Blue Ocean Strategy – 6 Paths for Your Education Business – Part VI

BY Jeff Cobb

Blue Ocean Strategy Path 6 - Across Time

This is the final post in a series I’ve been writing on the 6 Paths Framework – a key tool in formulating Blue Ocean Strategy. If you would like a convenient PDF with all six parts of this series, just click the button below. Otherwise, read on.

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As a quick refresher, Blue Ocean Strategy – covered in detail in the mega-selling book of the same name by Chan Kim and Renee Maubourgne – is based on the idea that most organizations within any field or industry compete on the same basic factors. (Price and “features” being very common ones.) Competition becomes like a bloody “red ocean” as organizations struggle to differentiate. On the other hand, organizations that significantly change the terms of engagement in their field or industry may find opportunities to break free into a blue ocean, where the sailing is smooth and there are few, if any, competitors to be found.

The Blue Ocean metaphor is one that I find resonates with most organizational leaders, and the six paths are a key part of the tool set for making it a reality.

The “paths” represent efforts to change your perspective, learn from the process, and bring that learning back to your own efforts. In previous posts, I have covered:

In this post, I explore the final frontier: looking across time.

Looking Across Time

External trends tend to be a key driver of change in most fields. The rise of the Internet, for example, has had a tremendous impact over the past two decades on just about every field and industry. Education has certainly been no exception. Still, even in the face of such a sweeping trend, one that clearly offers enormous new opportunities, most organizations respond only at a tactical rather than a strategic level. As Kim and Maugborne put it, most organizations

adapt incrementally and somewhat passively as events unfold. Whether it’s the emergence of new technologies or major regulatory changes, managers tend to focus on projecting the trend itself. That is, they ask in which direction a technology will evolve, how it will be adopted, whether it will become scalable. They pace their own actions to keep up with the development of the trends they’re tracking.

So, for example, in the world of continuing education, organizations may cautiously add some Webinars or self-paced courses to their portfolio and eventually consider putting a learning management system in place. But none of this fundamentally changes the business model or fuels significant differentiation from competitors – all of whom are likely to make exactly the same moves.

To find blue ocean potential in a trend, you have to do more than look at the trend itself, you have to search for insights into “how the trend will change value to customers [members] and impact the company’s [organization’s] business model.”

You also need to be sure you are dealing with trend that is truly worthy of strategic response. Kim and Maugborne argue that trends capable of driving Blue Ocean Strategy:

  • are decisive – There is no doubt that the trend will actually have an impact on your business
  • are irreversible – The trend is not merely a fad or a fashion. It is here to stay
  • follow a clear trajectory – You can see with reasonable clarity where the trend is headed, at least as far as the impact on your business is concerned

“Having identified a trend of this nature,” Kim and Maugborgne write,

you can then look across time and ask yourself what the market would look like if the trend were taken to its logical conclusion. Working back from that vision of a blue ocean strategy, you can identify what must be changed today to unlock a new blue ocean.

In Search of a Logical Conclusion

If there is one trend that I think warrants some serious analysis right now, it is the growth of mobile computing and communication. I don’t think there is any doubt that this is a decisive and irreversible trend, and I would argue that it has a clear trajectory when it comes to lifelong learning.

Mobile is the great “connector of dots” for all of the learning industry buzz words from the last decade or two: “anytime, anywhere,” “just in time,” “blended,” “social.” You don’t have to do much more than thumb through the screens of your own smart phone or tablet and reflect back on your last few days to realize that you are, in fact, an anytime, anywhere, just in time, blended, social learner – and that’s mostly because of your mobile device.

The problem – which is also to say the opportunity – is that most organizations still don’t have much of a vision for how to support this shift in a compelling way. And most organizations are doing, or will do, what Kim and Mauborgne suggest above – adapting incrementally rather than attempting to shape the trend.

What if you were to attempt to shape, rather than simply react, to the trend. What would that look like for the learners you support and the field or industry within which they work. Personally, I think membership and “learning as a service” (“LaaS” – you heard it here first, folks) need to become synonymous, and mobile is perhaps the key tool for making that happen. What would that look like for your organization – keeping in mind mobile as perhaps the great enabler?

I don’t know the specific answers for your organization, but I am certain that the blue oceans created with mobile will focus at least as much on context as on content. They will be about understanding not only what an individual needs to learn, but also the likely circumstances and drivers of learning. How well do you really understand these within your field or industry, and given that understanding, how does mobile enable you to create new value for your learners?

Follow that path across time, and a blue ocean surely waits you.


P.S. – Here are links to all six parts of this series:

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