Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Creating Blue Lakes

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu stated “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting,"[1] What if, in today’s modern age, that is an organization’s blue ocean strategy?  Cirque du Soleil found their supreme excellence by creating a moving spectacle of art that traditional circuses resisted. Cirque didn’t fight tradition, per se, it just did it better. This idea of finding supreme excellence to break through resistance can help a non-profit position itself better in the field.

Blue ocean strategies appear to be big, daunting strategies. Smaller non-profits may feel the pressure to come up in a big new idea. A non-profit feels pressure to serve and better the community, though this is not always possible—especially in industries where innovation can be limited by resources and funding. Another approach may be to create a blue ocean strategy over time by creating an ecosystem of blue lake strategies. If one non-profit was a Level 5 leader[2] and created a blue lake strategy, it would push other non-profits to create their own blue lake strategies.  Over time, these blue lake strategies can be place together over time to create an ocean for the betterment of the community. Finding a blue lake strategy can be accomplished using three Art of War steps. 

Step 1: Discovering the Enemy’s Resistance (aka Market Research)
Market research consists of two key components: 1) knowing the needs and wants of the community; 2) knowing where the organization stands within the industry in which it operates. A non-profit serves the community. By understanding and listening to what the community needs and wants, the organization can decide how best to serve it. Understanding the industry will highlight known competitors, their strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately provide insight into where the needs of the community are not being met. These areas—those where the needs of the community are not being met by the industry—are prime territories for a blue lake strategy.

Step 2: Supreme Excellence (aka the Hedgehog Concept.)
A hedgehog concept is the intersection of knowing what the organization is passionate about, what it can be best at in the world, and what drives it economically (Figure 1).[3] This intersection becomes an organizations supreme excellence—the dominating focus that can set this organization apart from others in the industry. The supreme excellence should enable the company to fill gaps where the needs of the community are not being met, as identified in Step 1. This point—where supreme excellence meets the needs of the community—should be the organization’s mission, and all decisions should be made with this in mind. 

Step 3: Breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
This is the where the organization should swoop in and build the blue lake, having learned the unmet needs of its community and identified its supreme excellence.  Building a blue lake may take a few years, but continual study of the industry and adherence to the mission—the intersection of supreme excellence and community need—has prepared the organization to lead its potential the competitors. In turn, these competitors will hopefully be challenged to build their own blue lakes, over time creating a blue ocean of possibility and making all organizations greater assets to the community.

[1] Gilsinan, Kathy. "The Art of War in 7 Charts." The Atlantic. March 10, 2015. Accessed April 15, 2015.
[2] Collins, James C. "The Hedgehog Concept." In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap--  and Others Don't. New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001.
[3] "The Hedgehog Concept: Using the Power of Simplicity to Succeed." Mind Tools.
             Accessed April 15, 2015.

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