5 Tips from Blue Ocean Strategy

I woke up this morning thinking about work, and wanted to summarize a great book that I read while in business school.  The book is Blue Ocean Strategy.  It's a short but powerful competitive framework by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

1. Most businesses compete in "Red Oceans," a bloodbath of me-too products targeted at a limited segment.

2. To carve an "in" and to eventually dominate, Blue Ocean Strategy is called for.

3. Less is More.  Blue Ocean strategy targets a sub-segment, an under-served segment. Find Blue Oceans by examining every feature of an existing product and how well it serves this sub-segment.  Then consciously drop the features that do not matter and refine the ones that do.  Dropping features is as important if not more-so than refining or adding features.  Think about the iPhone UX and how it targets beginner technology users.

4. If this smells vaguely of "niche market strategy," you are correct.  But just because it is a niche market does not make it a small market.  By way of a niche market you can then establish your business as a tastemaker. Consider Cirque du Soleil, an adult targeted circus entertainment chain.  By dropping the expensive animals in the act, and adding artistry and choreography to their act, they have penetrated the adult circus entertainment business.

5. Make a strategy canvas to figure out the right features to drop, keep and create.  See below for an example of Southwest Airlines' strategy canvas:

Try it for your business, you may uncover some interesting directions that gives you fresh blue oceans.


Influencer was written back in 2007 but a friend lent me her copy and I have to say, it's the best read so far this year for me.  As a Product Manager, my work is all about influence.  The powerful concepts in this book coupled with rich stories will be very influential to my work, no pun intended.

1. Search for and establish Vital Behaviors. When it comes to influence, it's about establishing behaviors at the end, not just talking about goals.  Don't confuse means (behavior) and end (goals).  After you decided on your goal, you need to identify the vital behavior and the recovery behavior that will march towards the goal.  Recovery behavior is the behavior you desire if you "fall off the wagon" of the vial behavior.  Then focus on establishing those behaviors.  Talk is cheap, adherence to behavior is measurable and a sure sign that you are marching towards your goal.  To establish the vital behaviors,study positive deviants, those people or groups who have succeded despite the odds.  Study them to identify vital behaviors. An example is Dr. Silbert's Delancy Street project in SF.  In her project to reform repeat crinimals she focuses on two vital behaviors:  1) take responsibility for someone else' success and 2) call out misbehaviors.  These two behaviors directly challenges the rules of the "street" which are 1) only look out for oneself, and 2) never rat out your friend.

2. When it comes to persuasion, you need to help others answer 2 questions:  1) Is it worth it?  2) Can i do it?  If you want to change behavior, change one or both of these expectations.

3. The great persuader is personal experience.  If you cannot place your target directly into that experience, create a surrogate for the actual experience.  Create a vicarious experience.   For example, in one study they were helping targets overcome snake phobia.  By having the targets observe another person handle a snake, they were able to open up to that idea and eventually work up to handling the snake themselves.  That's why story telling is so powerful for changing minds. Concrete and vivid stories exert extraordinary influence because it transport the listener from a role of a critic to that of a participant.

4. Enlist social support through opinion leaders.  Opinion leaders are people who are: 1) viewed as knowledgeable about the issue at hand, 2) have other people's best interest in mind 
and are therefore viewed as trustworthy.  

5. Always use extrinsic rewards as your third motivator.  You must do you work with personal and social motivators first.  And if you've done your work with both personal and social motives, symbolic awards take on enormous value.  Instead of awarding pricey awards, provide smaller awards targeted at desired behaviors (not outcomes).  Remember, symbolic gold stars that cost 20 cents can hold enormous value.

Because this book is so full of goodness, here are a few bonus lessons:

6. Below is the chart that helps you quickly visualize the different dimensions of influence.  You must provide motivation and ensure ability across personal, social and structural dimensions to exert maximum influence.

7. Find Strength in Numbers - leverage the power of many. Build social capital, you cannot succeed on your own. "Each one teach one."i

8. For personal development, seek immediate feedback.  Four hours of guided instruction in context is better than months without feedback or with delayed feedback.

9.  "Turn a me problem into a we problem."

There is simply too much goodness to do the book justice here.  Have a read.

Daring Greatly

Darling Greatly is a book by Brene Brown about having the courage to be vulnerable. Brown is a vulnerability researcher and was invited to speak at TED. Her book talks about the fences we put up to protect our egos that get in the way of truly and honestly engaging with people. While it has broad application in and out of the work place, I suggest reading it when you're in a more "touchy-feely" mood.
  1. Shame is prevalent. Often people are unable to truly engage because of shamefulness as a result of societal pressures and norms. Consider societal messages that instill a sense of shame in all of us: ideals about masculinity and femininity, appearing successful and independent at all times, demonstrating strength and invulnerability, etc. We are surrounded by success stories that lead us believe that "ordinary" people are losers. But a belief in self worthiness can be cultivated. 
  2. These are the 3 major protection mechanism we use to avoid shame: Foreboding Joy, Perfectionism and Numbing.
  3. Foreboding joy: Have you ever met a "joy squelcher," someone in a great situation who nonetheless complains about everything? When congratulated, this person provides a self deprecating comment instead? You may have just observed a person who is actively avoiding joy in order to avoid experiencing the emotional downhill that inevitably follows a high.
  4. Perfectionism: Perfectionists tend to tag accomplishment to self worth. What I do is never good enough, and thus "I" am not good enough.
  5. Numbing: Social media, reality television, and other external influences can distract ourselves from connecting with our worthiness. We fall into the cycle of watching other people's lives to fill our own void. 
Daring Greatly purports that we must embrace vulnerability and open ourselves to one another in order to fully experience life.


“The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself; he who goes away pleased with himself and his own wit is also greatly pleased with you.”
- Jean de La Brùyere