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“How” to actually make a blue ocean shift happen?

My own leadership experience tells me that management is about “What” and leadership about “How” - and that the ability to strike the right balance between the two is key to accelerate change and deliver top results. Thus, I am happy that the authors of the well-known book Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, have now also released the more dynamic Blue Ocean Shift – focusing on the transformational process of “how” to actually make it happen. 


Blue ocean skift 2


It’s an updated repetition of the blue ocean strategy elements wrapped in appreciated research on how some of the best companies have managed to succeed. I can only recommend that you read the full book your-self, but let me share a couple of appetizers spiced with my own reflections.

3 key success criteria

1) Get beyond the wave of disruption, which “only” competes on new solutions to known problems. Adopt instead the Blue Ocean mindset of non-disruptive market creation, i.e. new solutions to new problems.

Or as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have put it: “If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.”

2) Make sure that you have rich data, analytical and creative tools required to spot new markets, and that you professionally master the application of them all.

3) Add an involving and inspiring people proces, which will create self-confidence and mobilize commitment to further evolve the process of executing future value-creation.

Sounds rather logical and generic, and as such it is – but as with most other leadership tasks, they unfortunately seem trivial – which however often make managers overlook the need for acting as leaders as well. Managers have often too much focus on cool facts and numbers, instead of the people and emotions that shall deliver the results. Thus, the authors underline the need for a humanistic and fair process.

3 key lessons learned

1) A typical pitfall is to conduct strategy development and execution as two sequential and separate processes, run by different teams – someone must deliver what others have thought out and planned. You can probably imagine the challenges of engagement and accountability. Another way to put it is, that “people beats strategy”, i.e. rather a “semi-good” strategy and “good” people involvement that the opposite, as even the best plan may fail with mediocre leadership.

2) Release the full potential of your employees’ engagement and creativity by avoiding rigorous performance management. Many others have argued the same, e.g. Jim Hagemann Snabe and Mikael Trolle in “Dreams & Details” - but I would add, that you should also build a shared culture of “earning the right to attack” – otherwise you may not find the money to make the good intentions happen in real life.

3) Don’t overlook that strategy development and implementation is a change process of its own, and it should as such be governed by the mindset of change leadership – for example, let the people create the change, rather than letting the change create the people.

Fortunately, all the good lessons learned are wrapped up in a 5-step approach to shift from red to blue ocean – ready to go!

The book is released in both English and Danish, during last autumn.

Happy reading and good luck with your own ocean shift.

Mads Middelboe

Executive Advisor & CEO

Leadmore ® 

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