Hello, Catapults. Lessons from GameStop.

Hello, Catapults. Lessons from GameStop.

“Your customers are searching and exploring without you even knowing about it. And they are redefining your competitive set, too. Welcome to the customer zeitgeist.”

Karla Raines, Differentiated

Chapter 3 of Differentiated explores the new world of competition based on real-world observations and naturally occurring data. The old way of classifying competitors no longer applies. Do you understand your Replacements, Alternatives, Catapults, and Community Builders?

Real World Exemplar

Keith Gill and a band of retail investors decided to take on Wall Street. Robinhood and its promise of “investing for everyone” transformed a growing online community into a combination of Catapult and Community Builder. The movement solidified around a common objective, then it pounced.

The movement was there all along, on Reddit, not Wall Street. Growing in scale with a rallying cry propelled by Elon Musk, they made their moves on GameStop in a matter of weeks, or was it days?

Then, poof. A group of “amateur” investors catapulted into the markets with a significant consequence, as evidenced by Robinhood’s scramble to raise $2.4B to cover its obligations.

Big-name brokerage and investment firms didn’t see these new competitors coming. Will you?

“How do you stack up against these newly defined competitors? The old categories of direct, indirect, and substitute can’t guide you to the answers you seek. They were designed for a simpler time. You need a clear-eyed view of competitors—and not just the ones in plain sight.”

Karla Raines, Differentiated


Customer Mindset Meets Strategy

Customer Mindset Meets Strategy

If you search the term “customer mindset,” you’ll find associations with marketing and customer service. The premise? A deeper understanding of your customer generates increased sales and engagement. Let’s be honest. We want both. 

A heartfelt appreciation for the customer transforms reams of data into relevant insights and, ultimately, a customer mindset. We don’t merely appreciate your customer’s head and heart. We become the customer as we consider choice from their perspective. Will I pay the full rack-rate for a year of virtual college or create a tailored experience at half the cost? Will I sleep in a tent community with people I know or go to a shelter despite my health and safety concerns? These are the real questions racing through your customers’ minds. 

I’ve been practicing a customer mindset for years while setting strategy for organizations like Swallow Hill Music and the University of Denver College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences. Application in real-time taught me to connect purpose with strategy. The throughline? A heartfelt appreciation for the customer. 

As you’ll read in my book Differentiated, a customer mindset inspired me to invent new tools for your strategy process. For example, classifying competitors as direct, indirect, or substitute doesn’t reflect a customer mindset. Your customer isn’t interested in industries or markets, and they aren’t making decisions based on those delineators either. 

Get ready to discover new pathways to connect your purpose to strategic differentiation. I look forward to hearing about your discoveries. 

Differentiated on sale March 20, 2021

Pre-order on Amazon or Barnes & Noble today!

Welcome to the Next Normal

Welcome to the Next Normal

We greet 2021 with renewed hope that we can create the change we seek in the world. Welcome to the next normal. If 2020 schooled us in anything it reminded us that an event like a once-in-a-millennia pandemic has the power to distort. And distort it did. We recognize “before”, circa 2019, as we co-envision “after.” 

What defines the next normal? Welcome to the world of Shapers and Drivers. I’m not talking Spanx® or Uber as you’ll read in Differentiated. I’m referring to forces with the power to direct and propel your organization’s future.

Shapers are like guard rails; they direct your future. For example, there is a growing expectation that organizations fulfill a true purpose. Millennial and Gen Z consumers are shaping expectations, and companies are responding. Nonprofits take note. This impacts you too.  

Drivers propel your organization. Ignore them at your peril. For example, COVID-19 accelerated ecommerce adoption. Many of those consumer behaviors are expected to continue. Welcome to the world of the digital experience.  

What will the K-shaped economic recovery mean for your organization? Will it shape or drive the future? That depends on your mission and your customer. What’s in store for your customers in 2021 and 2022? What drives their future determines yours.

They are … actually trying to understand what is it that makes the company tick. What’s its mission? What’s its purpose? And what is it actually trying to build for us as a society?” 

– McKinsey

We’ll continue our exploration of new ways of thinking throughout the year as we bring Differentiation Zone’s Guiding Principle 4 to life. 

As we say goodbye to 2020, we also hang-up on outdated tools like SWOT Analysis. If you missed my webinar in October, take heart, you can access our video and slide deck here. 

Preparing for the next normal starts now.

Join me in creating the future of strategy

Join me in creating the future of strategy

Welcome to Strategy Studio!

A studio is a space for exploration, for trial and error, and for learning new techniques. It’s a place where breakthroughs occur. Studios invite mess. They give wholehearted permission to create as you explore something for the first time. The unimaginable becomes real. 

Strategy thrives in a studio, a space that honors creativity. 

I’ve built one for us, professionals committed to accelerating strategic success for purpose-driven organizations. Will you join me?

I’m looking for 10-20 explorers to dive into Strategy Studio, alongside me, in a collaborative journey of breakthrough discoveries. Welcome to the beta. You’ll join me in giving Strategy Studio a test drive before we launch to market in 2021. 

