Most people recognize sharks as a fish with large teeth, dorsal fins, and who are scary by nature.

Sharks in the business world are thought of as slick, skilled in their activity, and are often deceptive.

Both these sharks have something in common: they’re carnivorous.

In the way a real shark is hungry for prey, business sharks are hungry for market space. Business sharks are constantly in competition with their rivals for a larger share of a market space. When the market space becomes overcrowded, there are less resources, less demand, and less profits. The ocean that is the market space becomes saturated, bloody, and red.

Photo by Kayleigh.

This called a red ocean.

Blue ocean is significantly different.

The authors of the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, wrote:

“Blue oceans, in contrast, are defined by untapped market space, demand creation, and the opportunity for highly profitable growth” (4).

They innovate new ways to their own oceans and set their own rules and boundaries. Many products we have today were innovated through blue oceans. An example of this is the automobile. Henry Ford was quoted saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Ford saw an untapped market space for an invention that would change people’s lives forever. He invented his own blue ocean. Companies, businesses, and brands all strive for this. Differentiating yourself to the point where you’re uncontested and you are your own competition.

Strategy makes all the difference when it comes to a business’s approach for finding their way in the blue ocean. The book equates this strategy as value innovation.

“Value innovation is the cornerstone of blue ocean strategy. We call it value innovation because instead of focusing on beating the competition, you focus on making the competition irrelevant by creating a leap in value for buyers and your company, thereby opening up new and uncontested market space” (12).

The value innovation focuses on cost saving for the business to afford the customer a higher buying value. The key ingredients are differentiation and low cost.

It hardly seems like a question; would you rather swim in a red ocean or blue ocean? With the success that brands have with their blue ocean strategies you would wonder why more aren’t doing this. Many brands swimming in the red ocean have allowed for confined industry boundaries, stifling their ability to innovate. Despite their saturation, it’s still important to know how to swim through a red ocean. Competition will always be relevant in business, but companies need to begin swimming past their competitors and find ways to revolutionize their brands.

Kim, W. Chan., and Renee Mauborgne. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant. Harvard Bus Review Press, 2016.
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  1. This is so intriguing to me, and I’d never heard any of these metaphors before. I like the way you cast competition as a potentially limiting way to think about success in business. I wonder how sustainability functions here (a blue ocean is also a healthy ocean): can we build “markets” that allow for creativity and which also rely on the health of the surrounding ecosystems? So much (fish) food for thought!!

  2. This is a really interesting. Same idea as being market disruptors which I’ve heard it been called before. Innovation completely changes a market space. It’s like when Netflix creates a completely new market for online entertainment and disrupts the profits of Comcast.

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