The Strategist: Why Business Canvases aren’t enough if you don’t consider value creation

The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business NeedsThe Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs by Cynthia Montgomery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The value of this book lay in its ability to distill important, insightful points in a digestible format.

In The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs, Montgomery helps you to think about applying and understanding the market forces in your industry. Montgomery also discusses the importance of creating value and defining purpose with her Strategy Wheel. Here is an example Strategy Wheel:



The heart of all this is the purpose; why does your company exist? The book is about taking ownership of the process, and ensuring that your system of value creation is critically linked to your purpose. If organizations want to be more effective, efficient, and have more impactful, then the strategist needs to line things up in that direction. If it isn’t working in favour of your purpose and value, then cut it. The book is about identifying that strategy is about having a compelling purpose for why the organization exists, and ensuring that your organization is squared up to meet it, and push it forward.

From time to time, I see people not owning their behaviour. I also see them not owning their industry and understanding everything about it. The book had good case studies, where you could see people straying outside their red lines. Case Studies are all very well since we can look at them with cold objectivity. With our own business, it becomes less clear and it starts to engage our lizard brain, which is harder to master.

I re-read the Strategy Wheel chapter a few times. The danger with canvasses such as the Business Canvas (or rebadged attempts at it) is that people really don’t always ask themselves about value creation. It is supposed to be a core component of the Business Canvas model but I don’t always see it applied. Perhaps because it is the hardest part? It is easy to tick boxes in a dilettante fashion, and not think more deeply from there. Thinking about strategy and value is hard, and Montgomery argues that you have to move deeper than ticking boxes, and I think that she is right. I prefer the Strategy Wheel since it means you have to focus on your purpose, and I will be using a version for it for my AI for the Executives Masterclass in London in May. Register Here

The book is heavily Porterian, which is not surprising since Montgomery is also at Harvard. It means that people without a business knowledge backgound could understand the impacts in a Porterian fashion, but not necessarily know his theory. I think that makes it applicable and relevant to a wider audience, and that’s a good thing.

The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business NeedsThe Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs

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Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: Your ‘must have’ tools for #Leadership and what we learn from #Theranos

In the book ‘Bad Blood’ by John Carreyou, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Oracle’s Larry Ellison and the bitcoin bull and capital investor, Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion. Holmes achieved her life’s ambition of becoming a billionaire, with her worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. A major problem led to the largest corporate fraud since Enron: The technology didn’t work.

I read the book as a data professional, horrified by the lackadaisical approach to data governance, testing, and repeatable, testable science. Data was almost irrelevant, and it is clear from reading the book that the authorities, such as the FDA, hammered Theranos for their failure to put safeguards around their testing and data processes. So where does empathy come in?

Empathy is the art of remembering when others have helped make you feel heard, and empowered, and then paying that feeling forward to others.

On a deeper leadership level, it was clear that there was little emotional intelligence or empathy. It showed in a few things, such as a clear inability to empathise with the patients who relied on blood testing for their lives, as well as the military personnel who were one of the target audiences for this faulty machine.

One of my favourite quotes is Maya Angelou’s insightful comment:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

As a leader, becoming empathetic is one of the most complex skills to master. From my reading of the Theranos situation in Bad Blood, it became clear that there was no atmosphere of empathetic leadership; in fact, quite the opposite. The people with the skills and data seemed afraid to speak to the Theranos leaders, and the book describes their feeling of terror when speaking with the leaders. It sounds like a hostile, sick place of work. If only they’d listened, perhaps Theranos might have had some of the successes that it was posited to have.

Earlier in my career, I used to have a complex reaction when people gave me unwarranted advice, or advice that I didn’t ask for. Sometimes I thought that they thought I was an idiot, or I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Now, as a leader, I realize that people felt that they could provide me with feedback; they weren’t afraid to talk to me. Now, I realize what a gift I’ve been given, and I appreciate it now. Thank you to everyone who shared their advice and wisdom with me. Possibly, I was not grateful at the time, but I see now that you felt you could talk to me.

Reading Bad Blood was a source of reflection for me, since it made me think about myself, and my responses to other people. If I had worked at Theranos, I would have been afraid to speak out, and I’d have probably just left.

