The Organizational Strategist

January 4, 2011

Pathways to success: Fred Collopy’s take on personal strategy


Several months ago, I published the first interview I had conducted for the Organizational Strategist.  Here is another interview that investigates how strategy can take many different forms from many unique circumstances and experiences. 

Fred Collopy (Professional Profile) and I met while I attended graduate school.  His experience comes from continual cultivation of ideas, challenging the norm, and seeking out what matters most.  Thankfully, Fred has given us some interesting gems to understand that can help illuminate our own perspectives.

Interviewing Fred Collopy

1)      How do you define yourself?

“I think of myself in numerous ways. Of course, I am a husband, father, and member of the human community. Beyond that I am a professor. But I guess if I am going to make a stab at “defining” myself, I usually talk about myself as a designer. I have designed things for as long as I can remember. For me, they have usually taken the form of software. I designed The Desk Organizer, published by Warner Software as the first personal computer program to integrate the information and tools that people use at their desks. Later, I designed an approach to business forecasting that integrates judgment with mathematical models and selects which models are likely to perform well for the situation. Currently I am designing an instrument (called Imager) that plays abstract graphics in real-time.”

2)      What do you do? This can be from a professional and/or personal take.

“Well, some of that it covered in the answer to this first question. I design. But I also teach. And teaching is a big part of my identity. I also do research. At the moment I am excited to be part of a research group that is exploring new representations of accounting and financial information. We have devised one way of looking at the dynamics of a firm that uses no numbers, only colors, shapes and movements (the Cycle Model). Interestingly, in early tests of the design, users are able to make judgments about the health of firms that are better than those made using spreadsheets and classic business graphics. And it appears that even less well-trained people can do this.

This work builds on research that I have done in forecasting methods as well as work I have done in creating new kinds of instruments, instruments that enable visual artists to play images in the ways the musicians play sounds. It also serves as a vehicle for furthering our understanding of how design can inform management.”

3)      What has been your strategy that has lead to your success?

“My strategy has been to do what I find interesting and think is important. I have tried to do this even when the pressures to accommodate the tenure and promotion processes pushed against it. I started on the design of Imager, for example, at a time where people advised me to focus on my “more scientific” work exclusively. But the work on Imager was so different that it stretched parts of my thinking that ended up being useful in our work on the Cycle Model. Similarly our work on Managing as Designing started out as a shared interest rather than a clear research program. As we thought and wrote, researchable issues came into focus. So my interests lead my work more often than not.”

4)      What are the most critical elements in implementing your strategy?

“I have been very fortunate in that I have received a great education in my field, and have received great support from colleagues and the institutions I have worked at. Other people, both professional and personal relationships, are the most critical thing. They provide complementary ideas, serve as critics and sounding boards, encourage, and otherwise support and augment what I do. Very little is done alone in the areas where I work; collective activity is what produces real insight and interesting products.”

5)      Describe any occasions where you had to change or course correct your strategy.

“I spent the early part of my professional life building small businesses; a high-fidelity loudspeaker company, a software company, and a consulting practice. These had their satisfactions, but they also dictated the things that I could think about and the problems I could work on. By and large, they required a very particular focus, usually on a client’s immediate need. The shift to an academic pursuit meant that I could work on a broader sweep of issues at any given time. This broader sweep is what interests me.”

6)      What advice would you offer to others so that they may achieve their own success?

“Focus on things you really care about. So many people take the view that they have to do this now, in order to eventually get to do what they really want to do. We are among the wealthiest people who have ever lived. That creates an immense degree of freedom. And we owe it to ourselves and to the world to take advantage of that. If you have a passion for what you are working on, you bring extraordinary resources to the task. The world needs that.”


January 26, 2010

The key to your introductions is a Unique Value Proposition


Have you ever had a hard time understanding why a corporate project is happening? You may have wondered the following questions. What are the benefits? Why is it happening at this time? How come I have been asked to be involved? In another instance, you might be talking with someone new that you met at a party, as a part of a networking event, in an interview or even just chatting around the water cooler, and, after ten minutes of taking, you do not know what they actually do for your organization. That can be frustrating and awkward for everyone involved. Having a clear message to describe a project, goal, or even yourself can be very helpful for making a good impression, standing out, and articulating value. This is where having a unique value proposition can really help.

-About Unique Value Propositions-

Recently I was asked what I can give that no one else can give. I will admit that I was taken aback and did not respond well. Comparing myself with all of humanity’s capability and experience made me think that I did not have much to offer. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can give something that no one else can give. However, that was probably not the true intent of the inquiry. Ideally, I would have described the unique value that I do offer without stating I am somehow better than everyone else.

What I could’ve brought up would be what I feel I do particularly well. Unfortunately, I find it hard to advertise for myself. I do believe in myself and am confident in my abilities. However, I try to think through my actions, words, and choices appropriately, respectfully, and truthfully. This can create a quandary in interviews, networking and other areas where a form of competition comes about. It’s especially true when an interviewer asks you what makes you the best candidate.

