Finding a blue ocean
Business, psychology

Finding a blue ocean

Most teams today spend vastly too much time worrying about their competition. They assume if the competition knows what they make, or how to make it, given they have more resources – they’ll simply steal the idea, and run to the finish line.

Key Take-aways
- Why do we worry about the competition so much?
- How to operate where there is no competition

Stephen Covey in his infamous book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about a condition he calls enemy-centeredness – where we place what an enemy does, or thinks, at the centre of our lives. It consumes us. We worry about it endlessly, and it influences how we spend our time.

“There is no better measure of your values than how you spend your time” – Scott Belsky, Founder of Behance

But there is a big difference between understanding the competitive landscape, and letting it get in the drivers seat. Once we let the cancer of enemy-centeredness in, it can be hard to find a cure. We then join the marching band of mediocrity. We end up playing someone else’s game, and the outcome is competitors with few degrees of differentiation.

In psychology, the “Locus of Control” is a belief system we have that rationalises success or failure – what I can and can’t do. Depending on if we have an internal or external locus of control, it tells us where to look when things don’t go our way.

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For those of us who are enemy-centered, we tend to think that when the competition wins it’s because they did the right things, and they took those opportunities away from us. Life is unfair, the scales unbalanced, and there is nothing we could do about it. We sulk. We cry.

But when we have an internal locus of control, we know deeply that it is up to us to move the dial. We are in control, and when we think like that, how the competition spends their time is mostly immaterial.

A friend once explained to me how he thinks of a locus of control. “When it’s raining, there are two kinds of people. Those who look outside and say, I can’t go for a run today because it is raining. But then there is another kind of person who looks outside, notices the rain, and simply grabs a rain jacket, and runs all the same.”

One of those people lets the rain decide what action can be taken. The other, is in control of their own destiny.

So no matter your position, if your competition feels like they are winning, take a lesson from the place of childhood dreams – the circus.

Where competition doesn’t matter

Guy Laliberte was once a street performer . Today, he is the CEO of one of Canada’s largest companies, Cirque Du Soleil.

In 1984, when Cirque Du Soleil started, the Circus was a consistent affair. A tent, animals – elephants trained to dance, and always a collection of lions. But animals in the circus were not well regarded by all. For some, it was a cruel practice – but it was the reason children came along. And the kids brought in the money.

For nearly 100 years, the laws of what made a circus successful was simple. Animals draw a crowed. Kids loved animals.

So when Guy Laliberte came along with his troop of performers, no animals in sight, turning their act into an artistic dance, no circus took them seriously – why would they? They had no animals, and a business like that had never succeeded in over 100 years.

But Cirque Du Soleil was not quite a circus. It was neither a ballet, nor a musical. But it had elements of all three of those things. It was a confused miss-match of ideas, further telling the wise Circus operators that the concept would never take off. Children would never come to see such a thing. The themes were too abstract and too adult for a child to understand.

And they were 100% right.

Cirque Du Soleil didn’t worry about children in the beginning. Instead, they found an entirely new market who would never think to come to a circus – Adults. By creating a totally new kind of experience, a sophisticated performance that was artistic, with incredible music, costumes and concepts, they found adult customers that would never have come before, were suddenly lining up around the block. And by capturing that new market, they could charge more for tickets, and the by product was that kids came anyway.

Cirque Du Soleil found a blue ocean – a place where the waters were not red with the blood of battles with the competition, but wide open for opportunity, clear blue waters. This concept is described in the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, authored by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborge. It inspired businesses to find new markets that were easier to dominate, if only they could think in different ways.

Cirque Du Soleil moved to a place where they could operate unbothered by the traditional 3 ring circus, and they grew to 90 cities around the world, and today have entertained more than 40 million people.

In just 20 years, Cirque du Soleil has reached revenues that Ringling Bros and Barnum & Baily – the world’s leading circus, took more than a century to capture.

Too much focus on the competition

When we focus too much on the competition, we end up in an arms race of functionality. They have this, so we must have it. Our customers are asking us for it, because they’ve seen it in our competitors product. But no circus goer ever said, “Let’s do away with all the animals and charge me twice as much.”

To really unleash the potential of your business, sometimes you need to go where the puck is going, not where it is.

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