Mauborgne: Companies Must Lead, Not Follow Others

Mauborgne: Companies Must Lead, Not Follow Others
Economist and "Blue Ocean Strategy" co-author Renee Mauborgne says most companies "play a 'follow the follower' game" and benchmark themselves against the competition.But the question companies must ask themselves is, "What if we did not set out to compete, but to make competition irrelevant?" (21 Century Business Forum)

Business strategist Renée Mauborgne says a company must make an honest assessment of where it is as an organization and where it stands in the marketplace if it is to develop a road map to success.

"I think a lot of organizations live an illusion about themselves," said Mauborgne, a professor of strategy at INSEAD, one of the world's top business schools, and co-author with W. Chan Kim of "Blue Ocean Strategy," which has sold more than 4 million copies, and their latest book, "Blue Ocean Shift."

Mauborgne shared her insights into strategic thinking in business during the March 10 episode of the "21st Century Business Forum," which features monthly one-on-one interviews with some of the nation's most prominent business minds and thought leaders. The Business Forum is presented by Arkansas Business and sponsored by CHI St. Vincent.

Register Now: Next month's guest is Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who will talk about building a high-performing team and developing a winning strategy. You can register to watch the interview for free on April 14 right here.

Mauborgne said most companies "play a 'follow the follower' game," where they benchmark themselves against the competition "under the assumption the competition knows what they are doing" while the competition is doing the same thing. She said companies tend to chase each other rather than "chasing and creating value in the market."

She said the question companies must ask themselves is, "What if we did not set out to compete, but to make competition irrelevant?" 

One way to do so is to identify a new space or new opportunity in the marketplace — the blue ocean — by addressing the problems and pain points of their customers rather than compete in the bloody red waters of the existing market.

Mauborgne said it is important to involve people from all levels of the organization in determining whether the organization needs to shift its strategy. If the consensus is that a shift is in order, people — through their involvement in the assessment process — will be open to change more than they would if it was imposed from the top down, according to Mauborgne.

The message sent by promoting such team initiatives is that "we are capable of hard things," which Mauborgne said makes individual team members proud and stronger and makes for a more competent organization.

This isn't just rah-rah stuff, Mauborgne maintains.

"It has nothing to do with a rah-rah cult," she said, "It's about building firm competence."

Mauborgne said leadership matters at all levels of an organization, not just at the top. And as the pandemic has shown, leaders must display humanness and confidence toward their people during times of crisis and stress.

Regarding humanness, leaders need to "acknowledge and pay intellectual and emotional respect to their employees" by working to understand what their people are going through, she said.

"People want to be heard and they want to be felt; they need to be able to voice that," Mauborgne said.

Confidence comes into play, Mauborgne said, by "showing people that if we work together as a team we can come out (of the tough period) stronger and better." And that produces a more resilient organization, she said.

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