strategic thinking

Blue Ocean

Blue Ocean

Creative excellent managers don’t accept the prevailing rules.  They don’t settle for coloring inside the lines.  They look for ways to reinvent how the “wants and needs” of customers and prospects can be satisfied.  They look for opportunities to increase benefits that have so far gone unsatisfied.  They look for ways to reinvent how products and services are delivered.  Today there are successful businesses that no one could even imagine a few years ago.  Peter Drucker would say they created utility where there was none.  Thomas Edison did that when he created the electric light, the phonograph, and moving pictures.
W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne gave this strategy a name.  They call it the Blue Ocean Strategy (BOS).  They call traditional businesses Red Ocean businesses.  In the Red Ocean, traditionally, businesses compete with other businesses for the same customers to fill the same need.  They compete in the same ways.  It is a game of one-upmanship—for one business to gain market share, another has to lose.  The Red Ocean is one where businesses ebb and flow in terms of competitive victories and losses.  In the Red Ocean no business will consistently succeed.  Leadership styles are transient.  Successful strategies do not continue in perpetuity.  Applauded leadership methods fail with changing circumstances.  The Red Ocean is a place where victories are only marginal improvements.
Under the creative excellent leader, a corporate team looks for opportunities to stop playing the Red Ocean game with all the other wannabes.  They create a new market, a Blue Ocean, where they are the only player.  It is the notion of reinventing the business, but kicked up a notch.  For example, it isn’t a matter of just reinventing how existing products or services are provided to existing consumers.  Instead, it is a matter of reinventing how the needs and wants of those customers are satisfied and inventing ways that those who currently don’t take advantage of a particular product or service can get the benefits.  With the Blue Ocean Strategy you reinvent the market, not just the business enterprise pursuing that market.  You break out of the box where everyone competes for the same business.
A pure Blue Ocean is an entirely new industry, created by bringing in neglected potential customer segments through offering them compelling buyer utility not currently offered anywhere.  Making the breakthrough to a pure Blue Ocean is not something every group—no matter how creative and how exceptional—will achieve.  But the constant effort to turn the water Blue is a mark of the excellent manager.  Imagine, for example, the impact on the hotel/motel business of breaking away from the fixed check-in and checkout time.  Why is that standard? Why can’t hotels operate like rental car companies—check in any time and check out anytime.  The fixed check-in and checkout time is an example of practices that become industry standard practices that do not serve the customer. Practices that reduce the customer's benefits should be the enemy of the excellent manager.

PayPal,, and Bazaar Voice are notable examples of Blue Ocean companies and so was Southwest Air who eventually changed how airlines compete.  So were FedEx and Starbucks.  Amazon is changing how people shop and read books.  A creative telecom carrier in Africa is creating a Blue Ocean by launching products that allow money to be transferred between mobile users across all mobile telephone networks.  Africa is a country where mobile devices, solar power, and wireless communication are transformative; and telecom carriers are in a position to bring brick-and-mortar-type services to the masses.
Kim and Mauborgne are the authors of the book Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant.  It was the product of years of research by the authors and collaboration with fellow faculty and students at INSEAD.  The French graduate business school and research institute, INSEAD, is considered one of the world’s best.  It is particularly known for its influential alumni—a global network of business intellect and power.
Gabor George Burt, a graduate of INSEAD, is one of the apostles of BOS.  His blog, is a valuable supplement to the original work of Kim and Mauborgne.

In my Novel Mark Rollins’ New Career and the Women’s Health Club the main character, Rollins, reinvents the fitness center into a unique Blue Ocean business.  The WHC, as members call it, also serves as the “Bat Cave” for this modern day avenger and has continued to play that role for three more Mark Rollins adventures:

Management Candy

There are right ways and wrong ways to pursue one’s objectives.

 M&M’s, or Management Candy, represents the right way—doing the Main things necessary to achieve the objective with the Minimum resources required.  It is about doing the right things the right way.  Doing the right things is Effectiveness.  Do things the right way is Efficiency.  The concept of Management Candy applies to commercial enterprises and also to non-profit and governmental entities although it is likely to be less effective in the latter.

Management Candy, M&M’s, is an extraordinarily powerful concept that, once assimilated into the culture of an enterprise, alters how team members think and make decisions.  It forces individuals, working groups, departments, divisions, and the company leaders to ask and answer the following questions:

  • What is (are) the main thing(s) my group’s success depends on?  
  • What is (are) the main strategy (strategies) we will rely on to achieve the main thing(s) our success depends on?  
  • What is (are) the main tactic(s) we will use to implement our main strategy (strategies) for achieving the main thing(s) our success depends on?  
  • What are the minimum resources required for those tactics?  

When these questions are asked and answered at the individual level, working group level, department level, etc., you have an opportunity-focused team thinking and acting strategically.  That is a performance level few companies achieve.

Initially some people have a difficult time understanding the implications and importance of the notion of “the minimum resources required.”  When people hear the word “minimum,” they tend to think you mean going on the “cheap”—trying to get by with less than the optimum effort or resources—cutting corners, poor quality, etc.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It means doing what is absolutely necessary to achieve the objective and not an ounce more.

What the “minimum resources required” is intended to convey is that once we have achieved our objective, we will have a new objective and need resources to pursue that new opportunity.  There is always an encore to be performed.  There is always another mountain to climb.  Resources have to be conserved for future investment in the pursuit of new opportunities.  Generals hold troops in reserve.  Soldiers keep dry powder for the next scrimmage.

M&M’s, Management Candy, produces a culture of strategic thinking and decision making.  The “minimum” side of Management Candy does not encourage half measures.  One of my favorite sayings is that it only cost a little more to go second class—because of the do-overs, delays, wasted and frustrated resources—make the investment that will get the job done.  Then move on!

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer, and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies, go to Ebook editions are available on for the Kindle, on Barnes & Noble for the Nook, and in Apple iTunes' iBookstore for the iPad.  Paperback editions are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores.