The Pros And Cons Of Blue Ocean Strategy

Nicolas Cole
5 min readOct 2, 2021

If you listen closely, most people talk about markets and categories the exact same way the gal or guy delivers the weather report.

  • “Dell had a terrible quarter because the demand for laptops and servers is down.”
  • “Amazon had a great quarter with their AWS division because demand for cloud services is raging.”
  • “Netflix’s growth is stalled because demand for streaming seems to be faltering.”

Look at the business section of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times and you’ll be reading the weather. There is an undiscussed, unquestioned, unconsidered assumption (accept the premise) that the category drives the business. If fewer people purchase cloud solutions from Amazon, that’s not Amazon’s fault. That’s just the weather. And if more people start buying Netflix again, credit isn’t owed to Netflix. That’s just the weather: renewed subscriptions are in the air.

But this line of thinking is a deferral of responsibility.

And factually wrong.

It’s executives saying to other executives, who say to investors, who say to Wall Street, “We’re not at fault here. Nothing we can do. It wasn’t raining yesterday, and business was good. Today, it’s raining, and business is bad.” The strategy then is to “buy a hat” and wait out the weather. And if the weather stays bad for too long, the next strategy is to cut costs and consolidate. Blue Ocean Strategy refers to this sort of behavior as consistent with companies caught in red oceans — where the only way to compete (against vicious competition) is in a race to the bottom. (While wearing a rain hat.)

Blue Oceans vs Red Oceans

Waiting for the weather to change is not what category creators and category designers do.

(We reject this premise.)

In the mind of a category designer, the category doesn’t drive the business. The business drives the category. Airbnb wasn’t successful because the winds for “strangers paying a nightly fee to sleep in your bed” were strong. Uber wasn’t successful because the winds for “strangers riding in the backseat of your minivan” were full of gust. These category leaders created the winds that carried them to success — and no…

Nicolas Cole

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