The Organizational Strategist

December 28, 2010

The problem with problems

There have been many times I’ve encountered client ‘pain points’, corporate problems that need fixing, organizational symptoms that need cures, and other various difficulties or challenges that need to be overcome.  Consulting and professional advancement often takes on an approach that aims to remedy the bad parts of an organization.  There, it takes empathy, listening, and observation to grasp where having a quick impact can be accomplished.  It is often easy to see what needs to change in these situations and find the right mitigation can lead to strong results. 

However, focusing around fixing a problem is inherently limiting.  I call this a “deficit-based” approach or focus.  It is deficit-based because it is looking at something that is underperforming, worse than the norm, or otherwise below the accepted operational standard.  With this kind of deficit-based focus, the optimal solution is to return things to the status quo.  It’s the patch that returns the flow of work back to the expected pace or output.  With a deficit-based approach, the outcome of the consulting initiative will result in returning the flow of business to the accepted status quo.  By defining the status quo as the planned end result, it prevents growth, acceleration, or otherwise improvement beyond the current thinking. 

Our business society is an ever-evolving environment.   It can be really difficult to take time away from delivering or working on an output to revisit the design or original intention.  We are forced to make decisions without knowing all of the information.  Our efforts need to change along with the environment and that means making the most of our efforts. 

When uncovering an area that needs to be changed, approach it as an opportunity.  In any time where a planned change is to occur, take the time to understand the implications of the decisions and actions.  Simply “fixing” the problem will leave the organization as it was in the past before whatever change caused a problem in the first place.  This may mean the organization is obsolete, even with the problem being fixed.  When a computer starts to slow down and eventually whirrs its last hard disk spin, a consumer would not replace the machine with the same model as the original.  The consumer would go out and buy a new computer with improved technical specifications!  Understanding the design, underlying thinking, and assumptions can do much to clarify what should be done for the future.  Additionally, new information, ideas, and possibilities are ripe for the picking.  These are where the opportunities are for the next level to be achieved.  By incorporating new information and design elements, the resulting organization can become much better than what was the “status quo.”  This different approach can take the simple fix into a revolutionary advancement!

December 8, 2010

Make your competition irrelevant – employing the power of blue ocean strategy


It is very exciting when a new idea or great innovation is planned that will have a big impact in the marketplace.  The time, energy and resources that go into making great ideas a reality can be staggering; especially in industries where the pace of change is slow or the audience reach is large.  In these cases it is even more important than usual that the market share is not already filled with competitors.  Ideally, the innovation will lead to a permanent market space or niche where competition is so powerless that it is insignificant or even irrelevant.  The question is what should be done to make this happen?

-Making and shaping your ocean-

Blue ocean strategies design sustainable market share in such a way that would be competitors have no influence. This approach uses a metaphor to describe market spaces and competition.  Oceans are market space.  The best kind of ocean is a blue one, however most oceans are red.  Red oceans are the ones where competition is rife and there is “blood” in the water from the fierce fighting over customers, resources, and opportunities.  Blue oceans, on the other hand, are market spaces where there is no competition.

Who wouldn’t want their ocean to be completely blue?  The difficulty is devising and then enacting such a strategy. At times, it may simply be impossible to make a truly blue ocean.  In those cases, strive to make sections of it as blue as possible and minimize the red.  The spectrum of blue to red should gradually be moving toward blue. With the gradual shift from red to blue oceans, there will be partial boundaries to competitors.  Those partial boundaries make it so some competition is averted and the ocean is purple (part blue and part red).  Small, controlled blue ocean spaces are a good start to making a large, encompassing ocean.  That way you can scale the market share in a controlled manner that should allow for stabilization along the way. You want to build your market spaces in such a way that would-be competition has no impact.  To do that, create boundaries, challenges or other means of preventing entrants from inhabiting the same space.  The ideal would be to make your product or service truly unique.  Typical boundaries or barriers to competition are as follows:

  • Locking in contracts or exclusive partnerships
  • Controlling the resources that the product or service depends upon
  • Create a value proposition that sets your product/service far apart from others
  • Secure and control all distribution channels for placement, geography, or other advantageous positioning
  • Put up regulatory barriers like patents, environmental standards, quality programs or other initiatives that would promote your product/service while others would find it difficult or impossible to measure up

It is likely very difficult to set up a single distinguishing feature that truly sets your ocean apart from others and keep it blue.  However, the combinations of several different strategic aspects like geographic focus, differentiated product, powerful and helpful intellectual property, and an organizational culture of fantastic customer service would create multi-layered boundaries. 


Make the most of your efforts. By that, be sure that the design includes elements that will both create initial interest and have sustained interest over time.  Innovation is very difficult to surface and then enact.  Creating your blue ocean does not have to be for an entirely new market space. While that is a compelling time to pursue a blue ocean strategy, it can be done in any circumstance.  Within the ocean you are now, in whatever state of competition it is, to become as blue as possible should be a strong pull for your organization’s long term success and sustainability.  The first steps to achieve this are to pursue it intentionally.  By reading and learning more here, your first step may have already been taken.  The next series of steps after formulation is to build it into your organization for successful deployment.  That will have to wait for another post.  Stay tuned!

-Extra resources-

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