What Holmes and Balwani missed out on was the gift of advice and thoughtful, constructive criticism for other people. People didn’t seem to be able to talk to them, so Holmes and Balwani never received their insights and help.

On reflection, sometimes I find myself in the situation where I could speak to someone with some insights, or even to warn them. But I can’t, because that person is simply too difficult to deal with, and I have to make a judgement call between making an effort to go through the pain of having to deal with them, and deal with the response of their lizard brain when they default to type, and don’t listen. So I leave it, step back, and leave them on their merry way to make mistakes. After a while, it’s just not worth my time and effort if I’ve bothered to try to engage.

I also realized that I cannot stomach a ‘make it until you fake it’ approach. I am not a dilettante, dabbling and making things sound good. I could see the dilettante, ‘fake it unti you make it’ approach resonate throughout the book and I realized how much it switches me off, and pushes me away. I am not looking for the good in people, I am looking for the real.

So I learned a lot from the book, about lack of empathy and emotional intelligence, but also about my response to people like that. I have been actively trying to grow my emotional intelligence and empathy, and here are some suggested reads. Click on the book for a link:




Enjoy! If you have any other recommendations, please leave them in the comments.

List of Python Colours for handy reference

This is a list of colours from for handy reference.

Color HEX
aliceblue F0F8FF
antiquewhite FAEBD7
aqua 00FFFF
aquamarine 7FFFD4
azure F0FFFF
beige F5F5DC
bisque FFE4C4
black 000000
blanchedalmond FFEBCD
blue 0000FF
blueviolet 8A2BE2
brown A52A2A
burlywood DEB887
cadetblue 5F9EA0
chartreuse 7FFF00
chocolate D2691E
coral FF7F50
cornflowerblue 6495ED
cornsilk FFF8DC
crimson DC143C
cyan 00FFFF
darkblue 00008B
darkcyan 008B8B
darkgoldenrod B8860B
darkgray A9A9A9
darkgreen 006400
darkgrey A9A9A9
darkkhaki BDB76B
darkmagenta 8B008B
darkolivegreen 556B2F
darkorange FF8C00
darkorchid 9932CC
darkred 8B0000
darksalmon E9967A
darkseagreen 8FBC8F
darkslateblue 483D8B
darkslategray 2F4F4F
darkslategrey 2F4F4F
darkturquoise 00CED1
darkviolet 9400D3
deeppink FF1493
deepskyblue 00BFFF
dimgray 696969
dimgrey 696969
dodgerblue 1E90FF
firebrick B22222
floralwhite FFFAF0
forestgreen 228B22
fuchsia FF00FF
gainsboro DCDCDC
ghostwhite F8F8FF
gold FFD700
goldenrod DAA520
gray 808080
green 008000
greenyellow ADFF2F
grey 808080
honeydew F0FFF0
hotpink FF69B4
indianred CD5C5C
indigo 4B0082
ivory FFFFF0
khaki F0E68C
lavender E6E6FA
lavenderblush FFF0F5
lawngreen 7CFC00
lemonchiffon FFFACD
lightblue ADD8E6
lightcoral F08080
lightcyan E0FFFF
lightgoldenrodyellow FAFAD2
lightgray D3D3D3
lightgreen 90EE90
lightgrey D3D3D3
lightpink FFB6C1
lightsalmon FFA07A
lightseagreen 20B2AA
lightskyblue 87CEFA
lightslategray 778899
lightslategrey 778899
lightsteelblue B0C4DE
lightyellow FFFFE0
lime 00FF00
limegreen 32CD32
linen FAF0E6
magenta FF00FF
maroon 800000
mediumaquamarine 66CDAA
mediumblue 0000CD
mediumorchid BA55D3
mediumpurple 9370DB
mediumseagreen 3CB371
mediumslateblue 7B68EE
mediumspringgreen 00FA9A
mediumturquoise 48D1CC
mediumvioletred C71585
midnightblue 191970
mintcream F5FFFA
mistyrose FFE4E1
moccasin FFE4B5
navajowhite FFDEAD
navy 000080
oldlace FDF5E6
olive 808000
olivedrab 6B8E23
orange FFA500
orangered FF4500
orchid DA70D6
palegoldenrod EEE8AA
palegreen 98FB98
paleturquoise AFEEEE
palevioletred DB7093
papayawhip FFEFD5
peachpuff FFDAB9
peru CD853F
pink FFC0CB
plum DDA0DD
powderblue B0E0E6
purple 800080
rebeccapurple 663399
red FF0000
rosybrown BC8F8F
royalblue 4169E1
saddlebrown 8B4513
salmon FA8072
sandybrown F4A460
seagreen 2E8B57
seashell FFF5EE
sienna A0522D
silver C0C0C0
skyblue 87CEEB
slateblue 6A5ACD
slategray 708090
slategrey 708090
springgreen 00FF7F
steelblue 4682B4
tan D2B48C
teal 008080
thistle D8BFD8
tomato FF6347
turquoise 40E0D0
violet EE82EE
wheat F5DEB3
white FFFFFF
whitesmoke F5F5F5
yellow FFFF00
yellowgreen 9ACD32

