“Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

Synopsis

Blue Ocean Strategy is premised on the idea that companies can create extraordinary value if they follow a strategic framework to develop ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space. This, in turn, makes competition irrelevant. Blue oceans are defined by untapped market space, demand creation, and the opportunity for highly profitable growth. Authors Kim and Mauborgne base their argument on a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than a hundred years and thirty industries.

I enjoyed the book and agree with the “blue ocean” argument around value innovation but I’d like to have seen a more in-depth analysis and examples of companies that tried this strategy but failed.

Lessons

On creating blue oceans…

The Four Actions Framework (Figure 1) is used to reconstruct buyer value elements in crafting a new value curve. To break the trade-off between differentiation and low cost and to create a new value curve, the framework poses four key questions, shown in the diagram, to challenge an industry’s strategic logic.

Figure 1: The Four Actions Framework

On reconstructing market boundaries…

The authors state that by thinking across conventional boundaries of competition, you can see how to make strategic moves that reconstruct established market boundaries and create blue oceans. Figure 2 shows the difference in thinking between head-to-head competition (red ocean strategy) and blue ocean creation.

Figure 2: Head-to-head competition vs. blue ocean creation

Quotes

“The distinctive strength of the business world [is] the capacity to create new market space that is uncontested.”

Something interesting

Guy Lalibert, the CEO of Cirque du Soleil, started out busking as an accordion player, stilt-walker, and fire-eater.

The Nickelodeon theatre of the early 1900s was aptly named because the price of admission was five cents. “Nickelodeon” was concocted from nickel, the name of the U.S. five-cent coin, and the ancient Greek word odeion, a roofed-over theater.

Links

The original 2004 Harvard Business Review Blue Ocean Strategy article

Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas

W. Chan Kim

Renée Mauborgne

“The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg

Synopsis

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a book that explores the science behind why habits exist and how we can change them. Using a range of well-narrated examples, Duhigg explains how old habits can be overridden by identifying and changing the cue and reward of the habit in the habit loop (see Figure 1).

The Power of Habit is a light and fun read.

Lessons

On changing habits…

Duhigg says that because all individuals and habits are different, there are many formulas for changing habits. He recommends a simplified, practical framework for understanding how habits work and how they might change.

In short:

1) identify the routine

2) experiment with the rewards by writing down your emotions and feelings

3) isolate the cue, which may fall into five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, and immediately preceding actions

4) have a plan

Figure 1: The habit loop

Duhigg also recommends that people focus on one keystone habit to start with. A keystone habit is one that has a leveraged, positive impact on other habits. Exercising routinely is an example of a keystone habit.

Quotes

Tony Dungy (legendary NFL coach) : “Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”

Tony Dungy: “Belief is the biggest part of success.”

“Not sharing an opportunity to learn is a cardinal sin.”

“The golden rule of habit change: you can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”

Something interesting

The basal ganglia is the area in the brain where habits are stored. Humans evolved to form habits because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.

Claude Hopkins, an advertising pioneer, commercialised the habit of brushing your teeth daily by changing the cue and reward in the habit loop.

Foaming was introduced as a reward in shampoo, laundry detergent and toothpaste to enforce the reward of the habit.

Self-help guru Robin Sharma regularly cites a study by Phillippa Lally et al. at the University College London stating that on average, it takes 66 days before a new behaviour becomes automatic.

Links

Charles Duhigg’s website

Charles Duhigg on Twitter

Thanks for replying to my review, Charles.

“The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation” by Peter Senge

Synopsis

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation is a management book by Peter Senge that uses a systems thinking framework to tie together five team disciplines that convert traditional, authoritarian organisations into learning organisations. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how interdependent elements within a system influence one another. The book is premised on the idea that in the long-run, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than its competitors.

This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read. Although it was published in 1990, the ideas are still relevant today, and apply to both the individual and the organisation.

Lessons

On mental models…

Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, images, stories and biases that influence people’s understanding of the world and their decision-making.

Senge says the problem with mental models is not that they are right or wrong – all models are simplifications or approximations of the truth. The problem is when they exist below the level of awareness.

He says that because the world is constantly evolving, it is important to be intellectually rigorous, seeing reality objectively by learning to suspend our assumptions and unearth our own internal pictures of the world. For me, developing this skill is about practicing the art of listening and asking the correct questions.

