Mercuri Mail

The India Journal of Mercuri International Jul - Sep 2020

Pivot to Prosper

3 Inspiring Vintage Stories to Convince You that Crisis is an Opportunity in Clever Disguise
Must Read
Wish you had more? Stop being ‘Chaser’ and Become a ‘Stretcher’
Are you still waiting for ‘normal’ that may never return?


Pivot to Prosper

3 Inspiring Vintage Stories to Convince You that Crisis is an Opportunity in Clever Disguise

These are extraordinary times. After six months of being locked down, self-isolated and people reduced to fleeting pixels, ‘the normal’, new, old or whatever that is, looks discouragingly far away. But as these 3 vintage stories will show you, a crisis is indeed a mammoth opportunity to look at everything with pristine eyes and discover new avenues that can get us thriving again.

Western Union

If you’ve ever sent money overseas or received funds transferred to you from abroad, you’ll easily recognise this name. And if you have travelled to any foreign destination, you would have likely seen Western Union signage among the money-changer counters. But the brand has a surprisingly interesting history.

Did you know that till the 1930s Western Union was a company offering telegram services? Before the Great Depression hit US, Western Union was handling an estimated telegram traffic of 200 million messages. Telegrams were then widely used to send urgent messages and by financial entities to transfer money

Soon, telephony and then the Internet, made instant communication a reality. That spelt the death for telegrams. Did Western Union go under? Far from it. It just chose to pivot and discover a new Customer need that it can fulfill. And went on to transform itself into a name to reckon in money transfer services.


You are visiting a friend who you know has a hyperactive but creative 3-year old who needs to be constantly engaged. If you wrack your brain to come up with something nice you can gift the kid, one default option to consider, besides the usual crayons and coloring books, would be modelling clay. Just the right play activity to calm down a restless kid and get her to spend hours, creating art work her parents can click and save in their family album.

But curiously, the company that introduced modelling clay to the world, Kutol, started out as a manufacturer of wall cleaners that could remove the ugly, dark residue left by coal heaters on home walls. When world emerged from the Great Depression in the 1930’s and oil and gas heaters disrupted the use of coal for heating, Kutol was pushed to a corner.

The company found its pivoting idea from an unlikely source. A relative of the company’s founders had successfully used the company’s cleaning putty in her classes for young children, getting them to do arts and crafts activity, to create ornaments and art objects.

A brand-new need had been discovered. And thus, was born Ply-Doh, the modelling clay leader whose group is now worth billions of dollars in market capitalization.


It was the 1950s - the Golden Age of American US Auto Industry, when anything with wheels and a motor stoked the American passion for automobiles.

So, Honda couldn’t have timed its US entry better. Honda did it in style introducing a white-hot sounding motorbike appropriately called Supercub. It was supposed to give entrenched brands like Harley some stiff, new competition. But Honda was in for a big surprise. Of the negative variety.

The American market took one look at the small sized Japanese bikes and turned up its nose. Auto dealers still romancing the bigger, better established brands, were clearly uninterested and Honda’s Supercub, while claiming to be super, was still seen as a ‘cub’, not fit for cross country highway rides.

How did Honda respond to this flopped entry? Instead of getting despondent, Honda kept its cool and its ears and eyes wide open. Once they found that a few of the bikes they sold were used by Customers for off-road adventure biking, Honda pivoted. They switched dealerships to sports goods distributors and America awakened to a newly discovered sport called ‘dirt-biking’. And that rewrote the American two-wheeler story, taking Honda close to the market leaders in US motorcycle business.

Learning: Pivot to Prosper

The learning is common across these stories. Confronted with an existential crisis, the smart ones find new needs of Customers they can fulfill in the changed circumstances. Or they identify new uses for their existing products or find new Customer-segments they can serve. They redefine and redesign value for their Customers. One thing they don’t do is to sit on their hands or wring them in despair, hoping for things to change. They go out and actively embrace the changes necessary to thrive.

These stories should top us up with fresh hope and courage and inspire us all to similarly pivot in response to any crisis, and prosper. Again, and again.


5 Principles to Redesign Value Delivery Guaranteed to Charm your post Covid Customers

Are you still waiting for ‘normal’ that may never return?

