The “Tuna Can” strategy

 “The key to a man’s heart is his stomach” is a well-known Arabic proverb that essentially narrows down a woman’s duties to the kitchen. As degrading as this may be to women, one can’t ignore the fact the food essentially takes up the most important moments of the day and if you are acquainted to the Lebanese cuisine then these moments will become almost “sacred”

I recently got married and my wife moved with me to KSA and since she is in a “transitionary phase” she needed a hobby. Having lived on her own since she went to college and then joined the work forces right after graduation let’s just say that cooking was not her greatest feat. So and in order to fill up a part of her time my wife decided to take on cooking and started preparing our lunch home! Yes feel free to feel sorry for me for being a guinea pig.

In theory, my wife is a great cook because of her mother’s tips and instructions. And although she did some “training” before marriage, her mom was always there to save the day in case something went wrong so you can say so she has never tested her wings on her own.

On the eve of the first “training” day we struck a deal between us. My wife isn’t the biggest fan of tuna but if left without any other option she can accept it for a meal. The deal was as follows: whenever she started cooking a new and complex meal she would keep a tuna can on the sink in front of her. The “tuna can” served 2 purposes: 1- it was enough motivation for her not to fail because otherwise she will have to eat something she doesn’t like. 2- In case her project failed, there will always be a backup plan. Needless to say, the strategy is a fruitful one! Sure enough she sometimes forgets the salt or is stingy with the seasoning and spices but overall it can be considered a success.

The” Tuna Can” strategy can work for you as well in any business situation; in fact, it is a must. The purpose is to always push an individual or a business to try something new or try doing things “differently”. Being skilled at 1 thing will not last forever neither will it help you in all the situations. You may be extra good at something but if you fail to develop it or build a new skill you might fall off the grid. Take Nokia or Kodak for example who were not only good in their industries they were the leaders yet they painfully fell off of the peak in no time. Had they had the courage to challenge themselves and try new strategies they might have stayed in the front seats.

Any skill you might have will never blossom unless fully put to test; and although the most challenging part is moving out from the comfort zone you do not necessarily have to entirely go out of that zone and this is where the “tuna can” comes in. The purpose of your “tuna can” is to act as a cushion for you whenever you leave your zone to try something new yet it should be something you strongly dread. This back up strategy should be simple as well and not complicated in order to be a temporary “fix” and at the same time not to consume much of your efforts as you fall back to bounce forward again to a different strategy. For Example, Nokia could have used the Android OS on their phones for a period of time until they had finalized one of the 2 OS systems that they were trying to build in-house rather than being stubborn and falling short of materializing any of those 2.

As much as the “tuna can” meal is easy and fast to prepare so should be your back up strategy just squeeze some “lemon, olive oil and a pinch of salt” and off you go!

As a procurement professional, I started implementing the “tuna can” strategy to my approach with existing and potential suppliers, I have trained my team on it as well and the results have been encouraging! This was a much needed step as we steer towards 2017 in a very challenging economy that requires us to change from “this is how it has always been done” to “this might actually work!”

If you are reading this, then this means I have survived both my wife’s cooking and her feedback on this article! Take your time to find your “tuna can” although I warn you, your spouses might not be as forgiving as mine!




Microsoft’s “Strategic” Mistake

Nokia’s life and death in the mobile devices industry is that of a fairy tale gone bad. After dominating the global market in the 90’s and mid 2000’s, a series of bad business decisions led to its dramatic downfall and demise. And although the climb was slow and painful, going downhill was as fast as a free fall. Nokia’s failure to remain competitive can mostly be attributed to failing in predicting the market trends, its slow reaction to technology and customer preference changes and the lack of an effective leadership to steer company ahead.

By 2013 it was obvious that Nokia needed  a savior; its global market share in the smart phone market had slipped to 1% or less, to add to that the company was facing fierce competition from local phone makers in both China and India which were once the company’s stronghold in the low end cell phone market. At this point, the company had only two options either to shut down the mobile device department or find a possible partner/buyer.

