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Is it better to win at all costs or to play a different game altogether?

Business resiliente

31/05/2022

An entrepreneurial spirit in today’s world means not only having entrepreneurial skills, but also having the ability to create value, focusing on the “why”.

Is just having a good idea enough to become an entrepreneur? Or do you need the right expertise and tools to create a successful business? In a turbulent market and with rapidly changing work patterns and lifestyles, the role of aspiring entrepreneurs and their business approach needs to keep up with the times. Rather than winning at all costs, it might just be time to play a different game.

An innovative business is a fluid business

Our traditional view of an entrepreneur is two-pronged: either a person without a business background but with an idea or intuition that they manage to successfully market, or a person who can draw on their family’s experience or their own to set themselves up in business. But does this really reflect tomorrow’s - in fact today’s - entrepreneur? 

Our wants, lifestyles, priorities, the ways in which we use products and services are now more fluid, so shouldn’t business be too?

The product and service offering is now vast, making for a crowded market but consumers have also radically changed their approach to such goods and services. For example, an access economy is now preferable to an ownership economy not only for financial reasons but also and above all due to growing concerns about the environment. Rather than owning an item or product, people increasingly prefer to have the option to use it when necessary and to subsequently return it to the community: the sharing economy. 
This is just an example of how markets, uses, values, habits and wishes are changing fast and there is no reason to believe that this fluidity will decrease, much less disappear, in coming years. 
 

Therefore, the most important ability that today’s business needs to stay abreast of the changing times is the capacity to be innovative, to be able to read or even pre-empt market trends and to give people a new approach to what they need.

A new perspective

One of the reasons why even the most promising start-ups and savvy businesses fail is because they focus on “what” instead of “why”. We find an idea or an innovative product, believe whole-heartedly in it but the market doesn’t respond. Or, conversely, the market responds so well that we believe this will last for ever and we forget to update it so as not to be out of the loop a few years later. 

The focus needs to be not on “what” we are doing but “why” we are doing it: if the reason is strong and clear, we can stay true to ourselves even as we change

This is why we should never forget the reason “why” we have believed in a dream or made it happen: what did we want to offer the consumer? What need were we meeting? Why did the market pick us or why should it want to pick us? At this stage, if the reason for what we are doing is really clear, it will be much easier to adjust, transform, develop our offerings or even change them completely without losing ourselves and without losing the business that we have built with so much effort. 

One of the most well-known examples is the famous video and DVD rental chain Blockbuster, Friday and Saturday nights’ irreplaceable go-to (or so we thought) for millions of people. It can easily be construed that widespread internet connections and the development of streaming platforms elbowed it out of the way. But was this really inevitable? Or could things have gone differently if management hadn’t confused the “what” (the rental DVD) with the “why” (offering a home cinema experience). 

How many Oceans can we swim in?

The market is unforgiving: those averse to change or unable to enhance their idea are not pardoned. The prevailing idea is that, if we deal with a certain product or service, we will necessarily have to compete with someone similar who is offering a similar article or service to our same target. Therefore, we are all swimming in an Ocean infested with tens, hundreds or thousands of sharks: a Red Ocean, marked by the battles between the small and large fish that inhabit it and in which survival is an illusion or, in our case, more probably a battle to the last cent. But do we have to take our chances in these waters? 

According to the Blue Ocean Strategy, we don’t have to swim in these waters: published in 2005 by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne and revised in 2015, this theory illustrates how the best option may not be to play the same game as our competitors but to avoid the battle by offering something completely different and novel, while staying within the field of our expertise. We thus create a new Ocean, a Blue Ocean where we set the rules, rather than the traditional Red Ocean.

The Blue Ocean Strategy suggests that the best idea may not be to compete in the traditional market but to play a different game: one that follows our rules

Adopting this type of strategy implies a willingness to change your mental approach, breaking out of the traditional confines of our sector to explore new territories, giving an innovative and strategic edge to something that already exists and bowing out of the battle. This is potentially the greatest capacity an entrepreneur can have today. 

Jacopo Perfetti is a Fellow Professor at SDA Bocconi in Innovation and author of essays on the topic of entrepreneurship and innovation in business. Together with other experts in the business, impact and business plan fields, he discusses this and other topics, including those mentioned in this article, at the digital hub GoBeyond Academy. 
This is a completely free training course developed with Feltrinelli Education designed to grow business skills and encourage the development of successful sustainable ideas with a social vocation.