22 Jul

Hope is Not a Strategy

In mid -March of this year, when the coronavirus began shutting down schools, businesses and our normal way of life, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an interview with Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. In it, Osterholm discussed some of the frustrations of being the voice of impending change, which policy makers really didn’t want to hear, and why the message was ignored until too late.[1] 

An Early Warning

In his 2017 book “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs,” Osterholm sounded the alarm on coronavirus diseases’ disturbing combination — they have a relatively high mortality rate and can spread rapidly in humans. In the last 20 years, outbreaks of SARS and MERS (in the same viral family now fueling the COVID-19 pandemic) did not go global, but they were “harbingers of things to come.”

In January he said, to a group of organizations he advises, “I now am absolutely convinced this is going to be a pandemic. This will be a worldwide epidemic. We will see major transmission around the world. And, what has happened in Wuhan will happen in other places.”

“This to me was the equivalent of someone standing on a beach, a beautiful sand beach on the Gulf, beautiful blue skies, not a cloud in the sky — but 500 miles south of there is the biggest low-pressure system we’ve ever seen. We should have been telling people back then, this is going to be like a Category 5 hurricane.”

Resistance to the Message

Osterholm cites key reasons why policy makers were so slow to respond.

  • A sense of invincibility. Osterholm says, “We had almost this sense of invincibility that we had a border that would not allow such infectious-disease agents to penetrate …. We, of course, know that is folly.”
  • Little understanding of vulnerability. “[There has been] no real understanding of the vulnerability of this country outsourcing all of its drug supply manufacturing to places like China. And, when you don’t understand all that, or elect to neglect it, it’s easy to say another day went by and nothing happened.”
  • Lack of creative imagination for possible scenarios. “People who knew health care knew [it had been] carved down to the bone for which there was no resiliency of any substantial nature, no excess capacity, no monies to stockpile large volumes of protective equipment.”
  • Perceived distance. A common response was, “Well, that’s in China.” Osterholm explains that people didn’t understand these viruses don’t adhere to political boundaries — geographic areas are just another place for them to go
  • Resistance to objective evaluation of risk. People were wanting to believe this was a low-risk situation, but Osterholm and others were saying, “No, no, no.”

Leadership and Strategy

Osterholm states that changing behavior in response to the pandemic requires addressing both the “heads and hearts” of people. While factual data appeals to the ‘head,’ leadership appeals to the ‘heart.’

“How are we going to start dealing with both the hearts and the heads of the citizens of this country, and for that matter the world? And, we have to understand it’s going to be more than just giving them factual data or information. This is where leadership is really key. It’s important we don’t forget this piece.”   

The interview closes with this Q and A: 

Q. “Are you hopeful about new potential treatments for COVID-19, such as chloroquine, that are being studied right now?”

A. “I am hopeful, but hope is not a strategy.”

For leaders of organizations, the lessons are clear. Paying attention to the external environment can be both difficult and uncomfortable. It might require reconsideration of earlier strategies or acknowledging that some things are beyond your control. You may not want to hear it.

Whether it is unprecedented environmental change, like a global pandemic, or subtle change in your industries or markets, it is important for leaders to use unbiased data in their decision-making process, assess the magnitude of change and the associated risks, evaluate the needed capabilities to respond, and muster the courage to confidently communicate and lead.

In other words, ‘hope’ is not a strategy. 

[1] https://www.startribune.com/coronavirus-pandemic-what-s-normal-now-what-s-next-an-interview-with-michael-osterholm/568978932/?refresh=true

11 Jun

Supporting Those Calling for Change

In the wake of the death of George Floyd on May 25th and the ensuing protests and riots in our hometown of Minneapolis/St. Paul, some of our clients around the country are taking time this week to hold sessions with their employees to reflect on the systematic racial injustice in our country.   

We at Line of Sight Group stand in support of our client’s actions, as well as all who have been and will continue to protest peacefully and work for real change.

We are data people. We believe in the power of facts. We help our clients every day by delivering objective data and insights that help them identify opportunities and threats to  make informed business decisions.

