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How can pandemic challenges be coped with ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’?

Amid pandemic which has created a myriad of challenges, approaches like 'Blue Ocean Strategy' provides us the way forward - explains the writer while emphasizing the need to think creative solutions in policies, processes and planning both at the corporate and public levels.

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Desperate times require high value low cost innovations, not incremental improvements. When Bob Zukis published his article in Forbes in April 2020 entitled “There Will be Blue Ocean’s Everywhere Post-Pandemic”, the Covid-19 crisis had just entered Italy after China and Iran, and the world was not ready for the greatest pandemic since the Spanish Flue in 1920.

Within weeks stock markets crashed, economies went into historic melt-downs, companies struggled to maintain their cash-flows amidst mass layoffs in rapidly dwindling markets. As with the disastrous effects of climate change, the world was not ready to deal with such a catastrophe at a global scale where every country became a victim, and Homo-Sapiens became untouchable.

“The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles” – Oran Harari

The immediate priority was to ensure the availability of food on every table. Outstanding situations require outstanding solutions. Bob Zukis’s article shone a bright light in the deepening dusk and could not have been published at a better time. However, the Blue Oceans remained steadfast, loyal, and true even during the pandemic.

Blue Ocean Strategy in action

In April 2020, Alphabet Inc. reached $1 trillion in market cap for the first time since Google’s inception in 1998. Apple Inc. reached $2 trillion in August 2020, the same month that Jeff Bezos reached $200 billion in personal wealth, Uber jumped from $6 billion to $15.5 billion in annual revenues and Tesla reached $800 billion in market cap, becoming the world’s most valuable automaker in July 2020.

So what was the magical differentiation? Simply that during 2020-21, seven companies out of the top ten with the highest global market cap had only one thing in common. They stayed Blue. Value innovation remained their approach to business and they kept their focus on non-disruptive creation instead of every day operations management.

Conventional logic is no answer in an ever-changing world. The pace of disruption abounds and the uncertainty is unimaginable. No one now has the time to take 6 hours to sharpen the axe in a total tree cutting time of 9 hours. Countries and companies need proven out of the box tools & frameworks and to act fast. They need to go blue.

Read more: Chinese economy recovers from pandemic depression

What is Blue Ocean Strategy?

Blue Ocean Strategy was a ground breaking concept first published in 2005 by INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne based on a decade long study of over 150 strategic moves spanning more than 30 industries over 120 years. It is based on the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost and focuses on a win win approach to create a win for buyers, the company and, importantly, for employees and stakeholders. It points the way towards creating an uncontested market space and making the competition irrelevant.

Low cost, high value, high impact solutions and rapid execution have been the hallmarks of the Blue Ocean Strategy which has led to not only corporate but also national planning success. Malaysia attained some 60% increase in Gross National Income, 78% increase in Per Capita GDP and 2 million new jobs in 5 years under its National Blue Ocean Summit initiative.

Thailand beat Singapore to become the world’s No. 1 destination for medical tourism. Medellin became known as the most innovative city in the world a far cry from its previous tag of the world’s murder capital. Estonia’s e-Residency, South Korea’s Value Innovation Tank, Dubai’s Future Foundation, Indonesia’s WIN-Way, Portugal’s Strategic Framework NERLEI 2020, World-Singapore, and tourism strategies adopted by the Ghent, Almere and Aragon regions in Europe are some great Blue Ocean public sector achievements.

When a 17 year old Zuhl Sultan can create the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, a remarkable great Blue Ocean move of inter-faith harmony by bringing along Shia, Sunni, Kurd, and Arabs on one platform in war-torn Iraq, to be acclaimed the World’s Bravest Orchestra, then governmental, corporate leaders and entrepreneurs can also bring about a change of vision in their individual and collective enterprises.

Read more: Iran refuses to shut down economy despite accelerating pandemic

Takeaway for Pakistan

The world around us is changing more quickly than ever before. WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, Uber, iPad, electric vehicles, reusable rockets or cloud storage – none of these existed 12 years ago – are now a daily reality. In 2030, we might have human camping visits to the moon, hyper-loop travel, free global internet, and marine algae as our main food staple. Thinking ahead of time and having a futuristic vision across alternative industries, strategic buyer groups, and across complementary offers will be the new normal.

The COVID 19 pandemic has changed everything except the ability to think freely and act differently. Apple Inc. has grown by a daily average of $6.8 billion since March 2020, a per day earnings in revenue in excess of the $6 billion loan for 5 years Pakistan opted to take from the IMF. The difference is one of perspective.

No one, as they say, will move our cheese but us. The choice will remains the same: do not break away from the status quo and become fundamentally irrelevant, or innovate and sail to new uncontested Blue Oceans with a fresh and brand new attitude.

Read more: Pakistan on-track to become 23rd biggest economy, US intelligence

A systematic out-of-the-box approach is the demand of the time, to see opportunities where others see challenges, to move ahead by leaps in value, for customers, for citizens, for the common good, and for the future.

Create new markets instead of swimming in the ever retreating murky waters of Red Oceans. Do not be satisfied with your piece of the small pie on your plate but enlarge the pie and extend market boundaries. Take the initiative, think ahead and create value instead of waiting for the demand. Create and capture the new demand. The Model T Ford was the Blue Ocean move of its time.

As Henry Ford rightly said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Think blue, think different.

Syed Faraz Mujtaba is a businessman, author, and psychologist. He runs a global management consulting company in 36 countries. He can be reached at syed.faraz@damson.group