In Samuel Beckett’s famous play Waiting for the Godot, two characters, Vladimir and Estragon meet near a tree and talk of many things and encounter many people. All the while they are waiting there for a man named Godot. But Godot, never arrives till the play ends.

The current expectations about ‘new normal’ going back ‘old normal’ are no different. And as Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell urge, in the Sept 2020 issue of Strategy + Business “Forget about the “new normal”: Design something different”

So, what’s the way forward?

Your Value Proposition is the solid ground you should seek to anchor yourself to, when the ground beneath all businesses is shifting. As the authors point out “Customers come to you for a reason: because you’re innovative or top-quality, because you’re a one-stop shop, or because you build deep relationships” Whatever that may be, clearly now is not the time to change it.

What you can do however is to repurpose the way you deliver the promised value in the post Covid period. You can create a service design that can deliver the value in a way that charms Customers and makes them your staunch advocates. Stewart and O’Connell suggest using 5 principles to translate a value proposition into an experience that Customers can’t forget

5 Principles to redesign Customer Value Delivery – The SPICE Acronym

  1. Segment your Customers – Questions to ask are: Are you still right for the Customers you had before the pandemic? Has the pandemic added any new “right Customers” to your business? These are Customers whose needs have changed in ways that could be met if you design new pathways to connect with them. Or they may be Customers left dry and high because their old suppliers or service providers can no l ong cater to them. Another segment could be new Customers now worth your attention though they not were not so before.
  2. Promise what you can deliver – In the post Covid era, setting clear expectations and meeting them consistently may be more valuable than attempts to surprise and delight your customers. In fact, the new meaning of delight may be a dogged consistency in meeting expectations. Nothing more may be required. “Companies also now have the opportunity to set and meet expectations in an area that businesses didn’t need to highlight before: safety and hygiene”. So, any initiatives that make the Customers feel safer and better protected will be sure winners.
  3. Innovate Processes – Research isn’t the only source of innovative processes. Innovation can and must happen at every Customer touchpoint. What’s essential for this is an acute awareness of how the Customer experiences your product or service and a constant search for improvements at all levels. Actively encouraging ideas and suggestions for enhancing quality of Customer experience is critical.
  4. Create a Coherent Experience- Check for the effect that the pandemic has had on Customer experience. Has it pulled apart experiences that once were cohesive? If your business has been driven to going online by the pandemic, how has it impacted your Customers? Has it impaired your people’s ability to deliver personal attention? Identify steps you can take to make up for the gaps and restore a coherent service experience that’s memorable
  5. Efficiency is a Priority – “For great Customer experience to be sustainable, it needs to be efficient for both the provider and the Customers” suggest the authors. “Efficiency was a casualty of the early days of the pandemic. Businesses were often working with reduced and dispersed staff. Customers understood and tolerated inconvenience out of loyalty or because they trusted the company. The grace period is ending” they warn. So, rediscovering top standards of efficiency is a priority if Customers are to be won back and retained. This may need careful scrutiny of existing practices and changes to meet the needs and realities of after-Corona (AC) era

What does it all add up to?

Summary in three words – Redesign Value Delivery. As the authors conclude: “Now is the time to redesign, to invest so you can serve your right customers, keep your promises, make innovation constant, improve coherence, and enhance efficiency. You’ll get a chance like this only once — we hope”

You can read the article on Forget about the “new normal”: Design something different by Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell featured in the Sept 14, 2020 issue of Strategy + Business here

Must Read

Stretch by Scott Sonenshein

Wish you had more?

If only, you had more money, more time, more people, more products, more prospects, more everything to manoeuvre your way through these torturous times…

Do you secretly envy the deep pockets, impressive budgets, giant production line, innumerable products and army-count employees of bigger businesses?

Take heart, says Scott Sonenshein in his 2017 book Stretch – Unlock the Power of Less advancing a compelling argument that having lesser resources isn’t the crippling handicap it appears to be. On the contrary, says the book, it compels you to act in the here and now with whatever time, budget, people or physical resources you have. Often, with surprisingly successful results.

Stop being ‘Chaser’ and Become a ‘Stretcher’

The trick, according to Sonenshein, is to move your mindset from being a chaser (“How I wish I had ….”) to a Stretcher (“Here’s what I can, with what I’ve got …”). “Stretching equips us with the abilities to adapt and change when facing less predictable set of circumstances” Constraints spark our creativity in solving problems. More resources don’t necessarily mean superior results. But more efficient use of resources certainly guarantees better results.

So, what’s stopping us?

Check for these 3 frequent reasons why you may be resistant the ‘stretch’ mindset:

  1. 1. You chase when you can stretch because you can’t see beyond the traditional use of the resource (All instances of the famous Indian jugaad are examples of stretch mentality. Example: Real life story of a small manufacturer of ceiling fans, unable to buy a delivery van, simply removes the rear seat of his passenger car to keep his sales distribution going)
  2. 2. If you have more money, you might be inclined to spend it to resolve issues rather than creatively stretch yourself to solve problems
  3. 3. When you go on an acquisition spree, you lose sight of what those acquisitions can do for you. Result? Resources get frittered as you never feel the compulsion to stretch your existing resources

12 Ways to Learn Stretching

Sonenshein recommends 12 ways to acquire the ‘stretching’ habit. Here is the list with possible pointers, filled in, on how they could be relevant in a sales context

    1. 1) Just Say No – This is the opposite of “If I only had this, I could” Replacing that with a “what if I didn’t have this resource” approach. Applying this to sales could mean focusing on selling what one has, instead of asking for more products and features.

    1. 2) Find a Sleeping Beauty – What personal and organizational resources you haven’t used lately? If we look hard enough, we’ll find resources all around us waiting to be activated. For instance, are all your product lines, sales collaterals, promotions effectively used?

    1. 3) Go Explore – Fill your bag of experiences. Embrace the multi context rule and step out of your comfort zone, every now and then. Dedicate a few hours each week or month to exposing yourself to new learning experiences or people. This is particularly valuable for all sales professionals as they are required to handle Customers of varied temperaments and expectations and also employ their sales skills to a wide range of products and situations.

    1. 4) Take a Break (and Pay Less Attention) – This advice may sound counter intuitive. But it’s about how much you can get your mind to roam. This helps recharge, and promotes resourcefulness. How much more you can achieve if only your mind is agile and sharp when you are with your Customer! Too much pressure and fatigue, can take away from presence of mind!

    1. 5) Pick New Neighbors – “Identify one stretcher you admire and already know. Commit to spending at least one hour with him or her once a month.” It helps to pick sales ‘stretchers’ who always seem to get more done with less.

    1. 6) Appreciate – Be grateful for the resources you have, and you start appreciating how useful they are. Your valuing them will help you discover ways to get more out of them. You can make this work for all your sales connections, Customers, colleagues and ecosystem

    1. 7) Shop Your Closet – Put the resources you are currently using to better use first. This means if you are a sales leader, “take stock of the unnoticed or underutilized talents and skills your colleagues have, instead of asking for more headcount”

    1. 8) Plan Backward – You don’t always have to begin with a plan. Improvise. Begin from the goal you want to achieve now, and think of what you can do to get there. This teaches you to get creative. In a world full of constraints and unpredictability, goals and plans only matter up to a point. It is more about getting the best value from what is in the now.

    1. 9) Scramble the Backrow – “If we find ourselves too regularly on autopilot, it might be time to scramble the backrows” Like in chess, test if a new combination of available resources gets better results for you. In case your sales force sells in teams, try shuffling the people mix.

    1. 10) Make Midyear Resolutions – A resolution heralds a new start with a fresh resolve but all other things remaining the same. So, like a batsman asking for fresh guard after hitting a ton, make resolutions through the year, to breathe novelty into all your sales efforts.

    1. 11) Break it Down – When you break down your resources to their smallest components, then it becomes easier for you to see the hidden potential. What if you work with daily or weekly targets, instead of quarterly or yearly?

      1. 12) Turn Trash into Treasure – To General Motors is attributed a celebrated quote “At GM, we view waste as a resource out of place” So, when we actively search for and discover hidden benefits in unused resources or mobilize people to do new things, we turn trash into treasure. In a sales context, ask yourself which Customer relationships are dormant today that could be sparked into delivering value?

“Stretching is a learned set of attitudes and skills that comes from a simple but powerful shift from wanting more resources to embracing and acting on the possibilities of our resources already in hand”

That’s just the uplifting prescription all of us need for the resource-starved times we are living through!

