Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

How to shift the competition

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Successful business leaders thrive on competition. They’re at their best when contending for the top customers in high-end markets. They may feel that if they’re not in the middle of a cut-throat battle with competitors, they must not be succeeding.

Do these statements represent your approach to business? While much as been written about competition and businesses that have been highly competitive and won, in reality, some of the most successful companies have won using very different techniques. They have changed the way they do business. They have made a shift to the blue ocean.

Blue Ocean Shift-calm

The term ‘blue ocean’ is likely a familiar term because of the huge success of the book Blue Ocean Strategy, first published in 2004. This strategy argues that lasting success comes from creating untapped new market spaces, ripe for growth. Cutthroat competition results in nothing but a “bloody red ocean” full of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool.

book cover 3dIn their new book BLUE OCEAN SHIFT: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth, authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne provide the blueprint for effectively moving into new blue ocean markets where competition diminishes and new opportunity increases.

Blue Ocean Shift not only provides great stories and examples of companies that have made the shift, but also guidelines for how do it yourself. The authors provide materials and templates you can use to help your business make the shift from a red to a blue ocean. A review cannot do justice to the rich content and principles taught in this book; however, here are some of the high-level concepts that apply to most businesses and will hopefully spur you to consider making the shift.

Companies that make the blue-ocean shift share three key components:

  • Adapting a ‘blue ocean’ perspective. They think about different things than others competing in their current markets. They ask fundamentally different questions that help them see new opportunities and risk in new and innovative ways.
  • Having practical tools for creating markets, and guidance on how to apply them. They expand their efforts to ask the right questions at the right point in the process, to see the significance of the answers and to act on them.
  • Possessing “humanness” that inspires people’s confidence to own and drive effective execution. They work closely with their teams to help them understand why they’re making big changes and what those changes will bring.

How do you make the blue ocean shift? That is the heart (>200 pages) of this book. Here is a high-level overview of the Blue Ocean Shift Process:

Step 1: Get started

  • Choose the right place (i.e. division of your company) to start your blue ocean initiative.
  • Assemble the right players from key parts of the organization to form the team.

Step 2: Understand where you are now

  • Collectively build one simple picture that captures the current state of play.
  • See and come to an agreement on the need for the shift.

Step 3: Imagine where you could be

  • Discover the pain points of buyers imposed by the industry.
  • Identify the total demand that’s available for you to unlock (this is powerful).

Step 4: Find how you get there

  • Apply systematic paths to reconstruct market boundaries.
  • Develop alternative strategic options that achieve differentiation and low cost.

Step 5: Make your move

  • Select your move (at the ‘blue ocean fair’), conduct rapid market tests and refine the move.
  • Finalize the move by formalizing your big-picture business model that delivers a win for both buyers and you.
  • Launch and roll out your move.

The real-world examples and stories the authors share are powerful. They not only drive home specific steps to making the shift, but their stories engender confidence in your ability to do the same. This book is a must-read for everyone who wants to grow their business.

Key takeaway: “Blue ocean strategists are keenly focused not on building competitive advantages but on how to make the competition irrelevant.”

Questions: How much does your organization focus on new opportunities or new markets? What new idea have you pursued recently? Please leave a comment in the space below.


The Product Management Perspective: Blue Ocean Shift provides excellent guidance to product managers who are seeking to find new markets for their existing products or markets in which to build new products. They talk about the value of getting out of the office to gain ‘visceral insights’ into the market. Another of my key takeaways: “Focus on value innovation, not technology innovation.” It’s not so much about the technology we create, but how we can make the technology commercially successful. It’s not what the technology does, the key is how customers benefit from it and why they feel it’s necessary for them to purchase. It comes down to looking at your markets from a new perspective.

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