Jargon Jungle: All at sea with the Blue Ocean Strategy?

The question: “Can you give some examples of blue ocean thinking, specific to you?” may get you a firing. Don’t be surprised if it comes from a top honcho of a bank that is swimming in the ‘red ocean’. A red ocean, in this case, comprises a market place crowded with other banks with almost identical vital statistics, such as Net Interest Margins (NIM) or Non Performing Assets (NPA).

In another instance, if you are employed at a VC fund, it so may happen that on a given day, your former classmate may be sitting across the table pitching his business idea to you. He will tell you: “Our big idea is to weed out all intermediaries between people seeking loans and those offering them. We are leveraging social networks to assist us in this match-making process. We can knock off several percentage points off the interest margin on loans benefitting both sides. It is a Blue Ocean strategy because no one else is doing it. A situation in which there is no competition.”

(To practice the concepts and the techniques described in this post and in posts in this blog personal coaching programs are available. Your practice and coaching takes place through workouts and feedback. There are face to face or web based (www.learning-leadership.com ) sessions. Contact support@learning-leadership.com)

To qualify as ‘true blue’ thinking, the following conditions apply:

- There is no competition.

- There is no demand.

- There are ample opportunities for growth and profits.

- You are offering something different and at a lower cost.

One may ask, how can there be opportunities for growth without demand? Therein lies the conundrum.

In a competitive marketplace, several firms are in a bid to outdo each other, like a race. Here, demand exists for similar products or services. The key is to move away from ‘similar’ offerings.

In the personal transportation market, cars compete with each other – a ‘red ocean’, or marketplace, is a platform for price and “me-too-feature” wars. Let us say that you offer personal transportation service without people needing to own cars. You are in competition with yellow/black taxis or hired cars -another ‘red ocean’. But if you take advantage of location services through smartphones and let drivers and passengers match each other’s needs in real time, you are bringing convenience (taxi hailing) and lower costs to give you an edge. It is a ‘blue ocean’ idea until other firms jump in with similar offerings. A chief reason for the early success of Uber is that it created and operated in a blue ocean of its own; and created its own market.

Another method is to address the needs of non-customers. The MOOC (Massively Online Open Courses) phenomenon is one example. It has attracted people who wouldn’t have considered getting into university due to costs, lack of access, loss of earnings, or embarrassment of having to sit with much younger students.

Universities have to consider the impact of such non-traditional channels of education.

It is difficult for a firm to stay in the ‘blue ocean’ phase all the time. The advice given by the writers in the book Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne should be dealt with prudence.

In the book, Kim and Mauborgne argue that businesses should focus less on their competitors and more on alternatives.They also should focus less on their customers, and more on non-customers, or potential new customers, thereby creating their own market or demand.

Uber and others soon had to start listening to customers, suppliers (drivers) and even regulatory authorities. Since they are now in the ‘red ocean’, a marketplace flooded with the likes of itself.

Firms which are born from innovation find it difficult to compete when competition crops up, like in the case of Uber. If the blue oceans are uncharted, the red oceans are full of sharks. The converse is true as well – firms operating in red oceans find it difficult innovate and to find their own blue oceans.

Like other strategy frameworks, the blue ocean strategy does not provide permanent answers. It is best to hence rely on basic principles and think well.

Keywords: ManagementBlue Ocean StrategyRed Ocean marketsCompeting firms

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Jargon Jungle: A Fifty Thousand Feet View

To practice the concepts and the techniques described in this post and in posts in this blog personal coaching programs are available. Your practice and coaching takes place through workouts and feedback. There are face to face or web based (www.learning-leadership.com ) sessions. Contact support@learning-leadership.com

When I was discussing a project for designing a user interface (UI\UX) with an American client, he said that what I was presenting was a 50,000-ft view. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. But I made some changes in the content. He said it was still a 10,000-ft view. And so it went on. Finally, we were able to agree on something. You may not be as lucky.