When Stephen Elop joined Nokia as CEO in 2010, the company was not in its best shape and form but also at the same time it was no secret that Microsoft was expressing interest in entering the smart phone market and it was no secret also that they wanted to do so through an acquisition. During that time, Nokia was struggling between two in-house operating systems instead of focusing on exclusively one so when Elop joined his first decision was to kill both systems in favor of windows OS. At the time, he justified his choice by claiming that he was seeking “differentiation” but soon after the first windows phone were rolled out Nokia announced that they will also produce android phones (how does that really differ from having two in-house OS?)

Turns out, all this was made in the purpose of setting the stage to ripen an acquisition by Microsoft. Elop did his job, Microsoft bought Nokia and all lived happily ever after….. Well not really because the story has just begun. No matter how great an idea is, if the execution does not rise to the occasion then the whole idea is just a big failure and this is where Microsoft seems to be headed to. Microsoft made two strategic mistakes in a very short period 1- They announced that they will remove Nokia’s from all their mobile devices. 2- when signing the deal with Nokia, there was a penal clause that forbid Nokia from independently producing cell phone devices before the end of 2016. Really now? Only 2016? You do not forbid such a strategic player from re-entering the market for such a short period only! Because despite all of Nokia’s failures in the recent years, the name alone was a leverage and Microsoft underestimated the power of the brand name and here are two big examples for why is that.

Example 1:  Back in the 90’s IBM was leading the market of personal PC’s with its legendary Think Pad laptops which dominated the business world but towards the end of the decade, IBM had decided to divest this department in order to focus on its core business. Lenovo, an up and coming Chinese manufacturer and seller saw the opportunity and jumped to it and they were able to acquire the division. Inside the corridors of Lenovo there was a debate on whether to keep the name “Think Pad” or kill it, eventually the proponents of keeping the name won and it turned to be a winning strategy since people related to the name and the confidence in the laptops was not lost despite being bought by a Chinese company which at that time still meant that Chinese products were substandard and not of a good quality.

Example 2: Nissan Motor Company is a remarkable car maker and one of the market leaders these days but they were not always that successful… nor were they always called Nissan…. The company that will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary changed hands of ownership many times in its early periods and just like any Japanese industry they focused on efficiency and reliability, two features that earned them the hearts of many car enthusiasts around the globe but under the name Datsun and not Nissan. So when the top management decided to kill the name in 1986, it proved to be an almost lethal mistake. The company went in a downward spiral because the confidence and familiarity that came with the Datsun name were lost by Nissan and people were not so welcoming of the new name so in addition to the rebranding costs and the marketing campaign to change the names, the slipping sales of Nissan nearly brought the company to its knees and led to drastic measures including hiring the first ever non-Japanese CEO to a Japanese company – The Lebanese Mr. Carlos Ghosn, and also hundreds of lay-offs, a decision that until that date was unheard of in the Japanese culture. 12 years after that, Nissan revived the name Datsun and is reaping the benefits of such a decision.

A third indirect example can be derived from the stories of BMW and Mercedes Benz, both car makers own or “owned” luxury brand cars and compact cars. BMW owns Rolls Royce and Mini Cooper while Mercedes owns the struggling Smart and until recently they produced the now defunct Maybach luxury cars. The reason why the first is successful with both brands and the second is failing is very simple: “differentiation”. BMW differentiated both brands and gave them a separate identity while Mercedes tried to associate them with its brand as much as possible just like Microsoft is doing so with the smart phones unit. Sometimes imposing a successful brand name on a different product can have a reverse effect and instead of acting as a leverage it would drown it….

A short while ago, Nokia announced that they were planning a comeback to the smart phone which poses a real and direct threat to Microsoft. When Microsoft purchased the cell phone division, they neglected the Nokia maps software which turned out to be one of the most valuable assets which is currently the target of many companies from cell phone companies to car makers. This alone can help in marketing and selling the new Nokia phones. The re-entry can be cheap for them and they can opt on choosing android OS just like the tens of cell phone makers in the industry. Along  with their maps and other solutions that Nokia is famous for it can prove to be a winning combo. Moreover, they might come back to their senses and work on redeveloping  their in-house software because the world might be ready for a new breakthrough.

Both companies are treading a fine line here because a comeback in the tech world is almost impossible and none has been able to do it so far. But in Nokia’s favor there is a remarkable brand name………..