Before doing an informational interview with an alumnus while doing my MBA at Weatherhead, the term of UVP was unknown to me. UVP stands for Unique Value Proposition. It is a marketing term that is also known as Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It can be used for all sorts of scenarios. Project initiatives, job interviews, networking, investment pitches, stakeholder communications and more can all benefit from having one or more simple, concise, and powerful UVPs. Having multiple UVPs can help where there are different values to articulate. For example, it would be helpful for me to articulate what my UVP is as an organizational strategist, as a Web 2.0 practitioner and consultant, and as a Gen Y researcher. These three areas are interests of mine, but often create different conversational paths due to the varied topics.

-Creating a Unique Value Proposition-

Here are some simple steps and tips to creating an individual’s UVP. To create a UVP for a product, project, initiative or other method, a very similar process can be followed.

1) List who you want to talk with: this will help determine how many UVPs you will need and the directions you can take your UVP(s)

2) List descriptions of your strengths, unique experiences, and achievements: this will provide the meat of the value portion of your UVP

3) List the stakeholders from step #1: having this list helps identify if there are special circumstances or other nuances you need to address (Need help identifying stakeholders? Check out this earlier blog article)

4) Pick the best elements of what sets you apart: this should cover the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) relating to the stakeholders you just identified

5) Combine it all into a short, pithy, and powerful sentence or phrase: this is where it all comes together in a concise, easy to understand sentence

Tips for UVPs:

– Value comes first. Make sure yours is clear. If there is no value to the proposition, it won’t matter how unique it is.

– Put your UVP into terms that your audience will understand. If it is too technical, has too many buzz words or simply does not make sense, it will not help. If you can articulate your UVP in the same way that they would, that’s marvelous.

– Practice it so that it becomes natural, adaptable, and flows into your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a scalable introduction to a person, project or initiative. The UVP can be the tag line for your elevator pitch.

– Make your UVP interesting and short. These are not speeches, nor do they give all the details. Ideally, after someone hears your UVP, they would want to hear your full elevator pitch. That should lead into a rich discussion.

– For a longer description of UVPs and more details, you can search the web. There are a lot of articles on this and similar topics. Here are a couple of articles that I found to be more informative and helpful: Infomarketerzone article and Summit Insight blog post.

Example UVP:

“The combination of cutting edge tech, business, and OD degrees with Fortune 50 experience make me uniquely positioned to strategically and effectively lead Gen Y initiatives.” 


There are many uses for your unique value proposition. I have found them a good fit for managerial updates and suggested talking points for their teams, website content, email tag lines, and the all important topic of What’s In It For Me(WIIFM) for each stakeholder group. A UVP should resonate with sponsors, leaders, managers, and your specialist workers. Please comment to share your own UVPs and thoughts. Good luck with your efforts!


Article that has tips for stakeholder mapping:

Infomarketerzone article:

Summit Insight blog post:

November 13, 2009

The keys necessary to secure a 1st Mover Advantage

Part 1 of 2 articles on 1st Mover Advantage


                The energy and promise of a new innovation in a company’s services or products can be almost tangible. Such discoveries make business and marketing colleagues dream of market space potential and positive forecasts of sales, revenues, and profits. The entrepreneurial spirit brings a sparkle to the eye of everyone involved.

                That spirit has been present in many of the roles I’ve been in. I always aspire to generate and highlight the potential opportunities that an organization has. I have found that inspiring others to see a new vision, create a new venture, and work to realize possibility is a very engaging activity. Utilizing Appreciative Inquiry (AI), one of the many subjects that I immensely enjoyed learning during my time at Weatherhead, is a wonderful method for inspiring, creating, and engaging. More on AI will come in a later post though. I know that I’m not alone in constantly being eager to overcome challenges, live in the adventure, and realize the openings that innovations bring.

-Securing the First Mover Advantage-

                Innovations can come in many forms. At times, an improvement is realized and a market space is sustained. Other times, entirely new product or service domains, which have their own market spaces, are created. A new market space may be due to a product or service becoming available in a previously inaccessible geography, demographic or other realm. By moving into the new market space, the first mover advantage can be secured. The term “first mover advantage” refers to the mover being able to capture the resources or whatever potential the market space initially offers. This will mean that the vast majority of most receptive customers, valuable resources, brand notoriety and reputation, and any other available benefits go to the first mover. The sparkle in the entrepreneur’s eye is envisioning these kinds of potential benefits. Any other mover that tries to enter into the same market space will not be able to as easily or capture the same advantages. Exactly how much of the advantage remains after other movers enter into the same market space depends upon how the first mover utilizes the advantages of being the first entrant.

