Why you should share your Blue Ocean strategy project externally, before implementing it

This article is the 5th in a series of 6 common pitfalls to implementing a Blue Ocean Strategy— and how to avoid them. If you missed the first four, go back and read them here, here, here and here. And don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss any of them.

Blue Ocean Strategy is known for its counter-intuitive approach– to get results, you have to do things you may have never done before.

Organizations that decide to start a Blue Ocean Strategy project know this in theory, but often struggle to implement it once it starts to push them out of their comfort zone.

One of the most difficult thresholds for companies to cross is also one of the most important parts of a successful Blue Ocean Strategy project: selecting the best ideas based on external input from customers and non-customers, rather than choosing the ideas to implement internally. While companies are starting to be more open to co-creating with specific customers, presenting new ideas to a broad, diverse group of stakeholders is further out of the average comfort zone.

In this article, you’ll learn the key pitfall companies face when it comes to vetting their ideas – and how to avoid it. The insights I share come from 12 years of helping companies implement Blue Ocean strategy thinking — including helping them get the input and feedback they need on their ideas.

But before we jump in, let’s start with a case study.

The cost of not getting early external input on strategy ideas

The Blue Ocean Strategy process requires companies to hold an idea sharing event – called a Visual Strategy Fair – to which they invite both internal and external stakeholders, including customers and non-customers. The goal of the event is to get input and feedback from a diverse audience on the ideas that have been uncovered during the project before deciding which ones are worth the time and effort needed to build a full business case.

Many of my clients are initially resistant to inviting external stakeholders and non-customers to the event. It is about strategy, so shouldn’t it be confidential? And isn’t it too early to share our strategic ideas for growth, since we haven’t made our own selection yet?

One particular pharmaceutical company was no different. Here’s what happened.

I explained to them that the external perspective at this point would enrich the ideas as well as the decision-making process for the Steering Committee, so they agreed to “trust the process”. Once the ideas were shared, the audience was asked to vote for their favorite ideas based on ability to create innovative value for customers and potential to grow business.

The results were startling: the idea with the most votes among the internal participants was the idea with the least votes by external participants, while the best idea according to the external audience had hardly any votes from the internal participants!

It was a definitely a wake-up call. The company realized that the ideas they voted for created value for their company– but not their customers. Furthermore, they were completely surprised by the impact of the idea that came last in their eyes.

Had they not gotten that external perspective at that point in the process, they would’ve moved forward into business case development with an idea that didn’t interest those they were trying to serve. And even more importantly, they would have dropped the idea with the greatest interest from the customer and non-customer points of view. The company realized that they hadn’t gotten the value proposition right from the customer perspective and, with this fresh input, they were now in a better position to do so.


Pitfall: Not getting early external input on strategy ideas

In order to uncover ideas with the highest potential to create value and grow business, companies should not shy away from getting early feedback from a variety of stakeholders – including the target market itself – to build into the value proposition.

If you wait until you have finalized the ideas and made your selection, you may miss out on opportunities that customers and non-customers found more valuable. Early sharing of the ideas allows for the outside perspective to be built in and facilitates the shift from an internal focus to an external one. It ensures that companies stay focused on creating value for their customers and potential customers, not only themselves. When ideas are only shared internally, it’s too easy to forget the customer– and create something they don’t actually want.

How to Hold a Visual Strategy Fair

Let’s also address how we share ideas to get external input. It is definitely not a powerpoint session, where guests sit and listen to a series of polished presentations.

The Blue Ocean way of getting input is to hold an event with just as many external guests as internal guests. Attendance by the Steering Committee is mandatory. This gives them the opportunity to observe and exchange with customers and non-customers as well, which is often eye-opening for them and informs their decision-making.

Each idea has its own “booth”. The Blue Ocean team nominates presenters to “pitch” each idea. Guests move from idea to idea in small groups, listening to the pitchers and asking questions. The event is dynamic, interactive and noisy! Guests engage with the ideas, challenging them and pointing out the strengths and weaknesses from their various perspectives.

The Visual Strategy Fair is also an excellent opportunity to engage internal stakeholders who may well be involved in implementing the idea if it is selected. It also gives them an opportunity to engage with customers and non-customers, which can be a new experience for some participants.

Consider this: how often do people in functions like HR, IT, Accounting, or Manufacturing meet with customers? This is their chance!  Moreover, being given the chance to get involved and contribute to the ideas can be very motivating to employees who are not usually involved in strategy. The fact that their input is being sought and their voices are being heard creates a higher level of engagement throughout the company.

In the end, both internal and external guests will see that the company values their opinion. It makes them all feel seen and heard– and it sends the clear message that the company is focused on providing innovative value to customers and non-customers.

The bottom line

Creating a dynamic, interactive event to share strategic ideas and get input can enrich your strategy in valuable and unexpected ways. While sharing strategy ideas externally can feel scary to companies implementing a Blue Ocean Strategy approach, it will broaden understanding of what creates value, raise engagement and motivation internally, and ensure that customers and non-customers alike can contribute and feel valued as well. You can focus your resources on implementing ideas with true potential – and increase your chances of finding a blue ocean.

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