directions here.

Cape Town: Wednesday 9 April, 2014. Cape Town Graduate School of Business, Breakwater Campus, 8 Portswood Road, Green Point. Directions here
Note that no parking is available at the main entrance - coming down Portswood Road to the Waterfront, turn first right to find the parking.



Thousands of people have benefited from Stratplanning’s training and consulting, some of which include:

AAA School of Advertising,  ABSA, AdVentures, AdVTech, Affinity, Afrikings, Aristos, Artifact, AVstage, Bakgone Consultancy, Barclays, Beachhead Media, Berry Bush BBDO, Black Sash, Blast Brand Catalysts, Boomtown, BrainReserve, Brandsmith, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Caxton Magazines, Cell C, Chillibush, Conceptualise, Creative Counsel, Creative Performance, Creative Zoo, Delirium Advertising, Department of Public Enterprise, DraftFCB, Elements, Engen, Etv, Expotrends,  Faction Media, FCB, Fine Healthcare, Forwardslash, Fountainhead, Four Pin Plug,  Fuse Net Solutions, Hardy Boys, Havas, Healthshare, Hellocomputer, Hot Salsa, Idea Engineers, Imperial Bank Medical Finance, Indigo Marketing, Inroads Advertising,  Inzalo Communications, iProspect, Ireland Davenport, Joe Public, Johannesburg University, Juta, King James, KPMG, Legal Resource Centre, Leo Burnett, Lesoba Difference, Lobedu Leo Burnett, LoweBull, Luci Ferin, McEwan Advertising, Media Assault, Media Shop,  Mediacore, Medshield, Metropolitan Republic, Mortimer Harvey, Mr. Delivery, MSC Business College, Multichoice, Naledi Media, Native, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Nedbank Limited, Netcare, Nine Yards Communications, Nkuzi Development Association, Now Media, Ogilvy Healthworld, Old Mutual, ORD, PR Worx, PRIMAproximity, Promise Group, Publicis, Purpleberry, Radioheads and United Stations, Red Cross Children's Hospital Trust,  Regenesys, SA Institute for Advancement, SA Institute for Security Studies, Saatchi & Saatchi, Salient, Singh & Sons, Spur Restaurants, Standard Bank, Statosal, Strategixc Shift, Strika Communications, Studentwise, Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, TBWA,  The Media Connection, Time-Square, The Jupiter Drawing Room, Traffic Integrated,  Troika Imagineering, TWT, Unilever, University of Johannesburg, University of Pretoria, University of the Western Cape, University of the Witwatersrand, Volcano Advertising, Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism,  Vega, Woolworths, Virgin Money, Y&R.



  • Loved it - would highly recommend
  • Awesome stuff - gave me great insights
  • I  now 'get' strategy
  • I thought it would be boring
  • Excellent content
  • I can apply what I learnt
  • More interesting and exciting than I thought
  • Informative and entertaining
  • Beyond expectations
  • Loved all the examples



Contact zelda@stratplanning.com or 084 387 1901


This intensive half or one day course reveals the strategies that work; debunks the myths that don’t. Filled with empirical evidence, anecdotes and examples, if winning new business is important to you, this is one course you can’t afford to miss.



  • Empirical Evidence (what winners actually do that’s different to losers)
  • The library of the mind; the theatre of the heart
  • The key attributes affecting the client’s choice (that research shows)
  • Clarity and story structure
  • What winners do that’s different (with empirical evidence)
  • The damaging effects of entropy
  • The 3rd target market
  • The Marcia Clark mistake
  • Key message management
  • Mission statement failure
  • Beware the hidden X
  • And more …



  • The half day course consists of a two hour presentation followed by a practical pitch exercise
  • The full day course has an additional practical module to reinforce the learnings, and also touches on presentation skills.



  • “This is brilliant.”
  • “This is for everyone – not only those in marketing.”
  • “It just makes so much sense.”
  • “We know pitching, but Sid’s session has made an enormous impact to the pitch psyche inside the company.”



Sid has pitched on everything from FMCG to Government. Together with extensive research and international training, he began to develop an ‘eye’ for what wins the pitch and what does not. Together with this knowledge and having supervised over hundreds of simulated pitches, you are sure of getting the right information from the very best source.

Read more about your facilitator here.



Just email zelda@stratplanning.com with name/s of delegate/s and anything specific you require on the invoice, or contact her on 084 387 1901

For course content enquiries - Sid Peimer on sid@stratplanning.com or 082 659 9167


First two fallacies to debunk right away:

  1. Consumers think in a well-reasoned or rational linear way
  2. Consumers can explain their thinking and behaviour.

Although the consumer’s mind will always be an enigma, understanding the context of insights can make an enormous difference to the success or failure of your communication.

There are just some things that consumers can or can’t do, no matter how much sense our offer makes. For instance, while sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor (make sure it’s the right one) and make clockwise circles. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand. Your foot will change direction. There is nothing you can do about it. Although this is very interesting, can it be an insight? There’s only one way to find out – Insights Uncovered.


This is a three hour in-house presentation.



  • Towards a commercial definition
  • Finding insights
  • The consumer’s very strange form of logic
  • What is and what is not an insight
  • Why insights are important
  • Why insights are not important
  • The relationship with brand philosophies
  • Choice and Chance
  • The Gambler’s Fallacy
  • Confirmation Bias
  • The Conjunction Fallacy
  • Romance and Animal Behaviour
  • Arousal (in a commercial sense)
  • Ehrenberg’s Double Jeopardy
  • Incorporating insights into dipstick research
  • Finding insights from data
  • Priming
  • The naïve academic models of decisionmaking, and why they don’t work
  • Consensus maps and the limbic system
  • A few Freudian tits and some other fun stuff.


Sid Peimer’s varied background has been the ultimate laboratory for trying to make sense of it all. Although marketing is a poor area for the scientific method, Sid backs up his theory with robust proof from the academic world.

Read more about Sid here.

Sid Peimer

From the man who brought you the magnet on the back of the Mr Delivery booklet! *



Gone are the days of competing on extra features, lower cost production, and an increased distribution footprint. Anyone can copy anything a lot faster than before. Today the game is about differentiation. And the only way you can differentiate is to innovate.

Companies are not natural incubators for innovation. Failure is frowned upon as ‘wasted funds’ and projects are either shelved after the feasibility exercise or considered too ‘way out’ to become a substantial part of the business. Admittedly one thing that has not changed is where our focus should be: the bottom line. Unfortunately we’ve become so focused on that, that we lose sight of what we could do. We might not even have the resources, but one thing we should have is the appetite.

Innovation Generation is a one day workshop to give you a perspective that will remove the blinkers, allowing you to tap into revenue streams that may never even have entered your mind, whether an adaptation of an existing offering or something fresh and lucrative ‘we should have done ages ago’.

The workshop does not necessarily serve as merely a day to focus on innovation, but offers a lasting roadmap for inculcation of innovation into the culture of the organisation. It’s exciting, informative and initiates the resources you need for competitive innovation.

Welcome to the Innovation Generation.



  • This is a one-day workshop available in-house only.
  • Starts at 9 am (sharp) and finishes at 4pm (sharp).
  • It is an interactive workshop comprised of formal presentations and practical exercises to reinforce the learnings.
  • Delegates are encouraged to dress for the weather. No suits and ties will be allowed.