You are quite likely to hear this phrase or its variants, like 30,000-ft view, in your life after B-school. Unlike me, you may not have a chance to verify what it really means. Your boss would have lifted off to 100,000 ft already. You would be better off with some preparation if you don’t wish to come across to your boss and your colleagues as someone who just sleepwalked through his MBA.

Never forget the details

If you look outside an aircraft when it is flying at 30,000 feet, you will see clouds. That’s what your boss might be seeing too. As for a 50,000-ft view, I think it might be just a flight of fancy. When you are facing this kind of boss, you may have to conjure up a view without clouds, show that you know what he’s talking about, and swiftly take charge of the situation.

Your boss may have come up from trenches. He knows what’s down there. He may be flying high just to be out his comfort zone. You better sense this correctly; else your boss will write you off as just another MBA with ‘attitude’. You know there are many of them and you surely don’t wish to be in that category. Tell your boss you are well aware of the nitty-gritty, the details, and yet you can understand what is needed overall. If you aren’t sure of what’s on the ground, you will have to assure your boss that you are on the job of finding out.

Ground rules

Here are some ground rules on how to develop that ‘overall’ view:

1. If you shift your viewpoint too high, you may become useless for a start-up company. The trick is in setting a correct height.

2. To adjust the ‘height’ you need to change and play with the ‘definitions’ of markets, users, circumstances, service standards, and so on. You will get useful insights.

3. You need to arrive at a broad enough scope definition that still remains practical. Too narrow a scope may prevent you from seeing opportunities.

4. This iterative thinking is best done well before important meetings or encounters with your boss. It is a good habit to form to be prepared with all the different viewpoints.

You may also come across phrases such as helicopter view, bird’s eye view, broad strokes, control tower view, getting the perspective… they are all the same.

You may know how to prepare a presentation and can throw in these phrases to grab people’s attention. But it is more important to know what they actually mean and what the various perspectives translate to if you are to come across as on top of your game.

This article written by me was published on Hindu Business line’s bloncampus.com link
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Jargon Jungle: Benchmarking

Confuse, copy, or create?

This article writen by me was published on Hindu Business line’s bloncampus.com. Link (Requires log in)

When your boss tells you to ‘benchmark’ your proposal for improving customer stickiness on your e-commerce portal, you may think she is encouraging you to go ahead. She might well be doing so. Chances are that she might not be. Perhaps she just doesn’t want to commit herself either way. What better way than this to procrastinate?

The term benchmarking has other uses too. A customer may ask its vendor to benchmark its ‘on-time performance’ against others. The customer buys some time or leverage as the vendor gets busy figuring out ways to collect information on existing benchmarks.

But a more ‘paying’ way is to use benchmarking data for marketing purposes. Most lay people can’t figure out difference between a 99% on-time and a 98% on-time performance. Interpreted correctly, the latter is two times worse than the former. With 98% performance you are likely to miss 2 out of 100 instances as compared to missing 1 out of 100 instances in case of 99% on-time performance. Since we are conditioned to believe that both 98% and 99% ‘scores’ are very good, most customers won’t discern the difference.  In some cases what is meant by ‘100%’ is not defined.  Marketing campaigns of consumer products like toothpastes and deo products use ‘benchmarking’ in quite innovative ways.

Benchmarks for comparing performance of mobiles or PCs are designed to approximate some real life use scenarios. These have to be subjective.  Most consumers are not in a position to determine what the benchmark information means for them.

Benchmarking is more likely to obscure than to reveal.

Benchmarking is meant to be used as a tool to improve quality, cut costs, or avoid reinventing what is known.  You gather industry data on a particular product or service parameter or a process.  You find the best in class case (the benchmark) and performance of other industry players. You compare it with your data. You then draw up action plans to match the industry benchmarks or better them.  This is the place where copying ‘best practices’ in industry might help you. You are in for some serious work.

Extensive and ongoing benchmarking can help you to you understand your position in the market. It can help you optimize costs. It can help you to learn something from outside.

