C H A P T E R 4

Focus on the Big Picture, Not the Numbers

YOU NOW KNOW THE PATHS to creating blue oceans. The next question is, How do you align your strategic planning process to focus on the big picture and apply these ideas in drawing your company’s strategy canvas to arrive at a blue ocean strategy? Think of a typical strategic plan. It starts with a lengthy description of current industry conditions and the competitive situation. Next is a discussion of how to increase market share, capture new segments, or cut costs, followed by an outline of numerous goals and initiatives.If you ask companies to present their proposed strategies in no more than a few slides, it is not surprising that few clear or compelling strategies are articulated. It’s no wonder that few strategic plans lead to the creation of blue oceans or are translated into action. This brings us to the second principle of blue ocean strategy: Focus on the big picture, not the numbers. This principle is key to mitigating the planning risk of investing lots of effort and lots of time but delivering only tactical red ocean moves. This approach consistently produces strategies that unlock the creativity of a wide range of people within an organization, open companies’ eyes to blue oceans, and are easy to understand and communicate for effective execution.

Focusing on the Big Picture

As previous chapters reveal, drawing a strategy canvas does three things. First, it shows the strategic profile of an industry by depicting very clearly the factors (and the possible future factors) that affect competition among industry players. Second, it shows the strategic profile of current and potential competitors, identifying

which factors they invest in strategically. Finally, it shows the company’s strategic profile—or value curve—depicting how it invests in the factors of competition and how it might invest in them in the future. As discussed in chapter 2, the strategic profile with high blue ocean potential has three complementary qualities: focus, divergence, and a compelling tagline. If a company’s strategic profile does not clearly reveal those qualities, its strategy will likely be muddled, undifferentiated, and hard to communicate. It is also likely to be costly to execute.

Drawing Your Strategy Canvas

Drawing a strategy canvas is never easy. Even identifying the key factors of competition is far from straightforward. As you will see, the final list is usually very different from the first draft.

Step 1: Visual Awakening

A common mistake is to discuss changes in strategy before resolving differences of opinion about the current state of play. Another problem is that executives are often reluctant to accept the need for change; they may have a vested interest in the status quo, or they may feel that time will eventually vindicate their previous choices. Fortunately, we’ve found that asking executives to draw the value curve of their company’s strategy brings home the need for change. It serves as a forceful wake-up call for companies to challenge their existing strategies.

Step 2: Visual Exploration

Getting the wake-up call is only the first step. The next step is to send a team into the field, putting managers face-to-face with what they must make sense of: how people use or don’t use their products or services. This step may seem obvious, but we have found that managers often outsource this part of the strategy-making process. They rely on reports that other people (often at one or two removes from the world they report on) have put together. A company should never outsource its eyes. There is simply no substitute for seeing for yourself. Great artists don’t paint from other people’s descriptions or even from photographs; they like to see the subject for themselves. The same is true for great strategists.

Step 3: Visual Strategy Fair

After two weeks of drawing and redrawing, the teams presented their strategy canvases at what we call a visual strategy fair. the kinds of people the managers had met with during their field trips, including noncustomers, customers of competitors, In two hours, the teams presented, They were given no more than ten minutes to present each curve, on the theory that any idea that takes more than ten minutes to communicate is probably too complicated to be any good. The pictures were hung on the walls so that the audience could easily see them. After strategies were presented, each judge—an invited attendee—was given five sticky notes and told to put them next to his or her favorites. As the teams synthesized the judges’ common likes and dislikes, they realized that fully one-third of what they had thought were key competitive factors were, in fact, marginal to customers. Another one-third either were not well articulated or had been overlooked in the visual awakening phase. Following the strategy fair, the teams were finally able to complete their mission. More important, the managers were now in a position to draw a future strategy that would be distinctive as well as speak to a true but hidden need in the marketplace. Which one eliminated? Which one reduced? Which one raised? And which one created?

Step 4: Visual Communication

After the future strategy is set, the last step is to communicate it in a way that can be easily understood by any employee.  EFS distributed the one-page picture showing its new and old strategic profiles so that every employee could see where the company stood and where it had to focus its efforts to create a compelling future. The senior managers who participated in developing the strategy held meetings with their direct reports to walk them through the picture, explaining what needed to be eliminated, reduced, raised, and created to pursue a blue ocean.

Visualizing Strategy at the Corporate Level

Visualizing strategy can also greatly inform the dialogue among individual business units and the corporate center in transforming a company from a red ocean to a blue ocean player. When business units present their strategy canvases to one another, they deepen their understanding of the other businesses in the corporate portfolio. Moreover, the process also fosters the transfer of strategic best practices across units.

Using the Strategy Canvas

Do your business unit heads lack an understanding of the other businesses in your corporate portfolio? Are your strategic best practices poorly communicated across your business units? Are your low-performing units quick to blame their competitive situations for their results? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, try drawing, and then sharing, the strategy canvases of your business units.

Using the Pioneer-Migrator-Settler (PMS) Map

Visualizing strategy can also help managers responsible for corporate strategy predict and plan the company’s future growth and profit. A useful exercise for a corporate management team pursuing profitable growth is to plot the company’s current and planned portfolios on a pioneer-migrator-settler (PMS) map. For the purpose of the exercise, settlers are defined as me-too businesses, migrators are business offerings better than most in the marketplace, and pioneers are the only ones with a mass following of customers. If both the current portfolio and the planned offerings consist mainly of settlers, the company has a low growth trajectory, is largely confined to red oceans, and needs to push for value innovation. Although the company might be profitable today as its settlers are still making money, it may well have fallen into the trap of competitive benchmarking, imitation, and intense price competition. If current and planned offerings consist of a lot of migrators, reasonable growth can be expected. But the company is not exploiting its potential for growth, and it risks being marginalized by a company that value-innovates. In our experience the more an industry is populated by settlers, the greater is the opportunity to value-innovate and create a blue ocean of new market space.

Overcoming the Limitations of Strategic Planning

It should have a creative component instead of being strictly analysis-driven, and it should be more motivational, invoking willing commitment, than bargaining-driven, producing negotiated commitment. Drawing a strategy canvas and a PMS map is not, of course, the only part of the strategic planning process. At some stage, numbers and documents must be compiled and discussed. But we believe that the details will fall into place more easily if managers start with the big picture of how to break away from the competition. The methods of visualizing strategy proposed here will put strategy back into strategic planning, and they will greatly improve your chances of creating a blue ocean.


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