Contrary to ‘pop’ strategy, it’s a myth that anyone can be creative (sorry, but that’s the truth). Society values creativity, however it also values stability. We do not want our accountants or airline pilots to be creative (except in an emergency). Creativity is not a measure of your value to the organisation’s growth. However, that does not disqualify you from being innovative.

  • The difference between ideas, creativity and innovation
  • The very crux of innovation: A problem defined is a solution found
  • Differentiation and the Intangible Value Multiple
  • The myth of the epiphany
  • Giving customers what they want
  • Why people don’t know what they want
  • Wicked problems
  • The barriers to innovation
  • The Boyd Loop
  • Design Thinking
  • The role of creativity
  • Overcoming structures that stifle innovation
  • The eBay Pez story, Newton’s Apple and other lies
  • Creating a culture of innovation -  why it’s impossible
  • Creating fertile ground for innovation
  • The walls have brains: the influence of your immediate environment
  • Osborn’s Brainstorming basics and other communication aids
  • Who’s line is it anyway?: accepting all offers
  • Researching for innovation
  • Selling innovation internally
  • Implementation and management of the new



There is no specific criterion for attendance - innovation pervades the entire organisation.



Sid Peimer has stimulated innovation in virtually all categories from FMCG to Government. Blue chip to start-up. He is qualified in pharmacy and has an MBA from the University of Cape Town. After extensive training, he won the Paarl yo-yo championships in 1970 – no small feat considering the town had no access to TV.

His life reads as somewhat of an adventure novel, covering many eclectic areas: shop assistant, door-to-door salesman, copywriter, creative director, national franchise manager, retail pharmacist, manufacturing pharmacist, laboratory assistant, professional actor, suntan sprayer, karate instructor, SARA-rated river guide and lecturer in marketing & consumer behaviour.

He is a popular speaker and trainer for both the private and NGO sectors. He is the author of The Clear Win - Pitching for new business, the strategies that work; the myths that don't - available on Amazon (only $3 on kindle!).

He lives in Cape Town, consulting and training on strategy.
He writes extensively for Bizcommunity – his profile and articles can be found on Bizcommunity here and Stratplanning here.



For price and availability contact Zelda Lawson today on 084 387 1901 or mail zelda@stratplanning.com
For course content enquiries contact Sid Peimer on 082 659 9167 or sid@straplanning.com


Welcome to the Innovation Generation.

* Sid was consulting to Laurence Levine, the founder and owner of Mr Delivery. While sitting in Laurence’s office, a cardboard advertisement appeared with a magnet on the back. The conversation then migrated to the idea for application of the same on the Mr Delivery booklets. The printers were called in and Laurence and Sid were told that it was not possible. Sid, realising that it would enable Mr Delivery to have a ‘billboard’ on millions of fridges, persevered and found a magnet manufacturer in Cincinnati. He and Laurence went to visit them. The rest is history. It is unclear who then recommended the ad on the front page of the booklet, but Sid was part of that process. Anyway, kudos to Laurence for his vision of getting a booklet on the fridge of nearly every home in South Africa. Sid also went on to help invent additional add-ons to Mr Delivery, such as the Tell ‘n Sell concept, amongst others. Imagine what Sid could do for you.


In-house 1 day course.


The quality of a presentation impacts the perceived quality of the work being presented. A presentation based on sound knowledge of the attractors and detractors of presentations, combined with the unique traits of the individual presenter can make the difference between sale or fail.

This course is designed for the person who is prepared to take an honest look in the mirror, and hone the appropriate skills required to not only present their case more effectively, but to feel empowered and comfortable when presenting. It is not designed to turn delegates into automatons of the ‘correct way to present’, but to leverage their own unique personalities for more impactful and persuasive presentations.

Although this course is very challenging, it is also a fun and rewarding process as the delegates begin to gain mastery over their presentation skills.


This is a one-day course that starts at 9 am and finishes no later than 6pm.





  • Constructing clear and persuasive content
  • Discovering the objective
  • The crucial importance of body control
  • Leveraging your voice for maximum impact
  • The persuasive aesthetics of PowerPoint
  • Examining detractors and debunking myths
  • Flow, pace and story structure
  • The discipline of PechaKucha 20x20
  • Managing anxiety
  • How to turn hard questions into soft conversations
  • Defining your X, containing your ego
  • The pre-flight checklist



  • There are approximately 2 hours of presented content interspersed between practical delegate assignments.
    Practical sessions will be videotaped for individual delegate feedback.
  • This will be done in an open forum (ie everyone will see everyone else’s presentations).
  • Each delegate will come prepared with a 5 minute presentation, preferably of current work, which they will present at the start of the course.
  • This must be no longer than 5 mins – they will be cut off should they go over.



  • R2 500 per person
  • Minimum of 6 delegates, maximum of 10.
  • No VAT payable
  • Venue and refreshments/lunch for client’s account.
  • Travel and accommodation for Stratplanning’s account.
  • 50% deposit secures date, balance COD.


Sid Peimer
t: 082 659 9167
e: sid@stratplanning.com

If you would prefer to have a bespoke course designed for your specific company’s needs, please complete the form below.

Alternatively contact Zelda Lawson today on 071 656 1206 / 084 387 1901 or zelda@stratplanning.com


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

5th March 2014, Johannesburg

Thank you for attending the Strategy Boot Camp.

Download Presentation here.
[NOTE: : Please note, file is 10 MB ( best to right click and ‘save as’)]

Further enquiries, contact Sid Peimer on 082 659 9167 or sid@stratplanning.com

20th February 2014, Cape Town

Thank you for attending the Strategy Boot Camp.

Download Presentation here.
[NOTE: : Please note, file is 5 MB ( best to right click and ‘save as’)]

Further enquiries, contact Sid Peimer on 082 659 9167 or sid@stratplanning.com

9th April 2014, Cape Town

Thank you for attending Strategy Unplugged.

Download Presentation here.
[NOTE: : Please note, file is 5MB ( best to right click and ‘save as’)]

Further enquiries, contact Sid Peimer on 082 659 9167 or sid@stratplanning.com

Strategy: are you flying blind?

There were six men from Indostan, the most learned of gentlemen, who wanted to expand their knowledge by getting to know elephants more intimately. They excitedly headed out to investigate the elephant up close, irrespective of the fact that they had a most inconvenient handicap: they were all blind.  So goes the story as told in the poem by John Godfrey Saxe based on the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant.


Strategy is not science


There are a number of strategic schools of thought, all proffering a model that, should one copy it, will provide the strategic direction one seeks. We are a creative industry, and often have no hesitation in constructing our very own proprietary model – the secret sauce that will provide for superior outcomes. But strategy is not science. A model can work in one situation, but fall desperately short in another. It is not uncommon to feel one is drowning (usually in data) or treading water (due to lack of data), so one can understand our desire to grab a life preserver. Anything that will actually keep us afloat. Although strategic models (or frameworks if you prefer) do allow us to overcome vacansopapurosophobia (fear of the blank page), they are nothing more than a flotation device to keep us on the surface.