You need to keep in mind that meeting or bettering some industry benchmarks will still leave your company at around industry average (mediocre in other words).  In order to grow and succeed, your company will have to meet or beat most industry benchmarks and create entirely new benchmarks of your own. Depending on your organization’s strengths, you can aim to create benchmarks in one or more areas like customer care, cost of ownership, ease of switching to your offering, or product features.  Your new benchmarks must make sense to your target customers. For example, consider how Motorola created a range of mobile phones – Moto E, G, and X -which offered sensible products at different price points. It avoided competing on only product specifications or features like speed or mega pixels. It also avoided competing purely on price.

Coming back to your boss, you may have to tell her that you need to ‘prototype’ your solution in order to ‘benchmark’ it and hope that this somehow makes her more willing to think and make some decisions.

About me:

I help people and businesses in regenerating themselves through Regenerative Leadership coaching. See Learning Leadership for web based programs. You can undergo self learning program in my book Lead to Regenerate. Stay in touch with me hereGoogle+ , on Twitter, or through my blog Regenerate!

I consult in Branding, Communications, and User Experience Design with Design Directions, a design studio

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Jargon Jungle – Best Practices

This article was published on bloncampus.com (Hindu Business Line publication) . Here is the link (requires sign-in)

‘These are the best practices’ is often proffered as a ‘convincing’ justification for doing something in a certain way. It is usually trotted out by anyone who doesn’t have a logical explanation. People who can get away with this are typically consultants who think you know nothing about the subject. It saves them the effort of rustling up facts and arguments. The expression also comes in handy to bosses who would like to avoid inconvenient discussions.

You have just stepped into the corporate world. You are itching to slice and dice data. You are impatient to explore and experiment with new possibilities. Following the ‘best practices’ handed down to you will save you all that effort.

Some instances

‘Best practices’ are responsible for such things as:

— The width of aisles in diverse places — from aircraft to supermarkets

— Serving sizes (quantities) of food and beverages in restaurants and cafes

— Width and pitch of aircraft seats

— Employee engagement activities like cafeteria menus, birthday parties, outbound team building events etc.

— Open-office spaces enclosed by cubicles lined along the windows

— Business processes embedded in enterprise systems like ERP

‘Best Practices’ are those that have been found to be the ‘best’ (supposedly) by some organisations. If a particular set of best practices is considered optimal by only a few companies, it should be obvious that they may not be suitable for you. If many organisations have found them be to ‘best’, it stands to reason you will be just be about average or mediocre by following them.

Be aware

You should be on guard the moment you hear this phrase. It is quite likely that someone is being lazy or clever, or both. At this point if you dig around a bit, you will have a lot to think about. You would do well by calling them mere ‘practices’ and find out whether they are research-based practices or proven ones, emerging practices or mandatory ones.

Established businesses rely on best practices because their managers think they save them effort and risks.

Start-up ventures have no time for hunting for best practices. They evolve their practices as they go. They might just follow established practices (proven or mandatory) in non-core areas such as accounting and HR policies.

The term ‘best practices’ is misleading. They don’t give you any competitive advantage. Whatever they are, these ‘practices’ are not going to be enough for you. They can at best provide you with a starting line. You will have to develop your own practices.

Exclusions: There are some special areas where there are ‘mandatory practices’. Examples are: food safety, environment protection, drug-testing, engineering practices. In such cases the scope of innovation must be severely curtailed for obvious reasons. The above post is not applicable in such cases.

About me:

I help people and businesses in regenerating themselves through Regenerative Leadership coaching. See Learning Leadership for web based programs. You can undergo self learning program in my book Lead to Regenerate. Stay in touch with me here Google+ , on Twitter, or through my blog Regenerate!

I consult in Branding, Communications, and User Experience Design with Design Directions, a design studio

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Jargon Jungle -Bandwidth

How to deal with lack of Bandwidth

This article was published on BusinessLine on Campus on June 22, 2015 http://www.bloncampus.com/columns/jargon-jungle/how-to-deal-with-the-lack-of-bandwidth/article7342809.ece

Bandwidth drops with age.  Your bandwidth is at its peak when you are leaving your B-School. You are adept in switching from an assignment in supply chain management to human chain management in the institute’s canteen. You can flip a mammoth spreadsheet and compose your SOP effortlessly. You dazzle yourself and others with effortless navigation of tasks in your job.  This doesn’t last long. You need to be aware of what happens with limited bandwidth.