In the spirit of objective data, below are some statistics we have curated regarding racial disparities in the states where we live. We’ve done this not only to bring light to these facts, but also to bring ourselves closer to it and help us all understand that we are part of the problem and must be part of the solution.

We support our clients, organizations and individuals who are working to make our world a place where fairness and justice exist for all people. We pledge to do our part as well. 


  • Children in Poverty: White-not Hispanic (6%) and Black/African American (33%) [1]
  • MCA III test scores show that by Grade 4 Black/African American students are falling behind their white peers in reading: White-not Hispanic students (65% proficient) and Black/African American students (31% proficient) [2]
  • Twin Cities ranked  4th worst place for Black Americans[3]
  • Twin Cities ranked 92nd out of 100 metros for racial equity [4]



According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Missouri had a population of 6,137,428 in July 2019. The white race represented 83%, while black or African Americans comprised 11.8%. 

  • In 2019, approximately 6.21% of the vehicle stops of Blacks and 6.34% of the stops of Hispanics resulted in arrest, compared with about 4.55% of the stops of whites [6]
  • In 2017, roughly one in five Black/African American young adults between 16-24 years old is neither in school nor working[7]
  • Black Americans account for about 13% of the U.S. population, but 24% of the coronavirus deaths. In Missouri, blacks account for 12% of the population, but 37% of coronavirus deaths [8]


  • As of December 2019, Black/African Americans constituted 5% of Colorado  residents, but 17% of people in jail and 18% of people in prison  [9]
  • In 2018, Black/African Americans represented 4% of the adult state population, but accounted for 12% of arrests/summonses and 11% of adult district court filings [10]


  • Nationwide, a black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person. In Iowa, however, a black person is 7.26 times more likely to be arrested[11]
  • Out-of-school suspensions. Nationally, African American students (13.5%) are suspended at about four times the rate of white students (3.4%). Six Midwestern states (including Iowa)  suspend black students at more than five times the rate of white students [12]

New Jersey

  • Out-of-school suspensions. Black students were 5.4 times more likely to face out-of-school suspension compared with white students. New Jersey tied with Iowa as the fifth-worst state for black-white disparities [13]
  • Black children are four times more likely than white children to enter foster care in New Jersey [14]

Also…in the spirit of being fair and unbiased, we also looked for statistics that describe disparities that favor African Americans. We are pretty good researchers but, unfortunately, we could not find any…

[1] A Statewide Crisis: Minnesota’s Education Achievement Gaps (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis): https://www.minneapolisfed.org/~/media/assets/pages/education-acheivement-gaps/achievement-gaps-mn-report.pdf?la=en

[2] 2018 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey https://mn.gov/admin/demography/news/annual-statewide-summary/2018-acs-release.jsp

[3] MPR. https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/06/17/minnesota-no-4-in-child-wellbeing-but-among-worst-in-racial-disparities

[4] NAACP. https://www.twincities.com/2019/12/06/twin-cities-ranks-92nd-out-of-100-metros-for-racial-equity-naacp-report-finds/

[5] https://www.startribune.com/how-did-minnesota-become-one-of-the-most-racially-inequitable-states/547537761/

[6] Missouri Vehicle Stops 2019 Annual Report

[7] 2019 Equity in Missouri Higher Education Report

[8] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/04/black-americans-face-higher-covid-19-risks-are-more-hesitant-to-trust-medical-scientists-get-vaccinated/)

[9]  https://www.vera.org/publications/state-incarceration-trends/colorado

[10] Colorado Dept. of Public Safety, October 2019 (pg. 9) http://cdpsdocs.state.co.us/ors/docs/reports/2019-SB15-185-Rpt.pdf

[11] ACLU Report: https://www.aclu-ia.org/sites/default/files/tale_of_two_countries_racially_targeted_arrests_in_the_era_of_marijuana_reform.pdf

[12] Race in the Heartland. University of Iowa and the Iowa Policy Project. Colin Gordon. October 2019. https://files.epi.org/uploads/Race-in-the-Midwest-FINAL-Interactive-1.pdf

[13] Why are black, hispanic students suspended more often? NorthJersey.com. https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/education/2019/03/22/nj-has-one-nations-worst-racial-gaps-school-suspensions/3140484002/

[14] WNYC investigation of data from 2009-2013. https://project.wnyc.org/nj-foster-care/

19 Mar

Note to clients, partners and friends re: coronavirus

Dear clients, business partners and friends of Line of Sight Group 

Obviously, we are living through extraordinary times. Over the past three weeks, we’ve seen dramatic changes in our basic way of life: rising cases of the deadly coronavirus, financial system meltdown, panic consumer buying, cancelled events, schools closed…and general confusion. 