To make the most of the first mover advantage, the following points will help:

  • Harnessing the enthusiastic customers that could use the product or service to the most benefit
  • Obtaining the most precious or critical resources available in the market space
  • Cultivating new customers through communication of benefits
  • Ensuring sufficient infrastructure is in place to realize all potential market space advantages
  • Becoming well known for the innovation and being the first mover to the market space

                It should be noted that trying to take a first mover advantage, but not fully capturing the advantage or maintaining it can pave the way for other entrants to then over run the initial mover(s). The iPod product is a good example of this. The iPod is an mp3 music player, but it was not the first mp3 player on the market. The market was actually inundated with all of the different types of mp3 players and devices. The iPod was extraordinary in that market space for many reasons. For example, a very important factor was that it included the iTunes software, which helped overcome some of the challenges consumers had with song transferring, uploading, and organizing. That was a part of the infrastructure that Apple put into the holistic product package to address more of the consumer needs. The slick aesthetic and revolutionary design of the interface certainly helped too.


                Keep up the spirit of ingenuity, adventure, and entrepreneurship. When you happen upon a new market space, be quick to take the initiative. However, do not be so quick that the due diligence is not done to ensure the first mover advantage is not just a passing phase for your new venture.

October 20, 2009

Triple Bottom Line Sustainability and Value Chain Analysis

Sustainability is a topic that has become more popular and compelling in recent years. However, there does not seem to be a single definition for the term. Many times sustainability is associated exclusively with environmental concerns, health, and standards. The green movement for environmental safety, climate control, preserving threatened or endangered species and so on is also often considered to be synonymous with sustainability. However, I will use the term sustainability as it relates to stakeholders and shareholders of whatever the product, service, or organization the term is being used to describe. Stakeholders and shareholders are included because sustainability relates to the triple bottom line. This triple bottom line is also known as the three P’s, which are People, Planet, and Profit. Other terms that are often used with triple bottom line sustainability are social, environmental, and economic. A truly sustainably acting organization would operate in such a way that it only creates value through its initiatives. The organization would not destroy value in any way for any of its inputs or outputs.

I grew up and am now back in the “Evergreen State” aka Washington State. Seattle is well known for being a “greener” area. Thus, looking out for ways of reducing, reusing, and recycling waste has become commonplace. Going for my graduate education broadened my understanding though. I was first introduced to organizational sustainability through the Business as an Agent of World Benefit and Organizational Behavior department in the Weatherhead School of Management at Case. There I learned how corporate social responsibility, taking proactive environmental measures and other helpful efforts where organizations, for profit and not for profit, can thrive through acting sustainably.

A helpful way to model where and how an organization’s influence, as well as what important factors there are to understand where sustainability concerns can arise, would be to map out a sustainability value chain. The value chain mapping shows the impact areas before, during and after the involvement of products and services from an organization. There are three segments to the value chain that relate to the organization: Upstream, Operations, and Downstream. Upstream refers to the activities and impacts that take place before the direct involvement of the organization. The Operations segment refers to the activities and impacts where and when the organization is taking direct involvement. Downstream refers to activities and impacts that take place after the direct involvement of the organization. Those segments address the economic, societal, and environmental impact areas.

As a hypothetical example, take a manufacturing company as the context. I put together a PowerPoint slide to identify the areas should be addressed in order for the manufacturing company to act in a sustainable manner.

Value Chain Example 

 With a more specific example, the economic, environmental, and societal activities and impacts become clearer. In order for a company to be more sustainable, it would need to partner with upstream and downstream organizations to make the entire value chain more sustainable.

In future posts, I plan to use the triple bottom line as a frame of reference to use and help explain how organizations, products, and/or services are or potentially are not sustainable.

October 10, 2009

A bit about me

The internet, as I see it, is a meritocracy. This information superhighway often allows for everyone’s ideas to be given the benefit of the doubt until some sort of value judgment can be made. Having a reputation or credit can help tremendously in this avenue. For instance, the onion, while a fun read, will not give relevant research information like the NY Times might present. Reputations can be built in many ways. In this medium, it is harder to know the value of a person’s contributions quickly because the context, background, or other helpful information is not known.

  As such, I figured that having a background on me would be helpful to help balance and inform where I’ll be coming from in my posts. My professional adventures started in the Midwest with my technically based studies. I have a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Evansville (Evansville, Indiana). That degree and time lead to a handful of years experience working in small software companies with mostly antivirus/security, simulation, scenario planning, and visualization products. There I had a handful of roles ranging from quality/testing to development to project management/auditing. After that experience, I got accepted to Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management full time MBA program. That was a wonderful experience which opened up doors to big technology company work, consulting, and a vast growth of knowledge breadth and depth. There I worked with IBM for a short span in their Extreme Blue program in a project management and consulting capacity for Apache Geronimo and IBM’s other open source initiatives. My MBA also led to a Masters degree in Positive Organizational Development and Change from the same business school. The combination of degrees and experience has given me a good platform to work with people in many different roles and functions. During my time pursuing Masters degrees, I was consulting off and on in small and large projects from individual coaching to leading large scale change efforts. Soon after graduating from my second business degree from Case, I had a great time working with the Organizational Effectiveness group in Boeing doing Organizational Development (OD) consulting efforts.

  That only gives a fraction of my experiences. Further details can be found by going to my LinkedIn profile. In reading this blog, please do bring up any questions of interest. I am open to sharing from my experiences and background. However, there is much information that is not mine to divulge and so I may have to decline commenting or referencing information.

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