The symptoms of limited bandwidth are:

Very short span of attention -typically it is same as the time it for an elevator to reach the seventh floor from ground. In more serious cases it is the same as the time to have two sips of tea.

A fixed stare, or fixed smile or scowl, or someone looking through you

Uncalled for praise: You hear words like ‘awesome’, ‘brilliant’, ‘you nailed it’

You hear this ‘Why not run this by xxxx?’

Many organizations and their top managers face limited bandwidth situations. They have even learned to live with it. You go up to your seniors with an idea for cutting down the ‘to market time’.  ‘Brilliant’ they say, ‘but we don’t have bandwidth to handle it now”. You wonder -‘what’s the big deal. We surely can discuss it for fifteen minutes.’ On some occasions you get that uneasy feeling that what you have said has met with a pass-through response.

You may not remain an exception to the rule-of-bandwidth-half-life: Your bandwidth starts dropping exponentially and will reach its half-life within a year of you joining the corporate world or at the time of your first promotion, whichever is earlier. You start getting copies of emails to everyone. You are present in many meetings. You coordinate with two dozens of people.  When the day ends you don’t have much to show for your labour but you are pretty sure of your hard work. Welcome to the club of ‘bandwidth deficit’ managers.

Your organization too finds itself to be in ‘bandwidth deficit’. It doesn’t have time for looking at signals from its markets. It has less time for its customers. It has less time for its employees. It continues to optimise what it was doing well. A capable manager or a specialist joins it with a lot of promise. After early flourish, they too get sucked in the bandwidth squeezing funnel.

If you join a start-up or start one, the funnel is bigger because you work for over sixteen hours every day. The half-life rule for a start up is -your bandwidth drops by half by the time you start selling successfully.

If you wish to defy the half-life rule of bandwidth, you will have to be on high alert. You will need to reserve your quality time for gathering information, processing it, and thinking though your options and actions. You will have to learn separating work and non-work. You will need to invest time in acquiring more knowledge and in learning new skills. You may get opportunities to take up activities like drastically improving work flows or processes. Seize them with both hands. Improved workflows lead to a more bandwidth.

If you are working in a start-up organization, you will need to formalize your workflows and give up freedom to deviate from them unless you wish to redesign them based on what your people have learned.

‘Limited bandwidth’ is a serious issue. It is smarter to prevent it than succumbing to it. Are you ready?

 

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Jargon Jungle – a cheeky guide to navigation

B-School students go through a lot of text book stuff of definitions and explanations. But as soon as they join corporate world or take a start-up venture they need to take on a non-ideal world which is far removed from the books. In this world bosses and colleagues and customers and vendors bend well known words as per their needs. One needs to navigate this world without getting lost and without getting cynical. One needs to extract right actions from the overused or misused terms for the good of all stake holders and for good of oneself.

How navigate this jargon jungle? Posts in this category provide a cheeky guide.

These posts are from my column of the same name published on the portal: BusinessLine on Campus www.bloncampus.com

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Planning a new career? Become useful!

This piece is the last in the series on building new careers.  We have seen that preparing for a new career takes some serious planning, commitment, and efforts. We are so focused on getting that first job, assignment, or break that we often forget a vital ingredient of success in this long and uncertain journey. We continue to forget it because we then remain busy in getting the next job.

This ingredient is: ‘giving’ The ‘giving’ that I am referring to is not about writing a cheque for charity. We need to give in the form of using our knowledge, talents, and hard earned skills for being useful to others who may need them. We must become useful through what we can do best and through what we like doing most.