Religion and politics


Although I am loathe to talk about religion or politics, the birth of strategic theories bears an uncanny resemblance to how religions permeate society. It starts with a prophet (academic) with an insight. They apply it to a situation and see that it works – the revelation stage. It gets published as a book or an article in Harvard Business Review and people get hooked who subsequently become evangelists to that school of thought. People become converted en masse. People start arguing about it and then we reach the final stage – the braai disintegrates into a tense afternoon of bitter acrimony where the hot coals of opinion should rather have waited until all the lefties (or the righties) had left. Even Malcolm Gladwell’s much vaunted 10 000 hour rule is now going through that period of disapproval (or apostasy if you want to keep to the analogy).


For example the BCG matrix was ‘it’ in the 70’s which illustrated quite nicely the difference between a gap in the market and a market in the gap. Michael Porter’s Five Forces was huge in the 80’s (and still is). And then came the Balanced Scorecard, Blue Oceans etc etc etc. Or, if you prefer, bla, bla, bla.

As Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad caution us: “It is not very comforting to think that the essence of Western strategic thought can be reduced to 8 rules for excellence, 7s’s, 5 competitive forces, 4 product life-cycle stages and innumerable 2-by-2 matrices.”


The elephant in the room


So where do these six blind learned men of Indostan fit into the story? Well, they see the elephant from their unique perspective. The man who touches the tail ‘sees’ the elephant as rope; the leg and it’s a trunk of a tree; the body and it’s a wall; the tusk and it’s a spear; the ear and it’s a fan. So, as John Godfrey Saxe’s poem sums it up:


And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


Strategic models or frameworks emerge from a certain perspective. Strategy, I feel, is more closely aligned to ‘story’ than it is to process or methodology. Starting every story with ‘once upon a time’ is fairly open, but who says that it has to be a forest, or a castle for that matter? The only thing these additions to the framework do is to literally narrow our perspective. The payoff of using prescriptive frameworks is that you just have to connect the dots, but then a paint by numbers strategy, besides being so awfully boring, can have disastrous consequences, as you may just ‘miss a spot’ (with subsequent loss of market share) or miss the G-spot altogether. The best way to avoid these unhappy endings is a wide perspective. Or as Dr Seuss would say: ‘It’s opener there, in the wide open air’.


The upcoming ‘Strategy Unplugged’ is a one-day experience hosted by Sid Peimer. It is ideal for anyone wanting to get a better ‘handle’ on strategy. Visit the course page for details.

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The eBay PEZ dispenser story is not true

Life poses an interesting enigma: although we can make the atomic bomb, we still don’t know the answer to simple things, like where do songs come from? Where do ideas come from? The epiphany, or eureka moment, is not what you think – it is not an isolated moment of ‘aha’; it is preceded by years of what could loosely be called work. (1)


 An apple on the day

The story goes that Newton was sitting under a tree. An apple fell on his head – and so the idea of gravity was born. That’s a myth. The ‘epiphany’ came after 20 years of work to explain gravity. Even if the apple story is true, he studied so many other things, that the apple would just have been ‘the last straw’ – and not an isolated incident. (1)

 Tim Berners Lee, the man who invented the web, shares his thoughts:

 “Journalists have always asked me … what the singular even was that allowed the web to exist … They are frustrated when I tell them there was no eureka moment… it was a process of accretion (growth by gradual addition).”


 Dispense with the eBay myth

And then there’s the myth of eBay. We all ‘know’ that the founder created the company so that his fiancée could trade PEZ dispensers. It’s untrue – eBay came about by trying to create a perfect market economy. No one was interested in that story, so eBay was largely ignored in its formative years. The media were less than impressed. However, when the PEZ story emerged (from somewhere), the media lapped that up – it was so much more interesting than trying to create a perfect economy. The PEZ element did play a part – it made the founder Pierre Omidyar aware that people are passionate about collecting things – just one milestone to the ‘epiphany’ of creating eBay. (1,2)


 There’s a fine line between crazy and creative

 Innovation is defined by the Mirriam-Webster dictionary (I don’t have the Oxford one – it’s not online) as the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods. Essentially innovation is about ‘newness’.

Creativity, on the other hand, is defined as ‘the ability to create’. That’s not much help. But if we look at the definition of create, it does allow us to delineate innovation from creativity. ‘Create’ is defined as: to produce something new by using your talents and imagination.

So creativity is conception and innovation is newness. The conclusion to be drawn from that is that you first have to conceive something before you can innovate; you have to be creative to be innovative. But I don’t believe that to be necessarily true; I’ve met some brilliant businesspeople who don’t have a creative bone in their body, yet have produced remarkable innovations.

The talent for taking two unrelated objects and finding a connection between the two is called associative ability. Dean Simington, the professor of psychology at UCLA states (something like this): “Persons with low associative barriers may think to connect ideas or concepts that have very little basis with reality or that can easily be traced logically”.  Scott Berkun, the author of The Myths of Innovation encourages us to read that sentence twice, because it clearly explains the fine line between lunacy and creativity. (1)


The last piece of the puzzle

Berkun uses a lovely analogy to explain the epiphany: it is the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, not the entire picture.

That’s also why we categorise creative people as heavy, medium and lightweight. It’s based on the amount of jigsaw puzzles they’ve completed, because the more jigsaws you do the better you get – no matter what the picture is.

To find out how you can enhance innovation in your company, irrespective of your creative ability, imagine what it would be like to be part of the Innovation Generation – visit www.stratplanning.com or call Sid Peimer on +27 (0) 082 659 9167.



1. Scott Berkun. The Myths of Innovation. O’Reilly Media, 2010.

2. Interview with Pierre Omidyar. http://techcrunch.com/2010/03/20/pierre-omidyar-on-ebay-and-pez-dispensers-leaving-the-valley-and-the-most-important-thing-he%E2%80%99s-ever-done/

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LEGO excelled at innovation – and it nearly killed them.

Take six standard Lego bricks, and there are more than 915 ways to stick them together. Actually that’s incorrect; there are 915 MILLION permutations. I think ‘endless hours of fun’ is most appropriate in this case. LEGO was the world’s most profitable and fastest growing toy company from 2007 to 2012, but the past wasn’t all that rosy – the company had a near-death experience in 2003. So how did this happen even though they ticked all the boxes for innovation?


The building blocks of innovation

LEGO managed innovation in a somewhat more ‘textbook’ fashion. This was in stark contrast to Apple where Steve Jobs had the final say of what would or would not go to market. If he never came to work, no new products would come out the pipeline. The LEGO process was, in comparison, decentralized. LEGO CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp stated that he could leave his company for three months, and its innovation process would continue unabated. I’m not saying that any one method is better than the other. In contrast, LEGO’s methodology was fine, as you shall soon discover.


The whole truth

There are seven truths to innovation proposed by David Robertson, and this is how LEGO did all the right things in the wrong way (1):


1. Hire diverse and creative people.

They did hire the best creative minds, unfortunately there was no communication between design and production, or even marketing for that matter. Nothing that came out the system made profitable sense. Although some of the products were awesome.


2. Head for blue ocean markets

Blue Ocean Strategy is a concept proposed by Chang and Mauborgne that purports that an organization should create new demand in an uncontested market space, or a “Blue Ocean”, rather than compete head-to-head with the competition in the same way with the same products in a “Red Ocean”. (2) Not exactly brain surgery, but makes a valid point (although the junkyard is littered with those who drowned in blue oceans)


Other companies were producing similar bricks, so LEGO went for the blue ocean and came up with the LEGO Studios Steven Spielberg MovieMaker. It took off relatively well in the States, and Lego then rushed to give the market add-on sets to be used with the original kit. Without the camera kit, these add-ons meant nothing – so the line got flooded and it wasn’t long before the add-ons hit the discount bins at the retailers. And so MovieMaker became an unprofitable line and it was ‘The End’.