Quotes

“To practice a discipline is to be a lifelong learner.”

“Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life”

“Small changes can produce big results – but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.”

“In the presence of greatness, pettiness disappears. In the absence of a great dream, pettiness prevails.”

Something interesting

The book ends with a paragraph about the Gaia Hypothesis – the theory that all life on earth is itself a single, living organism. This touches on one of the key ideas of the book: that we live in a world of extraordinary interdependence.

This recent talk by Peter entitled “Systems Thinking for a Better World” has inspired me to learn more actively.

 Links

 Peter Senge Wikipedia

“21 Yaks and a Speedo” by Lewis Pugh

Synopsis

21 Yaks and a Speedo by ocean advocate and pioneering swimmer Lewis Pugh is a collection of short stories, called Yaks, about how to achieve what might first seem impossible. Each story illustrates a lesson that Lewis and his team have learned from one of his many swimming expeditions.

21 Yaks and a Speedo is a light and enjoyable read. I would recommend it to Open Water swimmers and anyone looking for the inspiration to excel.

Lessons

On testing our assumptions…

Lewis says one of the most valuable lessons he learned was to always ask what assumptions he’s making [about an expedition] and to test whether those assumptions are valid. He explains that you never know how a situation is going to change, and you can never have a perfect plan, so be prepared to adapt.

On limiting beliefs…

I was fortunate enough to see Lewis speak at the Graduate School of Business in October 2014. He made two important points that evening. First, when we have limiting beliefs we take on a defeatist attitude. Second, when we have limiting beliefs, we don’t ask for help. In the book, Lewis tells an unusual story (Yak 12) about the boat rudder breaking in the Maldives to explain this lesson. He says we must be open to all possibilities.

Quotes

“There’s nothing more powerful than a made-up mind.”

“I love swimming. I love the action of swimming. I love the feeling of diving into cold water, and getting invigorated and refreshed.” As a swimmer I loved this statement. I would add that the feeling of being relaxed in water, moving almost effortlessly when you’re fit is second to none.

“There will always be hundreds of reasons to quit, especially towards the end, when things get very tough. Think of just ONE reason to keep on going – it will make all the difference!”

“Never plan for victory and defeat in your mind at the same time.”

Something Interesting

The English Channel swim starts in Dover.

Roald Amundsen was the first person ever to reach the South Pole.

Lewis was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world.

Lewis did a 50-school country-wide speaking tour of South Africa to spread his message of conserving the world’s oceans, and to practice public speaking. He calls his first speech a “disaster.” He has since gone on to become an international motivational speaker. Below is his first TED talk, one that really inspired me.

Links

Lewis’ website

Lewis on Twitter

Lewis on Facebook

“The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins

Synopsis

The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Professor Richard Dawkins that extends on Charles Darwin’s explanation of evolution. The first edition was published in 1976.

Dawkins uses the term “selfish gene” to argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This selfishness, he explains, will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour for the survival and evolution of the species (although in some circumstances a gene can achieve its goals by fostering a form of altruism at the level of individual animals).

Lessons

The main takeaway for me was perhaps to see how Dawkins develops an intellectually-constructed, concise argument for his gene-centred view of evolution.

Quotes

“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

“In the beginning was simplicity.”

“Perhaps consciousness arises when the brain’s simulation of the world becomes so complex that it must include a model of itself.”

“We are all survival machines for the same kind of replicator – molecules called DNA – but there are many different ways of making a living in the world, and the replicators have built a vast range of machines to exploit them. A monkey is a machine that preserves genes up trees, a fish is a machine that preserves genes in the water; there is even a small worm that preserves genes in German beer mats. DNA works in mysterious ways.”

Something interesting

Muscles evolved in animals to achieve rapid movement. The force of a muscle is generated in the form of tension.

Fireflies attract mates by flashing lights at them, and each species has its own particular dot-dash flashing pattern. I recently saw flashing fireflies on top of Signal Hill. It’s an incredible sight in nature.

A typical pride of lions consists of seven adult females and two adults males. Young male lions born into a pride are driven out in their adolescence.

Mother pigs sometimes eat their own children.

In frogs neither sex has a penis.

Links

Richard Dawkins Foundation

Richard on Twitter