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Oceans Apart: The Vision vs. Reality

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I had a disagreement with a scientist the other day. It was a classic disagreement between vision and reality. The scientist, strongly passionate about his product, saw a huge gap in the market and implicitly believed his solution would disrupt the market and would change the way people do things. I am a pragmatist and I've lived through start-up successes and failures. I see the world a different way. It is becoming increasingly fragmented with the proliferation of media and devices further fragmenting our attention and overwhelming consumers and business alike.

Right now, where everyone is trying to be "disruptive" we begin to dilute the value of innovation. Trends in social technology see many start-ups vying for a piece of the Business Intelligence "pie". In an industry where we're inundated with lots of unique and forward-thinking technologies, and where speed-to-market has become yet another impediment, it's become increasingly difficult to stand out and truly achieve perceived differentiation.

So, the argument between the Visionary and the Pragmatist goes something like this:

Visionary:

I really believe we have something special that no one else is doing. The possibilities for its use are mind-boggling. When I tell people what we're doing, they get it right away, and they want to be part of our success.... I'm telling you, if we build it, they will come!

Pragmatist:

Love the idea! I think it has great promise! But, in this market, your offering is somewhat similar to others. How you differentiate is based on a need that hasn't yet been fulfilled, and the market coming to the same realization of that need. Expecting people to come to you is much less likely these days. We have to tap into a market of least resistance and less risk.

Don't get me wrong: It's important for innovation to continue but in a time where innovation is rampant and incessant, the risk of customer adoption becomes a much more difficult task.

The Red Ocean vs. The Blue Ocean

As we continued to table our points of view, the Visionary explained something to me that gave me an alternative viewpoint that I decided to delve into. He likened our argument to The Red Ocean vs. the Blue Ocean.

The Blue Ocean Strategy, published in 2005 is a business book written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

The Blue Ocean Strategy suggests that an organization should create new demand in an uncontested market space, or a "Blue Ocean", rather than compete head-to-head with other suppliers in an existing industry.

The metaphor of the Red and Blue Ocean describes the market universe.

Red Oceans represent all the industries in existence today - the known market space. In the red oceans, industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the competitive rules of the game are known. Here companies try to outperform their rivals to grab a greater share of product or service demand. As the market space gets crowded, prospects for profits and growth are reduced. Products become commodities or niche, and cutthroat competition turns the ocean bloody; hence, the term red oceans.

Blue Oceans, in contrast, denote all the industries not in existence today -- the unknown market space, untainted by competition. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than fought over. There is ample opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid. In blue oceans, competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set. Blue ocean is an analogy to describe the wider, deeper potential of market space that is not yet explored.

The "cornerstone" for the Blue Ocean strategy is value innovation. It achieves this by creating value for both the supply and demand i.e. the customer and the company. This also includes eliminating features or services that exist in the current market. This is what is known as "disruption".

An example of this is the Consumerization of IT. In today's enterprise, a more mobile workforce is less inclined to draw the line between corporate and personal technology. Where, over a decade ago, it was common to have two cell phones-one for work and one for personal use- the opposite has manifested itself in a very short timeframe. Where IT traditionally controlled the use of technology that employees use for their jobs, strong demand (since 2005) from the "new" workforce forced IT to rethink how they protected and controlled the networks and devices that they, themselves had not procured. This had a tremendous impact on the popular adoption of smartphone technology; as well as the resulting decline of Blackberry devices (which heavily relied on enterprise IT market). This Study citing the benefits of the Bring-Your-Own-Device Programs provides strong insights on the impacts to RIM and the new value created for the enterprise.

The significance of this example is far-reaching and it was able to impact an entire industry, influence technology giants and create a sizeable consumer shift that continues to this day.

Can this result be achieved again? Absolutely, but it is less likely that any one company, especially a start-up, can have the same pervasive impact.

Where the Red Ocean and the Blue Ocean Collide

We see prevailing Blue Oceans in the horizon however: the transition from email...the operationalization of social...the shift from laptop to mobile... the impending move from mobile payments to fingerprint POS. For most of these disruptions, they are market-led. Where the Visionary benefits is to be one-step ahead of the market and provide iterations to technology that will fall within the "acceptable" scope of customer convenience and experience.

The Path of Least Resistance

In a time of abundant "disruption" and proliferation of media and devices, the path of least resistance is one that develops alongside the market and validates along the way. Sustainability can be established by appealing to a niche segment. Wider-spread adoption is much more likely when this occurs.

Where business intelligence falls within an category that has been deemed no longer "trendy" but rather, mainstay, it is clear that the broader market will be ripe to receive the innovations that will emerge.

For the Visionary and the Pragmatist, both become satisfied when they transition from a competitive "bloody" ocean and move ahead of the pack where value innovation has been achieved.

And, this is where the arguments begin to wane..... at least, somewhat.