3. Be customer driven

The market wanted ‘edgier’ products – kids were now playing pretty violent video games. They brought out a character called Jack Stone – a kinda superhero who would save the day. He was about as edgy as a tennis ball, and neither did parents find any of the core LEGO values in it: “the joy of building, pride and creation”. Jack Stone took a bullet to the head.


4. Practice disruptive innovation

It was time to fish where the fish were: in the video games arena. Forget about the physical joy of building, just go digital in a big way. So they tried to duplicate the experience digitally, which required the computerisation of every single LEGO part. It was an enormous ground-breaking project appropriately called DARWIN. Maybe it was too soon (the technology to create 3D wasn’t very advanced at that stage) and they tried to create everything – taking LEGO completely into the digital realm. Irrespective of the technological problems, the DARWIN team proceeded independently and just tried to reproduce the total experience in a virtual world. This was too big a task too soon, with the added advantage of limited feedback from top management – no one high up was digital-savvy. So DARWIN’s evolution became extinct. The site has since gone digital, but under a very different paradigm without trying to replicate the physical building experience.


5. Leverage the ‘wisdom of the crowd’

LEGO came up with a digital service called Design ByMe. You could put together your own custom design and LEGO would ship you the appropriate parts. The truth is that people aren’t really that creative (as Steve Jobs often reminded us), and with the expensive price tag for bespoke sets, the crowd wasn’t that wise at the end of the day. It too died.


6. Explore the full spectrum of innovation

LEGO had great success with the Star Wars and Bionicle range. They came with a rich story background, and kids were eager to get their hands on it. So LEGO decided to go for the whole channel: invent a character and then make the TV series. The item was Gallidor which featured a unique build – not one of the traditional bricks came with the kit. LEGO knew that only one in five action figures was a success, but they felt they had the control, and what’s more, kids loved it in focus groups. To cut a long series short, the TV programme was awful and once again you would find Gallidor in the discount bin.


7. Build an innovation culture

There was an enormous innovation culture at LEGO. The problem was that there was no feedback loop (no one learnt from their mistakes), poor communication between innovation cultures and creativity was put on somewhat of a pedestal immune from guidance of the brand’s value proposition. Ideas flourished. Products bombed.


An amazing comeback

LEGO revisited each of these issues to experience a major resurrection. In 2012, the group increased revenue by 25% to over $4 billion – nearly triple the sales of 2007. (3).

So now you can build a full-size Rolls-Royce aircraft engine by using just 152 000 bricks. It doesn’t work though, but it’s great fun.


To find out more about joining the Innovation Generation in just one day, contact Sid Peimer on 082 659 9167 or sid@stratplanning.com . And you get to play with real LEGO.



1.David C Robertson (with Bill Breen). Brick by Brick. How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry. Crown Publishing Group, 2003.

2. Blue Ocean Strategy. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Ocean_Strategy

3. Successful LEGO strategy delivers continued strong growth. http://aboutus.lego.com/en-us/news-room/2013/february/annual-result-2012

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Nomophobia: a growing problem with no solution in sight.

58% of men and 47% of women suffer from this disease. (1) I personally think it’s getting worse with very little relief in sight with more and more people contracting the illness. Technology has not come to the rescue; on the contrary, technology has made it worse.

Nomophobia is the abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone-phobia”. It’s not a great choice of word – described as somewhat of a ‘faux-Greek’ by one Michael Quinton who informs us that ‘nomos’ means law in Greek. But fear is fear (however you can’t bribe your phone no matter how smart it is).


The stress test

In research commissioned by the UK Post Office (why?), the organisation YouGov found that mobile phone users tended to cite the main reason for the anxiety was that they would be out of touch with friends and family. The study looked at stress levels, finding that an average case of nomophobia induced stress equivalent to wedding day jitters and even a trip to the dentist. Ten percent of respondents did however say that they needed to be contactable at all times because of work. (1), “What’s that music in the background?” was a question that I developed convincing answers to during working hours.

Frontrange asked people what would happen if they went without their smartphone for a week. Sixty six percent of people said they would not last one day. Forty-four percent of people said they would give up their phones for a week if they were paid more than $100. Nineteen percent said they would need more than $500. (2) I presume the remaining lot could be described as committed clingons – you’d have to scrape them off their smartphones.


An iPad a day does not the doctor keep away

The situation gets medically worse. Recent studies from Asia into internet addiction have provided evidence of a genetic link between serotonergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission (in other words, chemicals in the brain) and internet addiction. Although causality is not evidence (for example, people are not less hard working because you can’t reach them on Wednesday and Friday afternoons), but they did find one gene that was implicated in the issue of internet addiction: the CHRNA4 (nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit alpha 4). So if you get caught on Facebook at work, you are perfectly in your rights to blame your genes – and hence your parents. (3)


Mobile is a layer

Chances are, if you reached out with your arm right now, you could get your smartphone (if you’re not reading this on your phone already). Mobile telephony is different – rather than a medium, it has become a layer over our lives. We use it while watching TV, driving (we text in a moving car with lethal consequences – such as a spelling error) and even operating heavy machinery. You could say it’s something like the radio, but when you need to phone to chirp in on the radio, it’s a lot more difficult than a retweet.


No cure – yet

Although there is no ICD-10 code* yet for this specific affliction, researchers into the phenomenon offer some pointers: (4)

  • If you’re on prepaid, keep your credit topped up.
  • Carry a charger (car, laptop and wall plug) at all times.
  • Give family and friends an alternative contact number.
  • Carry a pre-paid phonecard to make emergency calls if your cellphone gets lost or stolen.
  • Keep a record of your numbers in case you lose your handset.
  • Carry the phone in a closed pocket or bag to avoid loss or theft.
  • Get a second phone and have adequate tranquilisers to get you through the four hours needed to activate your SIM swop (that’s my tuppence).

 Or you can always go cold turkey: just switch off the phone.

To find out more about consumer afflictions and strategy in general, view Sid Peimer’s training courses on www.stratplanning.com. No train, no brain.

 * An ICD-10 code is the required classification for any medical condition that is being treated. It allows the government to collect stats and medical aids to be difficult. You’ll see it on the invoice from your psychiatrist.


1. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomophobia
. Kristin Piombino. Your guide to surviving without your smartphone. Entrepreneur January 12, 2014. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230764
. Montag C, Kirsch P, Sauer C, Markett S, Reuter M. The role of the CHRNA4 gene in Internet addiction: a case-control study. J Addict Med. 2012 Sep;6(3):191-5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22722381
. Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact – and it’s the plague of our 24/7 age. Mail online http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-550610/Nomophobia-fear-mobile-phone-contact–plague-24-7-age.html


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Why insights should not be in creative briefs

Don’t panic. I’m not saying that insights aren’t important. I’m just saying that they’re not a prerequisite for great advertising. If you have that rectangular block in your brief labelled ‘Insights’, I would suggest you remove it forthwith. I will explain why shortly. I also suggest you remove the rectangular blocks themselves – creative should not be presented with a form that looks like an IRP5 – briefs, believe it or not, need to look inviting.