Ravi's Corner

Ile de France*

*Photo Credit: Rohit Tandon @rohittandon on Unsplash – Grape Bunch

  • My vineyards are seeing a revival
  • From the ashes , a soaring renaissance
  • Mother Nature bestows on me A MIRACLE
  • Luscious grapes-red, purple,white and green
  • Emerging from an unique blend of soil , sunshine and air
  • Hard toil and passion
  • For years and counting
  • From the sweat on my brow to your table
  • Every drop tingles the taste buds
  • Fruity..woody.. acidic…light or heavy bodied
  • Twinkling in a crystal goblet
  • For you to savour with eyes closed
  • Today’s tag of authenticity-Ile De France
  • An unmatched competitive edge
  • That’s our PIVOT for renewal & abundance
  • What’s yours?


1) “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday's logic.” – Peter Drucker

2) "When it rains look for rainbows and when it’s dark look for the stars” – Anonymous

3) “Make up your mind that no matter what comes your way, no matter how difficult, no matter how unfair, you will do more than simply survive. You will thrive in spite of it.” —Joel Osteen

4) "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself "- Rumi

5) “Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, anything is possible” – Mandy Hale

6) “So long as new ideas are created, sales will continue to reach new highs” - Charles F. Kettering

7) “The reason it seems that price is all your Customers care about is that you haven’t given them anything else to care about” – Seth Godin

8) “Most consumers don’t mind hearing from brands as long as it is a solution, where we are not trying to sell something, but we are trying to solve something.” - Kelly Frederickson – CEO of MullenLowe

9) “We are all navigating this new normal together. As we lock arms virtually and try to help one another in the ways we can, our vast world suddenly feels a little smaller and a lot more connected. And for that, we are grateful.” - Michael Dell – CEO of Dell

10) “The key is to keep the DNA of the business intact so that when we come back out of this incredible, unique situation, we have all the building blocks we started with before, to spring right back into business.” - Kevin O’Leary – Entrepreneur and co-star of Shark Tank


27 ‘Number-Ones’ for Excellence 2020 from Tom Peters

What should be your Number One best practice for navigating your way through Covid 19?

Tom Peters, often described as the ‘Red Bull of Management Thinking’ offers not 1, but 27 Number Ones - #1s - that can create a “sustainable and humane workplace" in the age of COVID-19”. His list of 27 Number Ones offers you a simple yet complete guide on where to focus your leadership from hiring and training to culture and management. Below is Tom Peter’s bullet list of 27 “spells” for success in turbulent times and always:

  1. Capital Investment #1: TRAINING. TRAINING. TRAINING.
  3. Obsession #1: EXECUTION IS THE “LAST 95 PERCENT”
  7. Hiring Requirement #1: HIRE FOR EQ/EMPATHY/“SOFT” SKILLS
  11. Value-Added Strategy #1: DESIGN/EXTREME HUMANIZATION
  12. Value-Added Tiny Tactic #1: TGR=THINGS GONE RIGHT/SMALL>>BIG
  13. Value-Added Success Credo #1: BETTER BEFORE CHEAPER
  14. Leadership Team “Must” #1: PUT WOMEN IN CHARGE
  15. Business Development Opportunity #1: WOMEN BUY EVERYTHING
  16. Missed Market Opportunity #1: OLDIES HAVE A-L-L THE MONEY
  17. Economic Cornerstone #1: SMALL- AND MEDIUM-SIZE ENTERPRISES
  18. Innovation Strategy #1: WHOEVER TRIES THE MOST STUFF WINS
  19. Daily Strategic Activity #1: MANAGING BY WANDERING AROUND
  20. Time Management Must #1: SLOW DOWN/50 PERCENT UNSCHEDULED TIME
  23. Personal Habit #1: READ. READ. READ.
  24. Toughest Task #1: SELF-MANAGEMENT
  27. Reflection #1: FOCUS ON “EULOGY VIRTUES”


Mercuri Mail is a thoughtful compilation of meaningful articles drawn from Mercuri India archives, and from timeless management literature. Edited by Jaishankar Balasubramaniam & Sridhar Srinivasan of Mercuri Goldmann (India) Pvt. Ltd. This publication is for private circulation only.; |

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