DIY Deep Fakes: an alternative point of view

I wanted to offer some alternative thoughts on the presentation entitled ‘DIY Deep Fakes‘ with the subtitle ‘Why Deep Fakes are dangerous, and how to make them‘. I don’t represent the Microsoft MVP Program, any other Microsoft program, or Microsoft. The backstory is that the presenter, James Ashley, was an MVP for ten or so years, and he was removed from the Program as per his blog post here. I have not met James although I’m a Microsoft MVP, holding the Award for 8 years.

The title of the presentation is DIY Deep Fakes. Straight away, that’s a call to action: literally, ‘do it yourself’. The first part of the presentation, James rightly points out that there are bad aspects to deep fakes, specifically, political objectives and pornography. Then, James walks you through the technology on making deepfakes, as per the subtitle. From the 37th minute to the end, the recommendation comes to try FakeApps with your browser in ‘incognito’ mode, antivirus on, and machine not connected to the network. For the record, I am absolutely NOT recommending that you create deepfakes. If you want to learn about AI, there are plenty of other fun, safe ways.

Let’s look past the presentation for a moment, and consider the consequences.  It’s not a huge jump to imagine that someone watching that would think, hey, why don’t I try that thing that the MVP did by myself? And before you know it, they’ve created a deepfake porn video, using Microsoft technologies, inspired by a Microsoft MVP, a well-respected community leader. Personally, I don’t believe that Microsoft would want that. The consequences could be tragic. In the video, James specifically calls out some of the virtual machines on Azure, from 33 minutes in the video for this purpose.

What could the presentation have achieved instead? The presentation could have shown more clearly how to identify a deepfake, how to report it if it is hurtful, and how to technically distinguish a truth from a lie. The presentation could have used the time and communication opportunity to do something to help combat this pernicious misuse of technology, and do good something really positive for community health, diversity and inclusion. I would like to have seen MVPs inspire a culture of positivity by clarifying how to catch deepfakes, and speak out forcefully. Instead, we get a presentation from an MVP about how we can make our own deepfakes and your title is literally a Call to Action on making deepfakes: Do It Yourself.

I don’t know the situation about James being removed from the MVP Program, or what happened, and all I have to go on is the presentation that James has tweeted, and James’ blog here. And, having reviewed both, that’s all I have to go on, and, quite frankly, I have no idea why this presentation was never questioned by anyone. Why not go for the technical and social challenge of preventing them in the first place? I’m all for open debates, but the presentation circumvents the debates by showing people how to create them; foregone conclusion.

James is right on one thing; anything along the lines of revenge porn, porn without the consent of the participants, porn created to hurt people, deepfakes etc etc are absolutely painful. When I was at university, one of my classmates photoshopped my face into the body of a porn actress, and printed out tons of copies and put them on the university dorms and they refused to take them down. Twenty years later, I still cringe when I think about it. I only found out about it because the male students all sniggered when I went past and eventually one of my friends told me, and I went to visit one of the rooms and there ‘I’ was – up on the wall. It was beyond horrifying. When I close my eyes, I can still see the picture. And that was just a picture. An actual movie would be much, much worse, and why oh why would that be given airtime? Why should I have to sit in conferences where someone is literally showing how to create deepfakes?