We would like to reassure you that Line of Sight Group is monitoring this situation closely to ensure we can meet the ongoing needs of our clients. We are following the protocols and recommendations from health and local and national government authorities, and each of us is aware of our own responsibility to face the pandemic.  

As a global market research and competitive strategy consulting organization, our assets are primarily digital and knowledge-based, and one of our key strengths is ‘teamwork’. While we have an office in Minneapolis/St. Paul MN, our staff primarily work from their home locations across the United States while seamlessly collaborating by using secure technology. This means that we expect minimal disruption to our activities and ability to continue to deliver high quality and objective business insights.   

This crisis is demonstrating that market and competitive intelligence capabilities are more critical than ever, and we are thankful to work with customers who understand the power of data and insights, and use it every day to make high impact strategic decisions. 

Thank you for your continued trust and confidence in these uncertain times. Please reach out to us if you need any further assistance. We are ready to help. 

30 May

Using External Data to Excel at Pricing

A study published last year in HBR, Forbes and Bain and Company’s own outlets looked at top-performing B2B companies (as defined by increased market share, self-described excellent pricing decisions and execution of regular price increases). The findings suggest that top performers are more likely to:

  • Employ tailored pricing at the individual customer and product level
  • Align incentives for frontline sales staff with the pricing strategy
  • Invest in ongoing development of capabilities through data, training and tools

These top performers develop pricing capabilities by bringing market intelligence to bear on three variables for setting target prices:

  • The attributes and benefits that each customer truly values (External Data)
  • The alternatives and competitive intensity in the industry (External Data)
  • The true profitability of the transaction after accounting for leakage in areas such as rebates, freight, terms, and inventory holding (Internal Data)

What caught my eye, of course, is the emphasis on the use of EXTERNAL DATA to develop the pricing capabilities of these top performers.  

Applying external data to pricing decisions requires an underlying capability to collect data, analyze and deliver insight to pricing decisions. While the authors offer no specifics on HOW this is done, here are three techniques we’ve used over the years to help clients develop this capability:

  • Systematic scanning. Top performers systematically monitor for pricing information and indicators rather than engaging in “episodic pricing projects”. From press releases to published contracts to captured conversations by the sales force, open source data is compiled, organized and analyzed to understand what customers are paying and the pricing strategies of the competition
  • Market and competitive analysis. The B2B supply chain contains several transaction points – the points at which money is exchanged for something of value, whether a supplier, customer, distribution partner or other. And whenever money is exchanged, data and information are associated with the transaction. Using this ‘follow the money’ approach and asking the right questions, it is possible to extract valuable insight regarding the attributes customers value and the pricing practices of the competition
  • Win/Loss analysis. When we speak to B2B customers on our client’s behalf following a buying decision, we seek to understand both the key buying factors as well as the customer’s buying alternatives and their perceptions of price. Whether our client won or lost the decision, knowing how their pricing compared aids them in setting future prices

While data and insight are one component of overall pricing success, 77% of top performing companies have access to the right data and tools. An example is a top performing company in the specialty chemical industry that successfully employed these pricing tactics and increased EBIT by 35% within two years.

The authors close the white paper with these words, “companies in almost all industries have underinvested generally across pricing. The episodic “pricing project” approach leaves companies well short of full potential. With meaningful margin upside at stake, managers cannot afford to continue pricing by guesswork or rules of thumb.”

The links below will open a three pricing-related case studies.      