Who you are:

  • A learner with a thirst for knowledge

  • A strategist seeking to upskill

  • An explorer seeking the future of strategy 

  • A creator comfortable with risk, change, mess, and discovery

What you gain:

  • Early access to my breakthrough model, Differentiation Zone®, and essential learnings

  • Early hard copy of my book, Differentiated, scheduled for publication on March 23, 2021

  • Early access to author-led book discussion groups and other fresh-to-market content

  • The community you’re searching for—your peeps—like-minded strategists seeking to upskill

  • Wholehearted permission to learn, make a mess, explore, and share

Here are the details:

I’m searching for up to 20 early adopters and trailblazers committed to delivering on purpose.

  • Collaborate with me in a real-time mock-up of Strategy Studio in 2021, most likely late January through early April.
  • Contribute one to two hours each week through active engagement, including your friendship and advice.
  • Contribute two online book reviews.
  • Write testimonials for use in marketing and social media.
  • Sign non-compete and non-disclosure agreements. 
  • Experience fresh-to-market content, such as Next Normal™ trend watching. You’ll see it first.
  • Enjoy early registration for events and offerings when we launch on March 23, 2021.
  • Receive a free Discover membership through June 30, 2021.

  • Benefit from a discounted Discover membership for one year beginning July 1, 2021 (10% discount).

  • Achieve recognition as a Strategy Studio early adopter.

  • Advise me on all things Strategy Studio. 

Your Strategy Studio awaits. 

I look forward to learning alongside you as we propel success for the organizations that mean the world to us.

I’ve invested 10,000 hours so you don’t have to.

See you in the Studio!


Seeing beyond what is

Seeing beyond what is

Little did I know that a Canvas and Cocktails event would change the trajectory of my life. I joined a group of 40 women for a team-building activity the evening before an all-day retreat. Each of us created a grove of aspens. Here are mine. 

I’d been searching for a hobby when painting found me. Then I was off to Michaels, coupon in hand, returning with a beginner’s supply of paints, brushes, and canvases.  My love for color continues, yet my style has evolved notably.

What has painting taught me? I give myself permission to make mistakes, experiment, create a mess, and be in the moment. Some paintings are easy, others not so much. That lesson was aptly applied to writing my book Differentiated to be published in 2021. Chapter 7 put up a fight. My initial efforts with the opening story didn’t convey the lessons I needed to tell. I reworked the draft and started over many times until the story emerged in plain sight.  

What has artmaking given me? Unbridled joy, the experience of flow, and an expanded capacity for risk-taking. It also led me to discover Differentiation Zone®. Hours spent painting created space for that breakthrough. It was up to me to do something with it, working through the messiness of start-up mode to produce something uniquely valuable for you. 

This year is teaching us to give ourselves permission for joy and mess-making. At a time when personal agency often feels out of touch, a creative practice places you in the center of your own story. 

Give yourself permission to create. Let go of labels and images that hold you back. You wouldn’t say to the ten-year-old version of yourself, “You aren’t an artist.” You’d say, “Hey, that’s terrific. What else can you make? I’d love to see it.”

The New Year will demand original approaches. 

My suggestion? Be the artist, the creator of your own story. Let me know how it goes. Better yet, share a photo of your latest creation.

Together we will see beyond what is as we learn to get out of our own ways.

Strategy is a State of Mind

Strategy is a State of Mind

PSST tacticians. I’ve got your cheat sheet

In all my years of facilitation, I have found two types of people generally comprise any group: tacticians and visionaries. The former greatly outnumbers the latter in most groups. The next time you participate in a group conversation about strategic planning, note where people’s brains naturally go. Are they hardwired to see the world as an immediate problem to be solved or a dream to chase? It’s rarer to find a natural strategic thinker in your midst, the person who can think in multiyear segments and see a path forward.

Tacticians love to solve problems. A tactician views a trend or change as a problem to be solved. In contrast, visionaries are dreamers. They see a world of possibilities, unencumbered by the details. There’s time to solve problems tomorrow.

In between, my friends, lies strategy. Too often, the word strategy is used interchangeably with tactic when in fact they are distinct concepts.

Strategy is directional. Strategy is not a problem to be solved. Or an aspiration to be envisioned.

Here’s a cheat sheet to help you and your team focus on the strategic.

Does your team tend to get caught up in the tactics when you need to focus on strategy? Here are three tips to develop your strategic prowess.

  1. Take stock of your natural state. Are you hardwired to solve problems or dream big? Or are you the rare strategic thinker? Take stock of your group’s composition, and then using the tool above, engage in some just-in-time learning to develop your strategic capabilities. When you understand your team’s natural state, it’s easier to recognize the teachable moments that create mental shifts.
  2. Recognize this is a time of profound uncertainty. You’ve heard me describe it as certain uncertainty. Here’s the thing. This level of uncertainty makes the problem solvers among us dig in our heels a bit more and focus on the tactical problems to be solved. That presents a challenge as your organization can get so focused on next month’s problem that you miss the bigger strategic issues emerging in your field. Coaching can help your tacticians recalibrate to the certainty of change.
  3. Make strategy tangible. Think of strategy as direction setting; much like you’d view the options Siri presents when you are mapping a route. What would Siri suggest if you asked about the future direction of your organization? If I were Siri, I’d suggest you study real-world examples of strategy from other industries, examples that are familiar and easy to digest. For example, Netflix is often studied for its strategic choices. Another classic example to consider is Southwest Airlines. Each is making strategic shifts given the pandemic’s distortion power.

I predict 2021 will be more like 2020 than 2019. If you focus too much on the immediate, you’ll miss the opportunity to move forward with intention.

Don’t confuse a strategic choice with a tactical step.

I’m here to help.