As discussed in an earlier post, we are providing a short list of Emphatically Recommended Readings™ that we hope all Leading Learning Symposium participants will read in advance of attending the event. The idea behind these readings is to establish common points of reference and baseline knowledge that will help enhance the symposium experience for all involved.
The readings align with the overall focus for the symposium, and we started with a longer reading focused on learning: Make It Stick: The Science of Effective Learning. For the second set of emphatically recommended readings, we’re turning the focus to strategy. Also, recognizing that we may overload participants by suggesting a book for every reading, We’re suggesting a single, 15-page article for this reading:
- “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
Why Read (or Re-Read) Blue Ocean Strategy?
There are any number of books or articles on strategy we could recommend. The main reason we recommend this particular article is that we feel the feel the concept of “blue ocean” captures very concisely the way that most organizations need to be thinking in the rapidly evolving market for lifelong learning.
In a nutshell, blue ocean strategy is based on the idea that most organizations within any field or industry compete on the same basic factors. Price and features, for example, tend to be common ones. As a result, everyone tends to look the same over time, and everyone competes fiercely to bite off their piece of the market, thus creating a bloody “red ocean.”
Organizations that embrace blue ocean strategy, on the other hand, “reconstruct” their markets and find wide open waters where the sailing is smooth and competitors are nowhere to be seen.
Most organizations in the market for lifelong learning are facing increasing levels of competition (whether they are fully aware of it or not). Technology has made it dramatically easier for prospective competitors to develop an audience as well as to develop and distribute educational offering in a variety of ways, whether online or off. At the same time, the offerings available to lifelong learners are increasingly generic. In spite of what we may tell ourselves, there is generally not a lot to distinguish one conference, or Webinar, or online course from another – at least not in the eyes of the learner.
Most organizations faced with this situation will try to outperform the competition by making incremental improvements in performance. But when everyone is competing on essentially the same factors, higher performance can only take you so far. We’ve seen again and again that the effort of most organizations to make incremental changes becomes exhausting and demoralizing. Blue ocean organizations, on the other hand, “never use the competition as a benchmark. Instead they make it irrelevant by creating a leap in value for both buyers and the company itself.”
In the article Chan and Mauborgne only go so far in explaining how an organization can make such a leap – this is, after all, only an article. They do, however, go into great detail and offer some very useful tools in the book Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant (recently released in a new, expanded edition). While we are only asking that you read the article as part of the Emphatically Recommended Reading™ series, we do strongly recommend that you get the full book at some point. The six paths framework and the strategy canvas, in particular, can be very useful tools for helping organizations re-think their markets.
We’ll wrap up here by noting that none of this is to imply that every organization can find a blue ocean or that this is the only “right” way to do strategy. Embracing the concept, however, forces you to push the envelope in how you think about strategy, and this pressure alone helps organizations to better identify the ways in which they might innovate and differentiate in a market where it is increasingly difficult to stand out. Also – to again emphasize the purpose of the Emphatically Recommended Readings series – familiarity with the blue ocean concept will help participants at the symposium have some common ground for debate and collaboration, regardless of whether they agree with Chan and Kim’s approach.
Finally, here’s a link back to the main Emphatically Recommended Readings page.