A definition

I have defined an insight quite simply as *

  1. An understanding
  2. That can be leveraged for a result
  3. In a certain dimension (time and space).

As an example, I will use my stint as a lecturer to first year marketing students who had been freshly released from school. Coming to grips with their new-found freedom, they were somewhat difficult to control. If I had something important to say (which happened from time to time), asking them to be silent for a moment would have had very little effect. So I devised this trick: I would say at the top of my voice “CONCERNING THE EXAM”. You could hear a pin drop. Why?

Relating to the above definition:

  1. I understood that they were totally averse to studying anything that wasn’t going to be in the exam. Heaven forbid.
  2. The result I got was silence.
  3. The dimension was the classroom just before exams (had I tried the same strategy after exams, it would have had little effect).

To discover more on strategy and insights, attend Sid Peimer’s course in Durban, Cape Town and Joburg this month: Essential Strategic Planning Skills for Client Service Creative and Non-Planners this month in Durban, Cape Town and Joburg.


All that the creatives need

Creatives don’t need an insight (as described above) to create great advertising. I must admit, and hopefully will escape prosecution for having reverse-engineered an insight in the past to fit in with a great concept. I guess some things are not below me.

All the creatives need is a clear description of the target market. LSM should never be in your description of the target audience in your creative brief. I’ve been in the business for 15 years and I still don’t have a clear idea of the consumer when I’m given LSM’s in the brief. Describing the consumer as LSM 10, income above R30 000, 30+ and male would include my uncle, Clint Eastwood as well as a number of very successful drug dealers. However, I did input my details into the LSM calculator and found out that I was LSM 9 due to the fact that I did not have DStv. I now have DStv.

So what best serves creatives? All they need to know is who they’re talking to. They don’t need a description of the exact person (eg Angela lives with her aunt in a middle-class neighbourhood and wants to own an iPhone); neither do they need a sweeping ‘males over 35’. There is no specific formula, but if there’s LSM in your creative brief, you might as well not be working there – you’ve added no real value to the process.

However, insights can play a crucial role; my argument is just that an insight is not a compulsory prerequisite for great advertising. Sometimes, however, a deceptively simple insight can create a beautiful strategy (yes, strategies can be beautiful). The following strategic insight by SSP3 Colombia is elegance personified. (1)


Insights against terrorism

In 2011, the FARC terrorist group in Columbia was responsible for committing a terrorist act every three days. The agency was asked to come up with a strategy to demobilise them (ie get them to go back home, as opposed to living as outlaws in the jungle). Interviewing 200 ex-guerrillas revealed a powerful insight: Christmas was a difficult time for them, as they were far removed from their homes where they could celebrate with family and friends. They were literally trapped in the jungle.

The agency came up with something extraordinary: Operation Christmas. I quote directly from the award-winning paper:

Two professional anti-guerrilla contingents, 2,000 LED lights, and 2 Black Hawk helicopters travelled into the jungle to find and cover giant trees with Christmas lights. Placed alongside the guerrillas strategic walking paths the lights would come on when they approached, with banners exhorting them to lay down their arms becoming visible too. The powerful, timely and well-located messaging encouraged 331 FARC guerrillas to demobilise and re-enter society – a 30% uplift on the previous year. In challenging circumstances, planning drew together powerful insights to create a core, successful, thought – taking the spirit of Christmas to the guerrilla strongholds.

All I can say is ‘wow’. Now that’s an insight. Simple. Beautiful.


To discover more about strategy, attend Sid Peimer’s course in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg: Essential Strategic Planning Skills for Client Service Creative and Non-Planners in October 2013.


* Diageo has a similar definition in the public domain: An insight is a penetrating observation about consumer behaviour that can be applied to unlock growth. My insight definition was developed in 2005 before I became aware of theirs this year.

Reference 1: Juan Pablo Garcia. Colombian Ministry of Defence: FARC Operation Christmas – Reaching the soft-side of hard-core guerrillas. Account Planning Group – (UK). Grand Prix; Best channel strategy; Best use of research, Creative Strategy Awards, 2011.

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E3 Errors are killing agencies

Say for example there is a drug on the market that enhances creativity. Just say.
We call that Drug A. We develop a new drug to compete with Drug A, which we call Drug B. If we do clinical trials and find that Drug B is better than Drug A, but actually A is better, then we have made an E1 error. If we conclude that Drug B is no better, but it actually is, we have made an E2 error.

An E4 error (we’ll get to E3 in a second), is when you intentionally focus on the wrong issue (such as saying Drug B is better for headaches), and you are doing it for personal gain, because it just happens to be a larger market.

The E3 error

I leave E1 and E2 errors to the statisticians and E4 errors to the politicians. What concerns us here, and is killing agencies, is the E3 error, which simply stated is: solving the wrong problem precisely, or as I like to say, “There are many ways of solving the right problem; there are no ways of solving the wrong problem”.

To find out more on E3 errors, attend Sid Peimer’s course Essential Strategic Planning Skills for Client Service Creative and Non-Planners in October. It will be held in Durban, Joburg and Cape Town. Book now: don’t lose your space – there are only 200 seats available nationwide.

Mitroff and Silvers (1) in their book Dirty Rotten Strategies, lambast our education system for blinding us to the difference between exercises and problems. “I need a campaign for brand X” is not a problem unless we uncover all the reasons that have led to that need. We are usually quite capable of producing a campaign, which is more of an exercise than a problem solving process. We soldier straight on, thinking that the problem stated is the problem to be solved. But that is seldom the case. If the client then accepts the exercise you’ve produced, are you really adding value?

We are not technicians

If you want to see yourself as a technician, then by all means focus on E1 and E2 errors. However, if you want to be seen as a strategic partner, your radar should constantly be scanning for the E3’s: solving the wrong problem precisely. Coca-Cola learnt it the hard way with their CEO, Ken Ivester, being fired as a result. The crisis began in 1999, when Belgian schoolchildren complained that the Coke tasted ‘funny’. This was no laughing matter, because soon afterwards they began suffering headaches, nausea and vomiting (although the fact that just attending school can actually produces these symptoms was overlooked). Coke engineers quickly found that the difference in taste was due to a new carbon dioxide being used in the carbonation process.

Problem solved. Not.

There was nothing unhealthy in the Coke, so Coke was quick to provide a ‘rational’ explanation and get on with whatever Coke executives do on a day to day basis. Here’s the E3 error: they saw the problem as a technical one, requiring everyone (especially the hysterical parents of the sick children) to accept their explanation and carry on with their lives.

Coca-Cola saw the quality engineers as the relevant experts – actually they saw them as the only experts in the solution. It was an E3 error – the primary and expert resource was actually the PR department. Parents expected empathy for their plight, except they got an explanation. The huge outcry that followed resulted in the largest recall in the company’s 113 year history: 30 million bottles and cans, accompanied by a total ban on Coke products in Belgium. Ouch.

E3 errors in agencies

By the time we get the brief, client has made a number of assumptions based mainly on the desired (and most frequent) outcome: sales. The primary assumption is that they assume consumers will respond to their message in a rational way. We know that we’re often speaking to the same consumer who will travel an extra 10 km to save R1 on a tub of margarine. So we can safely exclude the word ‘rational’ from our analysis.

But just taking the brief is a dangerous way to go – after all, you carry the bulk of the outcome on your shoulders. Or stated more explicitly – if it doesn’t work it’s your fault.

Is Mummy right?

