Blue Ocean Shift: A book review by Bob Morris

Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth
W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
Hatchette Books (September 2017)

Here’s a roadmap to “suspend belief in the limits of today so we can see and create the possibilities of tomorrow”

In an article that originally appeared in Harvard Business Review (May 2014), “Blue Ocean Leadership,” W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne suggest that blue ocean leadership focuses on what acts and actions leaders need to undertake to boost their teams’ motivation and business results, not on who leaders need to be. “The difference in emphasis is important. It is markedly easier to change people’s acts and activities than their values, qualities, and behavior traits. Of course, altering a leader’s activities is not a complete solution, and having the right values, qualities, and behavioral traits matters. But activities are something any individual can change, given the right feedback and guidance.”

According to Kim and Mauborgne, there are four steps involved when putting blue ocean leadership into practice. They explain each in the HBR article. Here are the four steps:

1. See your leadership reality
2. Develop alternative leadership styles
3. Select to-be leadership styles
4. Institutionalize new business practices

With regard to acts and activities that leaders now invest their time and intelligence in,

o Which should be eliminated?
o Which should be reduced well below their current level?
o Which should be raised well above their current level?
o Which do they do they not currently undertake…but should?

One of the several strengths of blue ocean leadership is its scalability. “You don’t have to wait for your company’s top leadership to launch this process. Whatever management level you belong to, you can awaken the sleeping potential of your people by taking them through the four steps.

In their latest book, Kim and Mauborgne review the key elements of a successful blue ocean strategy, one that enables the leaders of almost any organization to respond effectively to a new challenge: a shift from demand outstripping supply to “a tougher game of supply outstripping demand.” They are urged to focus on market-creating (in blue oceans) rather than on market-competing (in red oceans). How? Here are three components of a red-to-blue ocean shift

1. “Adopting a blue ocean perspective, so that you expand your horizons and shift your understanding of where opportunity resides.

2. “Therefore, having Practical tools for market creation with proper guidance on how to apply them to translate a blue ocean perspective into a commercially compelling new offering that creates no market space.

3. “Accordingly, having a humanistic process, something we have come to call ‘humanness’ in the process, which inspires and builds people’s confidence to own and drive the process for effective execution.”

More specifically, the given red-to-blue ocean shift requires a strategy that takes one of these three approaches:

o Offer a breakthrough solution for an industry’s existing problem.
o Redefine an industry’s existing problem and solve it.
o Identify and solve a brand new problem or seize a brand-new opportunity.

Blue ocean strategists “do not take industry conditions as given. Rather, they set out to reshape them in their favor. They do not seek to beat the competition. Instead they aim to make the competition irrelevant. Moreover, they focus on creating and capturing new demand, not fighting over existing customers. Finally, blue ocean strategists simultaneously pursue differentiation and low cost. They aim to break, not make, the value-cost trade-off.”

The abundance of information, insights, and counsel that W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne provide can help prepare leaders in almost any organization — whatever its size and nature may be — to suspend belief in the limits of today so they can see and create the possibilities of tomorrow. The material is based on 30+ years of wide and deep research. “Who has created and captured blue oceans? How did they do it?” Both questions (among many others) are answered in this brilliant book. Bravo!

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