Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Role of Play in Creating Blue Oceans

In reading the article “Blue Ocean Strategy” it struck me that Cirque du Soleil and other companies that broke the mold and created blue oceans were able to do so because they tapped into unknown territory.  In my experience, tapping into the unknown takes either some kind of devastating event or having time and space to be creative and to be playful.

This is something that people who work with children know – having recess and playtime is a great opportunity for children to learn, grow, come up with new ideas and solve problems. There is evidence to suggest that this holds true for adults as well. Putting together ideas from the blue oceans article, creativity and play, and from the Heinz course Organization Design and Implementation, it can be argued that organizations (private industry, non-profits, government) could benefits by creating the types of cultures that foster creativity.

Interested in exploring this idea further since the idea of blue oceans sits with me better than red oceans, I watched a TED talk given by Tim Brown. (The link is provided below.) In this talk, he discusses how we are most creative when we trust those we are around and are comfortable with whom we are working. Otherwise, we don’t feel comfortable sharing our ideas with others. He talks about how companies such as Google and Pixar include playful designs in their workspaces and about ways that we can explore play as a way to bring both physical objects as well as services into existence.

While the talk focuses on the role of play in the workplace rather than overly talking about strategy, what does emerge as it relates to strategizing about blue oceans is the need to be able to think differently. Play can be used by whole organizations to come up with the next “big idea” for the company. Because blue oceans are typically not about technology innovation and are created from within existing structures by incumbents, it may be wise from a strategy perspective to include “play time” in the daily operations of an organization so that it will create the culture that cultivates blue oceans. Even if no blue oceans are created, having a work environment that encourages creativity and having fun will likely lead to more productive employees.

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