How Do You Grow A Business In A Fast-Changing Market?

Every industry has been experiencing massive, fast, and sometimes devastating changes over the last decade or more. Take Lyft and Uber, for example, and how they’ve upended transportation. Or how Airbnb and the sharing economy have disrupted the hospitality industry, or how Spotify forced Apple to rethink its iTunes business proposition. Apps and mobile devices continue to cause major market shakeups as they either change the way people interact with a market or find their way into new markets. And it’s not slowing down, it’s speeding up!

Higher education is also being disrupted

At Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), we’ve done a lot of work helping colleges and universities rethink their strategies as the traditional student population continues to shrink and the ROI on a college education is widely being questioned. In higher ed, demography is driving change, and if you’re not paying attention to this, you’re in real danger of having new potential users pass you by. Now more than ever, we are living and working in an ever-changing and fast-paced world, and we cannot sit idly by and think everything’s going to turn out okay.

That’s why for all types of organizations—for-profit, non-profit, service, platforms and manufacturing—there is an urgent need to capitalize on the changes that are coming, not run from them. Yes, changes bring challenges, but they also open up opportunities that will sustain growth. As culture change experts, we at SAMC know this well, and what we tell the clients we work with is that they must approach strategy differently from how they have thought about it and implemented it in the past. Change is pain, but it has to be done. The times demand it.

So how do you turn strategy into execution for better results? Blue Ocean Strategy®

  1. Blue Ocean Strategic Thinking

Blue Ocean Strategy focuses on discovering new markets (“blue oceans”) rather than competing in existing ones (“red oceans”). By creating a blue ocean of new customers, businesses don’t compete for a small, highly competitive pool of existing customers. They create their own pool!

As Blue Ocean Strategists, we have led over 400 workshops and worked with dozens of clients to help them “see” with fresh eyes and discover unmet needs and amazing new opportunities that are often all around them. How do you “see” these unmet needs? Go exploring. Begin by listening to the challenges or pain points that are frustrating your current (or potential) customers, then stop saying “we don’t do that” and instead, think about how you could do that to solve their problems. Your goal? To be the best, or only, solution.

  1. Agile: a different way of doing the same work

Agile, the widely popular set of methodologies based on The Agile Manifesto, ensures that your business processes have the ability to adapt and respond to change. Agile is also very Blue Ocean.

No matter the industry in which it is applied, agile advocates the following 6 principles:

  • Focus on people over process
  • Listen to customers and their feedback in order to continuously improve
  • Deconstruct work into small segments and organize effort into short chunks in order to get quick feedback and make nimble (agile!) course corrections
  • Dedicate people to teams and focus on one project at a time
  • Experiment and learn continuously
  • Ensure transparency of the work and continuity of the team

An agile approach enables companies to adapt on the fly and change whenever shifts occur in the market. They can test and make key changes to find out what works, what doesn’t, and whether their product or service is meeting the needs of their target audience.

  1. Storytelling is a great way to encourage communication and employee engagement

In today’s rapidly-changing world, employees and leadership alike worry about what’s coming next. During such times, what they need most is more communication, and storytelling can be a key part of this.

Within a company, the stories that are shared usually have to do with “the way we do things here,” from the best ways to get your work done to how to dress to how you’re expected to conduct yourself at the office. This is your culture. (You can read our blog on this topic here.)

One of the strengths of Blue Ocean Strategy methodology is that it builds a transparent culture and fosters open dialogue across the organization, especially during times of uncertainty. As company leaders go searching for unmet needs, they need to ask their employees (and even their customers) for ideas and input, and then act on them, not just file them away. Remember, great ideas can come from anywhere!

Want to grow and remain relevant? Adapt your strategy

As stakeholder and customer needs change along with changes in the marketplace, executives need to continually assess their business’s strategic approach by reconsidering what is most relevant in their markets and to their clients. The choices they made in the past may no longer work in the current environment. Therefore, they must be ready to evolve their strategy in order to meet their customers’ needs and provide value.

Stay ahead of your customers

Anticipating your customers’ needs and being ready for new trends is critical for growth in a rapidly changing market. To stay ahead of the curve, you need to:

  • Identify your customer ecosystem and map it out. As well as gathering data through your own communication channels, you should create a map of all existing and potential connections within your customer ecosystem. As you’re doing this, be sure to include influencers, industry regulators, your customers’ customers and all other relevant stakeholders with whom you are in direct communication. Then you’ll be able to see the wider picture of important drivers that are changing your marketplace or your customers’ needs.
  • Collaborate with customers. See how you can create win-win solutions with your customers by starting a strategic dialogue with them. Even if you’re not providing products/services in new growth areas right now, it’s important to get their input, and their attention. If innovation or operational efficiency are becoming critical factors in your customers’ success, you should discuss with them what you offer and how. Explore areas of mutual interest and invest in solving their problems, and you will send the signal that you are focused on their unmet needs and future success. As a matter of fact, this is the first step in a Blue Ocean Strategy process: listening and responding.

Innovate in order to grow

When discussing key drivers of growth, we need to talk about innovation. This doesn’t necessarily require extensive research and development in order to stay ahead of the competition. It might simply require good listening skills and an understanding of what keeps your customers up at night. (In my former career, I built a business by asking this key question: “What keeps you up at night?”)

But however you get there, growing a business in a changing world requires smart, efficient processes and lots of dedication. Bringing together innovation, marketing and production, as well as adopting an agile approach, are the best ways to stay ahead, continue growing and adapt to fast-changing times.

Something else to keep in mind: When things are going well, companies, like people, tend not to want to change, and red flags are often marginalized or ignored (the ignorers). When change does happen, people usually are in denial that something has in fact changed (the resistors). If this happens in your organization, you need to fight the urge to work harder at your old business model and the former days of “the way we do things.” Change is the way forward, no matter how painful or unsettling it may be. Don’t be afraid to leave the bloody red ocean of competition and swim in the clear blue ocean of uncontested market space!

For more on Blue Ocean Strategy, check out these blogs, podcast and white paper

Ready to find your own Blue Ocean Strategy? Give us a call.

At Simon Associates Management Associates, we are certified Blue Ocean Strategists and culture change experts who specialize in helping organizations of all sizes and across industries rethink their business strategy to find new opportunities for growth and success. Contact us to discuss how our team of corporate anthropologists can work with you to discover, develop and apply a Blue Ocean Strategy that helps your business overcome the challenges of these fast-changing times. We look forward to hearing from you.

From Observation to Innovation,


Andy Simon
Partner, Simon Associates Management Consultants 

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