I was recently asked if I could help a company’s managers learn about Blue Ocean Strategy®. And then I was asked not to help them learn about Blue Ocean Strategy!!
People Hate Change. Why? It’s Painful!
While this doesn’t happen often, it does drive home the challenge of change. People just hate it. Their brains, as we have learned from the neurosciences, actively fight change. Whether it is a change on Facebook, a new strategic direction or even new office space, our brains are most efficient when they are driven by habits, allowing us to anticipate outcomes and expectations.
Peter F. Drucker said it so well: “We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”
At Simon Associates Management Associates, one of our clients had to change his organization and his folks were, guess what?, resisting the change. Though they knew they had to, they were having a hard time accepting it. Having participated in one of our Blue Ocean Strategy workshops, John, I will call him, saw with his own eyes how a management team could discover an entirely new market waiting for them, literally in front of their noses. He watched them “see, feel and think” in new ways, hopefully which would shift them into a Blue Ocean and preferably before their competition got there.
John’s management was facing a changing marketplace and was being challenged by a new buyer. Why was it so hard for them to re-think their business model? The very survival of the company was at stake. Maybe the same is true for yours as well?
So how can you help your team free their brains from the road blocks that might be keeping your company in a Red Ocean of bloody competition when what you need is to be swimming in a clear Blue Ocean?
What’s a Blue Ocean Strategy, Anyway?
The essence of Blue Ocean Strategic thinking, from the blockbuster book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, came out of their research on 150 companies in 50 industries for over 100 years. The result was a theoretical framework comparing companies that competed in a crowded market space (Red Oceans) with companies that created new market space (Blue Oceans).
Kim and Mauborgne argue that classic competition-based strategies take for granted an industry’s market structure and frame a business around competing within those market boundaries. Themes like “best practices” are really commoditizing businesses, as each company copies the rest until they are substitutes for each other in a bloody Red Ocean. The focus is only on dividing up the market, and growth becomes increasingly limited.
Blue Ocean Strategy, on the other hand, is based on the view that market boundaries and industry structure are not givens — they can be reconstructed by the actions and beliefs of industry players if they recognize that limits are only in their thinking, not in the reality of the market itself.
The Challenge to Shift the Focus
For managers, the challenge is to force them to shift their focus. Everything that says “that’s the way we do it here” has to be rethought. Rather than competing for the same customers in the same way, they now must figure out how to add value with innovative solutions that will actually create new demand.
The key is that there is extra demand out there, untapped and waiting for new solutions. Growth doesn’t come from doing “more of the same, cheaper.” Instead, it comes from doing something “completely new, better.”
How Can Your Managers Tackle Change?
You can imagine why it is so hard for a manager of a division or a president of a firm to change. Change is literally pain. Rather than becoming better competitors, they need to become better creators.
Yet finding a Blue Ocean Strategy and delivering on it is not a linear, traditional, strategic process. You cannot do a SWOT analysis, evaluate the competition and try to outsmart them while competing for the same customers in the same way. No, you must move into foreign territory.
You are going to have to get out of your comfortable office and go exploring. You have to discover those unmet needs of nonusers by watching them, listening to them talk about their business pain points, and seeing how they are trying to solve problems for which they cannot seem to find a good solution. You can’t “outsource your eyes” to someone else if you really want to see your business in new ways; you need to do the watching and listening yourself.
You Must Overcome the Pain of Change
True, lasting change requires you to experience yourself the changes you are asking your organization to engage in. And when you do this, you hopefully will have an epiphany that’s nothing less than amazing.
As we have learned from the neuroscientists David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz writing in “Neurosciences and Leadership,” “When people solve a problem themselves, the brain releases a rush of neurotransmitters like adrenaline.” And voilà, along comes a big new idea — Blue Ocean style.
If you want to “see, feel and think” in new ways, or if you have to, you will need to fight your brain’s desire to stay static in the realm it knows today and instead, strike out into the unknown. In so doing, you will discover the most amazing opportunities, just waiting for you. Let the journey begin!