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Andrea Simon: Ready for Your Powerful, Successful Blue Ocean Strategy?

As long-time Blue Ocean Strategists® we were so excited to see the authors, Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim, publish their new book, Blue Ocean Shift. Already a best-seller, it reconfirmed for us that there is something taking place across the globe today. Time for a new strategy. Many firms realize that more of the same, even cheaper, is not preparing their organizations for the coming changes in virtually everything they held as “sacred” in the past. It doesn’t matter if it is AI or robots, Internet of Things or block chain, changes are coming right now to businesses of every type. How should you adopt the changes or at least prepare for them?

Perhaps a Blue Ocean Strategy is what you need?


Here are two illustrative cases, so you see why a Blue Ocean Strategy is a powerful tool for today’s business environment. Then I will provide the basics to help you re-think your strategy.


A Services Industry: Accounting


An accounting firm heard us conduct a Blue Ocean Strategy workshop several years ago and invited us to work with their organization. They were a fast-growing company. Not struggling at all. They realized that technology was impacting them. Would businesses even need traditional accounting services in the future? Would “Watson” and IBM make them irrelevant? What was the right strategy? Could AI replace auditors and their compliance audits?


We began with their Millennials. They had excellent ideas on how to grow the firm but no easy way to tell partners about it. They heard what clients were asking for but could not easily support them. How to build a better culture for engagement and sharing?


Searching for opportunities, we conducted meetings with clients to see what they were experiencing. These revealed “unmet” needs that they were each struggling to address. Pain points are perfect for Blue Ocean thinking, and those clients each had a big pain point to share.

 conduct client meetings

Nothing like client “pain” to open up new possibilities, and a new strategy, for a traditional accounting firm. When looked out from the outside-in, the clients were pulling the firm along, reluctantly. Flipped over, the accounting firm could offer an array of new services, outsourced solutions, that could transform their scope of business and expand their relationships with current and future clients.



Manufacturer of plumbing supplies


One of the chapters in our book, “On the Brink: A fresh lens to take your business to new heights,” is about a large plumbing supply and manufacturing company in the Midwest. They had invented an award-winning bottle filling station to sit on top of their water fountains. They engaged us when it became frustratingly clear that the excellent filling station was just not selling. Why? Perhaps they needed a different strategy?


From their perspective, they had designed an exceptional appliance to sit on top of all their water fountains. They dominated the water fountain industry. Their strategy on the surface did not seem like a “red ocean.” It was hitting a wall!


Working with their traditional manufacturer’s representatives, they thought that building owners, facility managers, and architects would jump at the opportunity to buy a neat, efficient and helpful addition to their water fountains. Water fountains, however, were mandated by building code. Filler stations were not. The additional expense was not necessary.


When we began to work with them, we dug deeper into what was happening in the water industry, the accessibility factors and the issues that the client thought were essential drivers of choice. Several things were beneath the surface.


One significant area was that colleges and universities wanted to eliminate the sale of plastic water bottles to reduce the waste going into landfills. One college, in particular, had spent several years until it finally bought 59 of the water filler stations. It was part of a campaign. The students and administration had finally agreed that they were going to eliminate sales of plastic bottles. In place, they wanted these filler stations readily available everywhere around the campus. Students could use their refillable bottles and make a statement. The entire goal wasn’t to “fill the bottle.” It was to “kill the bottle.”


The client repositioned their strategy around this new theme. They hired new sales representatives out of college and sent them out to tackle the new category. We worked with them again several years ago, and the filler stations had become a significant growth engine for the organization – but not as they had initially anticipated.


They needed a new Blue Ocean Strategy going after unmet needs and non-users. It was more than a new filler station. It was a better understanding what people needed or desired.

What might a Blue Ocean Strategy mean for you?


Think about your own company. What can you learn from your staff and your clients? Do they each have “big” ideas that could help you open new markets in innovative ways? What are clients saying that you discount because it doesn’t “fit” the way you do things today?


Here are the five core Blue Ocean Strategic ideas you should think about as you reflect on your current growth strategy:


  1. Competition: Make the competition irrelevant. Blue Ocean Strategies are about creating new market space – not competing with others that look just like you. Stop benchmarking yourself. Don’t be just “another.” Become the “only.”
  2. Nonusers and unmet needs: Think about nonusers with unmet needs. Why are they not using your solutions? They probably have alternatives – not just another one like you but a completely different solution. Uber is not another taxi. Neither is Airbnb another hotel. They are Blue Oceans fulfilling unmet needs.
  3. Go observe: Go Visually Exploring to see what your potential market is “really” doing. Don’t ask them. They will tell you what they think you want to hear. Go “hang out.” Watch Undercover Boss to see what you could learn in a similar way.
  4. Refocus your strategy: Try to avoid the “We don’t do that” hurdle that everyone will push in front of you. You are moving into new market space. It is time for you try to “do it” in a new way.
  5. Value + Innovation: This all leads to Value + Innovation. Avoid incrementalism. The problems to be solved are not just the same as they were in the past. The new technologies are opening entirely new ways to solve problems, or eliminate them altogether. Can you lead?


Blue Ocean Strategies are hot because the times are changing faster and faster. The old will anchor you in the past that is not coming back. Going slow is not likely to return soon. We like to quote John Seeley Brown: “The way forward is all around you.” Your turn to go find it!


Who is Andrea J. Simon?


Andrea J. Simon, Ph.D. is a corporate anthropologist, Blue Ocean Strategist®, Innovation Games® facilitator and an award-winning author of “On the Brink: A fresh lens to take your business to new heights.” Dr. Simon hosts the very successful podcast: On the Brink with Andi Simon. Dr. Simon has conducted over 350 workshops and multiple keynote addresses on the topics of Blue Ocean Strategy, Innovation, Culture Change. Simon Associates Management Consultants brings anthropology to organizations that need or want to change. She and her husband, Andrew Simon launched the Simon Initiative for Entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis.

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