Maximizing Revenue Through Market-Based Pricing


Price Benchmarking


Protect Against Low Priced Competition


Here is a link to the Bain and Company brief “Is Pricing Killing Your Profits?”:


10 May

Successful Presentation at SCIP 2019

Our joint presentation with Michelle Volesko Brewer from Wolters Kluwer was a resounding success on Wednesday, based on participant surveys. About 30 participants learned about and shared experiences with Managing Complex CI Projects.


This session focused more on the ‘Art’ of the role of strategy professionals rather than the ‘science’. Key Best Practice themes that arose through the discussion were things like ‘good planning’, ‘project definition’, “objective setting’, ‘communication, communication, communication’ and leadership.


Below are links to the presentation deck, handout and session notes. Please contact us with any questions.

Thanks to all who participated – Steve and Michelle

SCIP PowerPoint Template_SS_MVB_FINAL Ver 2


SCIP Presentation Notes_Complex Projects_20190508

08 Mar

Strategy as Learning – Why Your Strategy Should Be a Hypothesis You Constantly Adjust


In the HBR article entitled  “Your Strategy Should Be a Hypothesis You Constantly Adjust” (link below) authors Edmondson and Verdin examine two cases of recent business failure: Wells Fargo’s and Volkswagen, and discuss the concept of ‘strategy as learning’.

In both cases, the companies’ strategies were viewed by their top executives as analytically sound, but the performance gaps were blamed on execution. As a result, mid-level managers and employees kept trying harder to execute the plan, effectively digging the hole deeper until there was no other choice but to cover it all up. This, of course, led to scandal and eventual loss for the organizations financially and beyond.

‘Strategy as learning’ contrasts sharply with the view of strategy as a stable, analytically rigorous plan for execution in the market.

Like all hypotheses, strategy as learning’ starts with situation assessment and analysis — strategy’s classic tools. Also like all hypotheses, it must be tested through action. With this lens, encounters with customers provide data that is of ongoing interest to senior executives — vital inputs to dynamic strategy formulation.  Strategy as learning is characterized by ongoing observing and adjusting, fueled by data that can only be obtained through execution.

The ‘strategy as learning’ concept aligns with our idea of ‘strategic thinking’ as posted on our blog 10/5/2018: Strategic thinking is about capturing what managers learn from all sources (including both ‘soft’ insights from experiences and observations as well as ‘hard’ data from market research) and then synthesizing it into a vision of the direction that the business should pursue.

The concept of ‘strategic learning’ and ‘strategic thinking’ is what Line of Sight Group is all about – an evidence-based approach using external data to augment our client’s internal perspective to help them 1) make informed strategic decisions and 2) adjust those strategies based on empirical data from customers and the industry. Our Market Intelligence and our Customer Win/Loss analysis offerings are specifically designed to help our clients develop and maintain systematic and unbiased feedback loops that enable confident adjustments to strategy.

Strategy is about placing bets – big and important bets that can make or break the future. Continuing to up the ante with the belief that the problem is in execution instead of using data to gain feedback for necessary adjustments can result in loss of not only the hoped-for jackpot, but also the entire bankroll.


07 Nov

Line of Sight Group: Proud Sponsor of ProductCamp Twin Cities 2018

LoS_ProductCamp 2018_JS (3)

The team at Line of Sight loves it when we have a chance to attend and sponsor great events…and ProductCamp Twin Cities 2018 really fit the bill! The event was held for the second year at The Nerdery, where attendees were able to share insights and network with developers, engineers, project managers, marketers, user experience, customer experience, product managers, and others who are passionate about product.

This user-organized “unconference” featured Sarita Parikh, Senior Director Consumer Experience and Strategy, Pearson, who gave the keynote speech, “Influencing Behavior in an Irrational World.” Attendees also had their choice of several other sessions, including  Product Management Excellence: Creating a Best-in-Class Product Management Organization (Jeff Lash), Linguistics for Voice Interaction Designers: A Crash Course (Ellen Lucast) and more. Engaging speakers and plenty of networking opportunities made for a successful day! We look forward to seeing you next year at ProductCamp 2019.

24 Oct

Line of Sight Group: Proud Sponsors of PDMA ProductCamp Twin Cities 2018


The count-down begins for ProductCamp Twin Cities 2018 at The Nerdery in Bloomington, Minnesota! This is another great opportunity for Line of Sight Group to keep a pulse on the needs of product managers, by attending and sponsoring local events.