On a separate note, I have written about my own MeToo experience here and other places (it carries a trigger warning) and how the technical community participation has helped me in my healing process. I’d have loved it if my fellow MVPs would show support by helping to stop the problem, which is an interesting and technically complex challenge. I’d want to feel that the MVPs are on my side, as a fellow MVP and MeToo survivor/campaigner, and leading the community away to calling out deepfakes.

If you James or anyone else does respond, I hope that you’ll consider wisdom and good judgement in making a considered response. To quote Aeschylus:

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

My wisdom is hard won, and I hope that this perspective will be considered along with all of the heat that seems to be happening. It seems as if the argument has got down into the weeds of simply apologizing to anyone who has seen the video, or attended the presentation at Summit, and who was upset by it. I have to say, the argument does not consider the impact of our voices as MVPs and as a community leader. Our voice carry as an MVP and I suspect many people would be horrified if someone made a deepfake porn as a result of this session. I’m not sure that this consequence was ever considered.

I don’t want to have to attend conferences where a well-respected speaker is showing audience members how to make deepfakes. They can get that information from anywhere on the Internet, sure, but the problem is, as a community leader (MVP or whatever) we set direction and tone. MVPs can help move the needle, and I’d have liked MVPs to be the people who speaks out forcefully and with conviction about the pernicious misuse of this technology, and helps move the needle for good. It’s not about creating them as a beautifully technical experiment, it’s about stopping the hurt that they can cause.

I hope that people in the technical community will consider the consequences of the DIY – literally, Do It Yourself – talk because the consequences go far greater than just potentially upsetting one of the immediate attendees. It’s the principle and the spirit that’s wrong. I don’t speak for MIcrosoft, the MVP Program or anyone else; this is my thoughts. For me, MVPs are given a great platform and opportunity to do something really great. Stopping deepfakes is hard, and perhaps the session should have been about that instead; still a great technical session, but one that really sets the tone as a great example of community leadership.

People have to think ethically and carefully about technology and it’s use and misuse, and who can get hurt, and how it could be stopped. I don’t think it’s right that we see lots of deepfakes inspired by MVPs. I think we need to strive to show wisdom and judgement as the leaders that the MVP Program recognizes us to be.





Let my People go Surfing: Book Review

22155I wanted to share my review of Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. It’s an excellent and sobering book which is fundamentally about responsibility, integrity, honesty authenticity and vision in leadership and business. Read it, and you’ll change your mind about sustainability and how it should not be a ‘nice to have’ but an essential facet of every business. It is so important to behave ethically and consider the triple bottom line – the profit, planet and people – that makes up a business, and puts ethics at the front-and-centre of every business and every leader.

Let My People Go Surfing is an incredibly visionary book, and it led me to think about living and running a business more sustainably. It is a blueprint for running a business in a world that has more knowledge but less judgement, more degrees and ‘experts’ but less purpose.

Every business owner should read this book, and work towards a sustainable environment through business. Following the disastrous practices of the banking community in the past few decades, MBA courses are sensitive to the ethical and environmental aspects of business and I’m glad I’m progressing through my MBA since it has given me the opportunity to learn about sutainability and how I can do my little bit through my own little business.

Read it, and change your mind about leadership and business. The insights from this book has informed my thinking and I’m glad I read it. I’ll go back to it in the future, I’m sure.

Marketing as a strategic business partner: mixing theory, research and #data

Marketing is viewed as a key strategic participant in achieving the goals of businesses, both large and small. I thought I’d share how we started to apply marketing theory, practice, and insights from data. There are tons of ‘skate on the surface’ marketing soundbite books, which may sound good at the first glance with no depth. But it’s quite a different thing to work at it so you really know it, practice it, and can share it with other people so it is authentic. It’s about focusing on the real, not the soundbite. Real never goes out of fashion.