Let’s take a fictitious margarine, ‘Mummy’s Marge’ as an example. You have been briefed to place an ad in a health magazine, because the point of difference is that it contains less fat. But why are you being briefed? Is it because sales are flagging? Why are sales flagging? If competitor spend is not the reason, then what is? Is it being displayed prominently in-store, or do retailers see it as a niche product and don’t see that ‘eye level is buy level’ should apply? If that’s the case, then surely the retailers are our target market? Should we not be convincing them to display this product (which gives a higher margin than ordinary margarine) more prominently? Should we not be looking at on-shelf promotion? Should we not be looking at researching new packaging? Actually we don’t really know at this stage, but you, together with the client, need to find out. Otherwise you’ll be joining the litany of E3 wrecks that clutter up the highway. Just ask Coke.

How to save yourself from E3 errors

To find out more on E3 errors, attend Sid Peimer’s course Essential Strategic Planning Skills for Client Service Creative and Non-Planners in October. It will be held in Durban, Joburg and Cape Town. Book now: don’t lose your space – there are only 200 seats available nationwide.

Ref 1: I Mitroff, A Silvers. Dirty Rotten Strategies. Stanford University Press 2010.

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It's like the Gods Must Be Crazy except the Coke bottle is an actress

When writers pitch their screenplay they need to position the movie relative to something the studio executive knows. For example, Argo would be “The Great Escape meets the Ayatolla”. What really goes on in Hollywood pitches was somewhat of an enigma until Kimberly Elsbach of UCLA and Roderick Kramer of Stanford spent five years totally immersed in the process. (1)

Their much lauded study appeared in the Academy of Management Journal where their central finding was that the success of the pitch depended as much on the catcher (the studio exec) as on the pitcher (the writer). (2)

An elaborate ritual, but just 2 processes

Beneath this elaborate ritual, two processes were at play. Firstly the catcher used certain cues to judge the pitcher’s creativity; attributes like passion wit and even quirkiness. Slickness, trying too hard and lots of different ideas were seen as negative cues. If the catcher was more influenced by the negative cues, the meeting could essentially be over in the first few minutes.

However there was a second process occurring at the same time: in most successful pitches, the pitcher didn’t push the idea onto the catcher until a ‘yes’ was extracted. Instead the catcher was invited in as a collaborator. The more they were allowed to collaborate, the greater the chance of the idea being greenlighted. The purpose of the pitch should therefore not be to move others to immediately adopt your idea, but to offer something so compelling that it begins a conversation, allowing both parties to play the ideal role: to be participants.

It’s the same in the simulator

In simulated pitches on my courses (I’ve done about 100), the same issues come up time and again. Although delegates often label this as ‘just an exercise’ (they only have 20 minutes to prepare and 5 minutes to present), having sat on the client side of numerous pitches, I firmly believe that the same issues would have arisen had the pitch process been ‘for real’. As Parkinson’s Law states: A task will be accomplished in the time allocated to it. (3). It has also been said that very little work would come out of an agency if it wasn’t for the last minute. (4) I trust you get my point.

Below is a table that separates the winners from the losers in the simulated pitch environment.



Stuck to the 55/5 rule*

Went straight for objectives

Defined the problem – sometimes breaking it down to its components.

Regurgitated the brief

Accepted the situation

Saw the timeframe as unrealistic, and that this ‘is just an exercise’ – it would be different in real life. It isn’t.

Played down the puffery

Included irrelevant ‘puffiness’. Took wooing to a level of discomfort.

Brought it back to one thing

No cohesive concept

What they didn’t know, they explained how they would find out, and why they needed to

Showed how much they knew

Had very logical structure

Just information – no story

Were sensitive to the existing business

Proposed dramatic change

Body language supported what they were saying

Mouth said one thing, their manner said another

Wetted my appetite – gave me a few tactics (just to give me an indication of the application of strategy – not to show how marvellously creative they were)

Either focused on tactics at the expense of strategy, or left out tactics altogether

* The 55/5 rule is Einstein’s maxim: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

An MP3 audio ‘Pitching and Dating’ which focuses on relationships in pitching can be downloaded from the Stratplanning homepage here www.stratplanning.com


  1. Daniel H. Pink. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others Riverhead, 2012.
  2. K D Elsbach, R M Kramer. Assessing creativity in Hollywood pitch meetings: Evidence for a dual-process model of creativity judgements. The Academy of Management Journal, Vol 46, No. 3 (June 2003), pp 283-301.
  3. There are a number of variations on Wikipwedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson’s_law
  4. Not sure if I read this somewhere or made it up.

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Problem finders are better creatives than problem solvers

The subject of creativity is an elusive one (especially on Fridays at lunch time). Equally elusive is the pronunciation of the legendary social scientist’s name who researched the topic and revolutionised our understanding of what makes a ‘good creative’: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. You pronounce his surname chick-sent-mee-hali (the ‘y’ is silent).

Back to school

One day Mihaly drove to the School of Fine arts in Chicago and recruited a bunch of fourth-year art students for an experiment. He invited them (one at a time) to a studio in which there was a table that had 27 objects on it. The students were asked to select any number of objects, and to arrange them as a still life which they would then draw. (1)

The artists approached the task in one of two ways: one group chose the objects that appealed to them and proceeded to draw; the other group handled more objects, rearranged them several times and took longer on the task. As Mihaly saw it, the first group was trying to solve a problem; the second group was trying to find a problem.  The first group asked themselves “how can I produce a good drawing?” The second group asked themselves “what good drawing can I produce?” A subtle difference, but a not-so-subtle result.

Judgement day

Mihaly then proceeded to determine the effect. He put the drawings on show and asked a panel of experts to judge the works. When he tabulated the results, the problem finders won by a mile. However, the experiment gets even more interesting. Ten years later the same artists were tracked down. About half had left the art world altogether; the other half were working as professional artists. The composition of the latter group?  Nearly all the problem finders from the original experiment.

It has nothing to do with technical skill

But he didn’t stop there. He patiently waited another eight years, and discovered that the problem finders were significantly more successful than their peers. Jacob Getzels, who worked with Mihaly, concluded: “It is in fact the discovery and creation of problems rather than any superior knowledge, technical skill, or craftsmanship that often sets the creative person apart from others in the field”. In subsequent research, they, and other researchers, found that the people most successful in art and science tended to be problem finders.

The Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkley, now offers a course in “Problem Finding, Problem Solving”. This is based on the premise that to be an innovative leader, you need to be able to frame the problem; to determine what the problem really is before you can even to begin thinking of solving it.

IDEO, the much revered innovation and design company, is a proponent of  the five whys methodology. They use the ‘five whys’ is an exercise that forces people to examine and express the underlying reasons for their behaviour and perspective, allowing them to discover the real problem that needs to be solved.

May I have the envelope please

When that brown envelope (i.e. brief) lands on your desk, it’s not an instruction to produce work, but rather a treasure of tantalising clues that can lead you to the real problem. You can then produce creative work that strikes at the very heart and soul of those whom we need to influence. Because at the end of the day advertising is not art, neither is it science; advertising is persuasion.


  1. Daniel H. Pink. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others Riverhead, 2012.

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The innovation blind spot and avoidable failure

An innovation blind spot cost Philips Electronics $2.5 billion in the form of write-offs. They brought out the magnificent HDTV in 1980; unfortunately they were 20 years too early. The hi-definition cameras and transmission standard – which was needed to make HD deliver – failed to arrive in time. However, this was somewhat less painful than Pfizer’s R2.8 billion write-off from Exubera – a ‘sure winner’.