Ashok is currently working in a private company as production manager. His dream is to become a writer. He would eventually like to make a switch to writing as career. As he hones his writing skills, Ashok should consider offering his writing services to people who wish to write books but are too busy or don’t have good writing skills. Writing for others will give him an exposure to capturing others’ thought and re-arranging, grouping, and improving them.  He can also get used to his work being evaluated and commented upon. He will get better in analyzing comments and incorporating them. All this will give him a chance to see how he good feels about writing as a career.  If Ashok ‘gives’ through his writing services he will learn and earn goodwill. What we send out returns to us in much bigger form.The goodwill earned by using our talents is essential for our success.

Doing what you do best and doing what you like most while being useful to others is an excellent test for yourself. If pass your own test you will excel in the tests by the world.

About me:

I help people and businesses in regenerating themselves through Regenerative Leadership coaching. See Learning Leadership for web based programs.  You can undergo self learning program in my book Lead to Regenerate. Stay in touch with me here Google+ , on Twitter, or through my blog Regenerate!

I consult in Branding, Communications, and User Experience Design with Design Directions, a design studio

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Get help for your new career

In one of the previous posts I had suggested that you should start practicing what you intend to do in your new career much before you leap.  In to addition other actions suggested, you should identify people who might be of help. (To read about other actions, search this blog using ‘career‘ as a keyword or click career in the drop-down list of categories or click the word in the tag cloud)

Consider this example. Supposing you are planning to start a fresh career in coding for big data applications. You are currently working in enterprise solutions. You will need contacts in the field of big data. Some of your currents contacts can help you to get introduced to relevant people. Start asking around those whom you know well.

Switching career involves getting into new networks. Your contacts from current career might rarely be of direct help. Getting into right networks is the most important success factor.  You are going to need help of experts, a mentor, those might give you some work (e.g. internships or freelancing), those who might help you with tools and facilities, and of those who can evaluate your work.

Coaches and mentors can accelerate your learning. They can help you deciding what not to do as well -very important since you don’t wish to go on a wrong track.  Coaching is crucial in certain careers – for example, managerial careers.  It is difficult to assess oneself in such careers because you can’t observe yourself . You can’t clearly remember what you did. Therefore, self assessment is difficult. You also may not be aware about the new skills needed for doing a next level leader’s job. You may not even know about the benchmarks of performance. A good coach can help in all above.  Read more in this series on coaching

Do evaluate your preparedness for a new career.

 

 

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Shaping your career -tools of the trade

You are pretty sure that you have a gift. You are very good at drawing (or singing or coding or dancing or managing projects). You have also figured out that you wish to use your drawing skills for developing some characters for use in animations or in video games. (whatever basic skill you may have, you will need to figure out its end use). So far, you were happy sketching anything that took your fancy. It gives you pleasure. So continue doing that.

Since you wish to make career of sketching and drawing you need now to get a bit serious and find out what are the tools of animation or gaming trades. You will have to invest efforts and learn using those tools so well that they become your second nature. This will allow you to focus on drawing and not get bogged down by the intricacies of the tools.

If you are looking for a job in a firm which is producing games or animations the first question they will ask you will be about familiarity with the tools they use. Many of these tools  like software packages and the hardware you need to run them don’t come cheap. Therefore consider doing internship or working for free where you get a chance to learn and practice them.

So get real and start investing in your career well before you write your first application.

 

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‘लीड टु रीजनरेट ‘ आता मराठीत !

नेतृत्वगुणांचा विकास मातृभाषेतून स्वतःच करण्यासाठी हे पुस्तक एक जागतिक स्तरावरचा कार्यक्रम आपल्या समोर ठेवते. नावाजलेले उद्योगपती आणि लीडरशीप विषयातील तज्ञ ह्यांनी मूळ इंग्लिश पुस्तक  ची शिफारीश केली आहे . ह्या पुस्तकाचा मूळ लेखकाने प्रमाणित केलेला अनुवाद मराठी भाषिकांना उपलब्ध होत आहे.

पुस्तकाच्या प्रतींसाठी  तसेच वितारणासंबंधी  संपर्क इथे करावा  support@learning-leadership.com

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