Research evidence has shown that consumers interact with advertising in complex ways, especially since we have such short attention spans (Weilbacher, 2003). How do organizations know which way their decisions should land? After all, the Internet can break a business very quickly! So, organizations need a cohesive strategy which aligns all methods of communication to ensure consistency (Porter, 2001).

The overall company vision can be conveyed through the brand, which is shorthand for the company vision. The brand to communicate and distinguish an organization from other organizations. Brands can be viewed as a collective of perceptions that exist in the mind of the consumer, and the process of distinguishing and identifying products is known as branding (Doyle, 1999; cited in Baker, 1999).  Even in the industrial sector, where decisions are made by technical team members, brands can acquire confidence through familiarity (Levitt and Levitt, 1986).

Building a brand involves four key concepts: quality, service, innovation and differentiation (Doyle, 1999). Brands can also migrate from mature technologies to encompass new technology (Doyle, 1989). For example, over at Data Relish, we mix mature Business Intelligence technologies with new and upcoming technology, Artificial Intelligence is enjoying rapid growth (Xiong, 2019).

How can you tell what’s working for your organization? Particularly in the current economic climate and Brexit-dominated climate, it is important to identify the most targeted opportunities to maximise growth opportunities. It’s also important to collect customer feedback and references, which can be incredibly enlightening and occasionally even heartwarming! So what’s the secret?

  • The secret is the data. For example, at Data Relish, we have conducted some analyses in order to look at targeting and positioning better. It’s like having an arrow, and the segmentation is equivalent to pulling the arrow back so it gives you more power to go further.
  • It’s great to be insight-driven, but it’s also good to be data-driven and evaluate what the data actually says. It’s a balance.
  • Also, have good tools.

To do this, we used Power BI to examine the data from source systems such as HubSpot, FreeAgent and Insightly to understand better what was working from the marketing perspective. We also send the results to an independent marketing consultant for the purposes of replication and verification.

Obviously I’m not sharing the findings here, but it is safe to say that the results were enlightening. The UK Government estimates that AI could add an additional USD $814 billion (£630bn) to the UK economy by 2035, increasing the annual growth rate of GVA from 2.5 to 3.9% (UK Government, 2017). By asserting experience as well as expertise, one thing that was working was that we were viewed as ‘trusted advisors’ in AI, helping to lead organizations at success by working with the C-suite to make the data work, and work hard to add business value. It became clear that we were perceived as a proven safe trusted advisor with experience in what’s perceived as a ‘young’ field, and this is a key differentiator which is proving invaluable in gaining clients in a variety of sectors. It seems that everyone is an expert in AI these days! But we could actually show it.

So, we made efforts to have real chops and apply our research and findings to our own organization, and to really analyze the data, and to apply marketing theory and practice to improving , informed by the academic literature. Data can help us to understand the research to explore and elicit reasons for avoidance of brands (Lee et al., 2009).

I’ll blog more on the journey with marketing with Power BI, HubSpot, FreeAgent and so on, but the main takeaway here is that you always learn something by having a fresh look at the data. Additionally, it’s important to get the results independently verified. If you need a hand with these concepts, don’t hesitate to get in touch over at Data Relish.


Doyle, P. 1999, ‘Branding’ in Baker, M (ed.) The Marketing Book.; 4th ed, Chartered Institute of Marketing., Oxford, UK.

Doyle, P. 1989, Building successful brands: The strategic options. Journal of Marketing Management, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 77-95.

Levitt, T. & Levitt, I.M. 1986, Marketing Imagination. Simon and Schuster.

Porter, M.E. 2001, Strategy and the Internet. Harvard business Review, (2001): 63-78.

Porter, M.E., 2008. The five competitive forces that shape strategy. Harvard business Review, 86(1), pp.25-40.

Weilbacher, W.M. 2003, “How Advertising Affects Consumers”, Journal of Advertising Research, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 230-234.

UK Government 2017,  Executive Summary. Available:

Xiong, X. 2019, “Analysis of the Status Quo of Artificial Intelligence and Its Countermeasures”, 2018 International Workshop on Education Reform and Social Sciences (ERSS 2018)Atlantis Press .