Exubera – not so exuberant

In the early 2000’s there were more than 370 million diabetics worldwide of which a fair share had to administer insulin by injection. Inhalable insulin (like an asthma pump) was seen as a major breakthrough. There is a great deal of reluctance when it comes to having to administer insulin by people who develop type 2 diabetes later in life (type 2 is mainly due to an unhealthy diet and poor lifestyle choices).
The stigma of the injection results in an unfortunate five- to eight-year window between the time the patient should start on insulin injections and the time they actually begin treatment. The new method of inhalable insulin was seen as the magic bullet – not only would it decrease the window of type 2 treatment, but would also allow insulin dependent users to simply inhale as opposed to inject. The stage was set for a blockbuster product.
Pfizer was the leader in inhalable insulin with Exubera, and it wasn’t long before they received FDA approval in 2006, but with a caveat: all patients must have a lung function test prior to therapy, to make sure their lungs could actually absorb the insulin. Fair enough. Pfizer predicted sales of $1.2 billion in the first year. The result? $12 million – 1% of target. So it came as no surprise that they pulled the plug on Exubera with a painfull write-off of $2.8 billion.

One broken link breaks a chain

Although a first-generation and bulky product, Exubera did not fail because of what it could or couldn’t do. It failed because the ecosystem would not support it. When pharmaceutical companies roll out a new product, they usually target the specialists first (in this case endocrinologists) to whom the GP’s would look for guidance. That wasn’t a problem – endocrinologists loved the product, but it was the FDA caveat that sunk the whole deal.
To check lung function you needed to have a spirometer, which you can find at your local GP. However, lung function is the domain of mostly pulmonologists who treat asthma sufferers, not endocrinologists who treat diabetes. So to comply with FDA requirements, the patient visited the specialist, then needed to go to the GP for the lung function test, and then come back to the specialist (for which the patient would probably have to wait another month for an appointment). Not a great scenario for the patient (or the medical aid that now needed to fork out for an extra two visits). Coupled with the introduction of a new generation of ‘insulin pens’ making administration easier, the death of Exubera was sealed.

Run-flats go flat

In 1992, a group of Michelin executives set themselves a goal to come up with the next big innovation in tyres. The result was the PAX system, or as we know it – the run-flat tyre. Market research showed overwhelming support for the product amongst customers and car manufacturers alike. Mercedes were first to sign on. And then a host of other carmakers. Unfortunately so did Mini. When I got my first flat tyre, I felt smug in the knowledge that I could ride up to 50 km to a tyre service centre that would repair the tyre, and I’d be on my way. I had only ridden about 10 km when I pulled into a tyre replacement centre.
They inspected the car and told me I needed a new tyre. It also had to be a run-flat to match the others on the vehicle. I reluctantly paid four times the amount of what a regular tyre would have cost. I chalked that up to bad luck. Until I had my second flat. This time I was told that, not only was the tyre beyond repair, but that I would need two tyres as the mismatch in tread was too great to just replace the one. I ambled over to the pharmacy to get a repeat of my tranquiliser, and was now the proud owner of three new run-flats that cost the equivalent of a month’s payment on the car. Actually a little more, but who’s counting?

The broken link

I have eventually discovered the tyre dilemma. And so did Michelin, however not in that order. To fix a run-flat requires specific knowledge and equipment. Cars were being launched with run-flats, but the service centres that could repair them were non-existent (you needed special equipment and training that the tyre service centres were reluctant to adopt – much easier just to tell the customer you can’t fix it – and sell them a new one). Car manufacturers started to pull out. I’ve just purchased our third Mini, and in perusing the invoice I noticed the one item that sent a shiver down my spine. Run-flats. I certainly hope they’ve sorted out the service centre issue.
Failures such as the above did not come about because of lack of consumer insight, or even demand, but because the brand’s ecosystem was deficient. In the case of Philips HDTV, there wasn’t any content; for Exubera it was simply the absence of a spirometer in the endocrinologist’s office and for Michelin there was no network to repair run-flats. The lesson? Always check the ecosystem – it just takes one link to break the chain.

Reference: Ron Adner. The wide lens – a new strategy for innovation. Penguin Books, 2012.

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Sergei P Nepobedimyi: how reframing can save your life (& your job)

Sergei was the inventor of the Sagger missile. Basically it was an RPG (those rocket propelled grenades that are fired off-the-shoulder in the movies), but it came with a twist – you could fire at a target 3 km away (ten times further than an RPG) – with an even more destructive effect. It had a devastating impact in the Middle East during the conflict of 1973, where 180 tanks were lost on day one, mostly courtesy of the Sagger. (1)

No solution in sight

At first, the tank commanders were mystified – there were no enemy tanks or RPG’s in sight, yet they were getting knocked out with alarming frequency. As the battle went on, some clues emerged – those who were on either side of the knocked out tank noticed a red light moving towards the tank just before it was hit. They then found a trail of wires leading to the stricken tank. The problem had been discovered: The Sagger missile.

The Sagger was a wire-guided missile that could be fired from a considerable distance by a soldier lying down in a shallow depression in the sand. He/she only had to fire in the general direction of the tank and could then use a joystick (bit of an oxymoron here) to guide it to its target. It had a red light to enable the shooter to keep track of it all the way to contact.

What was the problem? On the face of it, it appeared that the Russians should never have sold the Sagger in the first place (but it was too late to address that issue). They could have all lined up in single file facing enemy territory, only sacrificing the front tank with each missile. But that’s not how you win a battle, it’s how you queue for the cinema. There appeared to be no solution.

A solution emerges

However, on further analysis it was revealed that the missile travelled relatively slowly and that the shooter had to have eye contact with the missile all the way to the target. So we could reframe the problem as: preventing the shooter seeing the target. In the desert that’s simple – if you have a tank. You just create a lot of dust. And that’s what they did – obscuring the tank from view every time they spotted the red dot. They also fired in the general direction of the red dot as good measure, to distract the shooter even further. It worked. (1)

Reframing gives more options

Reframing a problem can make an enormous difference to the efficacy of a successful strategy. Rather than asking ourselves what would get the consumer to buy our product, it can be very illuminating to ask ourselves why our customers would not buy our product. Small tweak, big change in perception.

When you ask the question framed differently, you get a different answer. For example: (2)

“What is the sum of 5 + 5?”

“Which two numbers add up to 10”?

The latter option two gives us a lot more choice. As Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, because once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes”.

Another valuable way to open the frame when you are solving a problem is to ask questions that start with “why?”.

In this example by Teena Seelig quoting Michael Barry: (2)

If I asked you to build a bridge for me, you could go off and build a bridge. Or you could come back to me with another question: “Why do you need a bridge?” I would likely tell you that i need a bridge to get to the other side of a river. Aha! This response opens up the frame of possible solutions. There are clearly many ways to get across a river besides using a bridge. You could dig a tunnel, take a ferry, paddle a canoe, use a zip line, or fly a hot-air balloon, to name a few.

You can open the frame even farther by asking why I want to get to the other side of the river. Imagine I told you that I work on the other side. This, again, provides valuable information and broadens the range of possible solutions even more. There are probably viable ways for me to earn a living without ever going across the river.