ProductCamp is a user-driven “unconference” that brings together people who are passionate about products and interested in collaborating to share insights. It is also a great opportunity to meet others in the Twin Cities product community.

The event brings together developers, engineers, project managers, marketers, user experience, customer experience, product managers, and more.

Sessions are throughout the day. Sarita Parikh, Senior Director Consumer Experience and Strategy, Pearson, will deliver the keynote session – Influencing Behavior in an Irrational World.

It all starts on November 3rd. Please click here to find out more and register. Come on out to see us! It’s FREE!

28 Jun

Using Analytics to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Using analytics to stay ahead of the competition

“As product strategists aiming to launch a new product or gain market share with a new enhancement, it is critical to be first to the finish line. The risk of losing the race can be in the millions of dollars and devastating to careers.”  – Steve Schulz, Line of Sight Group President and Founder

Our efforts to stay current on trends and keep a pulse on the needs of product managers is addressed by attending and sponsoring key events in the local marketplace. Line of Sight Group sponsored the monthly PDMA meeting and presented “Using Analytics to Stay Ahead of the Competition” at Starkey Hearing Technologies in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

Line of Sight Group’s Steve Schulz shared some analytical models for using knowledge of the external environment to understand where you are in the race with your competition, and how to think about bets and moves you can make to differentiate and stay ahead. Use cases demonstrated how organizations can apply data and analytics to continuously monitor competitive developments and engage in interactive dialog on how to use that information to respond to threats and opportunities.

One of the ways we help our clients monitor their external environment is through Line of Sight’s SCIP Endorsed Market-i Competitive Intelligence System.

Key insights from the event:

  • How to identify key indicators
  • Where to find the needed data
  • How to create and populate a development map and scorecard
  • Development strategies and response adjustments
  • How to present the data and strategic response

Starkey’s Aaron Schroeder, Au.D, kicked off the event with a welcome and shared their efforts to help people hear throughout the U.S. and around the world. He showed a music video featuring singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson, who joined Starkey in Peru to help raise awareness and funds for people struggling with hearing loss. I encourage you to watch it here. It is sure to warm your heart.

Thanks to Minnesota PDMA and Starkey Hearing Technologies for the opportunity!

Minnesota PDMA is the place for innovators and product people to come together. The organization holds monthly events all around the Twin Cities. All people, perspectives, and ideas are welcome.

Starkey Hearing Technologies is a hearing-aid manufacturer that prides itself on connecting people and changing lives. The company has provided more than 1 million hearing aids to people around the world.

11 Jan

Line of Sight Group: Proud Sponsors of SLA-MN & MALL Holiday Party

SLA Holiday Party_JenniferAndSteve

One of the ways Line of Sight Group keeps current on trends is to attend and sponsor key events in the local market.  Last month, we had a chance to learn what was on the minds of professional researchers by attending and sponsoring the SLA-MN (Minnesota Chapter of the Special Libraries Association) and MALL (Minnesota Association of Law Libraries) Holiday Party.

The popular event, held annually, is open to all information professionals, librarians, researchers, knowledge managers, archivists, students, and guests. The social atmosphere brings like-minded professionals together to discuss various topics, including different research tools and information services, projects and opportunities, job openings and career paths, and others.

Guests also learned about new products and services at the Exhibitor Fair, featuring Line of Sight Group and other sponsors, and had the opportunity to place bids at the silent auction, benefiting the St. Catherine University SLA Student Group.

Additionally, this year’s Holiday Party was held at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Guests were invited to visit Mia’s galleries and tour Mia’s Art Research & Reference Library, one of the Midwest’s premiere research centers dedicated to the study of art.

Finally, organizers provided a vast array of catered hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and drinks.

It was great meeting so many wonderful attendees and sponsors at the SLA-MN and MALL Holiday Party. The gathering was fun for all and we would highly recommend it to anyone interested in attending next year!

Thank you, SLA-MN and MALL, for the opportunity.

Photo credit: Jim Tchobanoff