The 5 whys

The 5 Whys is a technique used in the Six Sigma methodology, which Toyota used with devastating affect against Detroit’s carmakers (Toyota’s profits in March 2003 were larger than GM, Ford, and Chrysler combined). (3)

For example: (4)

Problem Statement: You are on your way home from work and your car stops in the middle of the road.

  1. Why did your car stop?
    – Because it ran out of petrol.
  2. Why did it run out of petrol?
    – Because I didn’t buy any petrol on my way to work.
  3. Why didn’t you buy any petrol this morning?
    – Because I didn’t have any money.
  4. Why didn’t you have any money?
    – Because I lost it all last night in a poker game.
  5. Why did you lose your money in last night’s poker game?
    – Because I’m not very good at “bluffing” when I don’t have a good hand.

The final ‘Why’ leads to a root cause that allows you to take appropriate action. You could take a gamble on the 4th ‘Why’ by calling the gambling hotline, or go one level deeper and take lessons from an expert on bluffing. Whatever floats your boat.

Once again, kids can show us

Perhaps children with their insistent whys and are-we-there-yets have a lesson to teach us. If you asked a class of kindergarten children if they could draw, everyone would put up the hand. They just framed the problem a little differently. Such a pity we lose that natural skill as we grow up. But, like a bicycle, it’s easy to get the skill back – just ask why.

1. D Senor, S Singer. Start-Up Nation. Twelve, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, Hatchet Book Group, New York. 2011.
2. Tina Seelig. How reframing a problem unlocks innovation.
3. KnowWare International, Inc.
4. iSix Sigma Dictionary.

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Head lice, goalies, World War 2 and bad ads

For the residents of the Hebrides (a chain of islands north of Scotland), if you had head lice you were healthy. There was ample proof: if the lice left their host, fever would follow. So, to get rid of the fever, all they did was put lice back in their hair. (1) Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it – it worked. However this is a wonderful example of false causality – simply the muddling of cause and effect. (2)

When the lice left the patient, it was because of the fever – they don’t like their feet to get hot, so they leave. When the fever broke, they moved back in. However, I wouldn’t tell them – people feel more positive when they feel they have some control over what happens in their life. (3)

Shame on Alan Greenspan

In the 90’s the entire financial community in the USA (or the honest ones left) revered the head of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan. He had a magical aura about him – everyone believed that their monetary policy, under his guidance, was keeping the country on the road to prosperity. He wasn’t – it was China’s eagerness to buy US debt that played the major role. He was just lucky. False causality at work. (1)
When the advertising doesn’t work, first determine if there’s false causality – I have sometimes discovered that the wholesaler screwed up and there was no product on shelf to begin with! I did went to tell on them so me not get punished.

Holy goalie

Another bias we fall prey to is the action bias – to do something even if it achieves nothing. For example, soccer penalties are relatively evenly distributed to the left, the middle and the right of goal. However, although the odds are somewhat equal for all three, goalies dive to the left or right over 90% of the time. They do this because of the action bias: the feeling (or appearance) that at least doing something has some influence over the outcome. (4)
This is what we do when we feel that client needs to see us doing something for their money. The good old Brand Review doesn’t always add value. Sometimes just a chat would do.

The power of propaganda

Although not really a bias in our thinking, the sleeper effect explains why ridiculous you’re-so-obviously-trying-to-sell-me-something advertising works. During World War 2, the war department in the US spent so much money on propaganda films that they decided it was probably a good idea to see if it worked. The initial findings suggested that would have been better off investing in real stuff like tanks or Playboy magazines for the men at the front. Even if the content was substantiated (or reasonable), it was immediately dismissed, because it was seen for what it was – propaganda.

However, nine weeks later the whole story changed. They measured the soldier’s attitude a second time and found that those who had seen the movie were much more gung-ho than those who had not. The movies worked after all. (1)

We get bad ads, because they have value

So, here’s the bottom line of why bad ads work (or the best explanation so far): The source of the argument fades faster than the argument itself. In other words, we forget that the message entered our brain from a clumsy TV ad that we knew was trying to persuade us to do something in in the interest of the advertiser – not necessarily in our best interests. However, the message itself sticks long after the source fades. So when we walk down the aisle we truly do choose the washing powder that we were told is better than ‘the standard’ one.

I’m not advocating bad ‘product, feature & price’ advertising; what I am saying is don’t get so upset when you see it, it actually does work. Loerie or no Loerie.

1. R Dobelli. The art of thinking clearly. (Publisher: Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, London, 2013).
2. Hans-Hermann Dubben, Hans-Peter Beck-Bornholdt, Der Hund, der Eier legt: Erkennen von Fehlinformation durch Querdenken. (Publisher: Reinbek: Rororo, 2006). Sorry, only in German. Thank heavens for Google Translate.
3: I forgot, but it is referenced in plenty places. Incidentally it has also been shown that having no control of your work environment is one of the principle causes of work stress. An areshole boss can kill you faster than smoking. Leave now.
4. Bar-Eli M, Azar OH (2009) Penalty kicks in soccer: an empirical analysis of shooting strategies and goalkeepers preferences. Soccer & Society, 10:183-191.

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Forget bar graphs - today it's all about sparklines

With the awesome power of sparklines, you can condense 20 PowerPoint slides into one. And what’s more, Excel 2010 can do it for you. An example will follow.
But that’s not all – nothing breaks up a story like the disruptive ‘Refer to Table 1’, and with sparklines a few years’ worth of data can be illustrated within a sentence. The result is that the reader is not burdened with the frequent tabelis interruptus in your document.

The father of sparklines is Edward Tufte, who has made a substantial contribution to the art of presenting data in its most consumable form.

A bloody example

As controlling blood glucose is one of the country’s most pressing needs, let’s use this as an example. The normal range is 4 – 6.5.

We could test a patient’s level today and come up with a result that would  be noted simply as: Glucose 5. Everything looks good and we would send the patient on their way with the news that they have a healthy glucose level.

However, if we take the last 20 readings and illustrate that with a sparkline, we get something like this, which alludes to the fact that their level might be normal today, but has been erratic over the measured period. 

Glucose 5

We can make it a little clearer when we show the latest reading as a data point:

Glucose 5

However, that tells us little of the extremes, so we put in a grey band to show the normal range:

Glucose 5

If we’re interested in the frequency of cases outside the normal range (which we should be), then this sparkline works admirably. So there you have it, I can report that this patient has a normal glucose level today, however there have been three instances of hyperglycaemia (above the norm) and two cases of hypoglycaemia (below the norm), so we need to make a plan.

Very applicable to business

Although also used extensively for economic data (showing trends over time), the general business applications are as plentiful as the amount of see Table x’s.

As an example, if we wanted a picture of sales figures for the year, sparklines tell a much better story than just the current month’s data. (See Table 1 below :-) ). (1)

The above clearly shows that ‘electronics’ is a major problem. But we also get the whole enchilada on one slide (and that the electronics department better pull up its socks).

So, next time you’re on your 20th bar graph. Stop. Just use the sparkline feature and head off to a real bar. The sparkline feature can be found under ‘Insert’ in Excel 2010. Somewhat hidden, but in the middle of the insert menu bar here:

Ref 1: Diego M. Oppenheimer. Sparklines in Excel. Series constructed by Sam Radakovitz.

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