A Different Kind of “Blue Ocean” Strategy

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Ocean Waves

Laurie S. Foster



Written by Laurie Foster, Senior Consultant / Partner at BCR

Recalling my last 18-mile channel swim from Kauai to Niihau and my business ownership experiences in my past, I began to see striking similarities in the perils and lessons learned from both of the journeys – the business ones and the one that placed me in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Channel swimming requires preparation, strength, stamina, perseverance, passion and a bit of craziness. The vision (regarding the islands, the mileage, the degree of difficulty), the strategy (the time of year, the currents, the weather, the entry, the exit), the operating plan (the team, the timing, the nutrition, the budget) all need careful planning and buy-in. The training and preparation is intense and takes months of discipline and focus.

Running any company in today’s complex environment requires preparation, strength, stamina, perseverance, passion and a bit of craziness. The vision, the strategy, the operating plan all need careful planning and buy-in. The training and preparation is intense and takes months, and in some cases years, of discipline and focus.

The day of the channel swim starts early, boating out to the carefully planned entry point. The swimmers officially touch the island, hold hands for a pule (prayer) and head out with slow warm up strokes. The reefs are beautiful, the fish and the coral are abundant and colorful, the water is warm, the body is well fueled and rested and the mind is anxious yet confident. All is grand.

Every day you go to work, starts early, no doubt you are the first one in the office.  You have the day planned and set up, you’re ready to go and feeling great about what is to come.

From the water, the vision, Niihau, is hard to discern 18 miles in the distance and can get fuzzy at times. The escort boat, 200-300 yards ahead, is command central with the vision, the strategy, the operating plan and the course corrections. Keeping your eye on the escort boat is essential.

As the day goes on, the unexpected happens, and you have to deal with it.  Decisions need to get made and the team needs to react to change.  Keeping your eye on the vision is essential.

As the swimmers proceed to deeper water, the beautiful reefs, fish and colors fall out of sight to be replaced with the deep blue with streaks of sunlight piercing to unimaginable depths. Confidence gets a bit strained as uncertainty builds. Within 3-4 miles out in the open ocean the winds pick up, the waves pick up and the currents begin to dominate. Ten to twelve foot swells knock the swimmers up down right left throwing off their strokes, blocking their breathing and challenging the physical foundation they had trained so hard to perfect. Keeping your eye on the escort boat…the vision, the strategy, the plan is essential. Modifications are needed along the way.

Now the company has grown some and you need to take some risks.  The path to take is not always clear and it’s very hard to anticipate the rocks and roadblocks that you will encounter.  The days run into the nights, and your stamina is challenged.  Change is constant and now more than ever a focus on the vision, remaining true to the strategy is vital.

Then there is the wildlife. Most you endlessly imagine, but some you actually see. The sharks and the jelly fish require nerves of steel, stare downs and compromise to co-exist. The dolphins and the turtles are there to guide and support. Keeping your eye on the escort boat…the vision, the strategy, the plan is essential. Modifications are needed along the way.

And you will run into some very wild life as you navigate your business journey, including some sharks that will attempt to take advantage of you.  They won’t succeed if the focus on the vison and the strategy remains strong.

Then there is the fatigue both mental and physical that hits hard at a variety of points in the journey. Physically the cold sets in and muscles begin to fail. The feedings don’t seem to fuel sufficiently. Mentally, the thought of just five more miles/three more hours seems unendurable. Your physical and mental health will make or break the whole business. Keeping your eye on the escort boat…the vision, the strategy, the plan is essential. Modifications are needed along the way.

Endurance is the name of the game now, mentally as well as physically at times.  Pushing though the difficult decisions, solving the hard problems, managing the calculated risks, all of it could make or break the whole company.  Being true to the vision and strategy remain top priority.

Getting to the end game is tricky. Over confidence/arrogance has left many swimmers off course and unable to navigate the shore break. Lack of teamwork can split up a group significantly increasing risk. Inability to adapt always results in failure.

Letting down your guard, feeling like you’ve conquered it all, very risky position to take as you push to continue to grow the company.    Teamwork and adapting to change remain essential elements for success.

The keys to success for operating a successful company and successfully surviving a channel swim are well documented.

• A defined vision, strategy and plan.
• The mental and physical stamina to endure the waves, the business cycles and trends, the unexpected that will always happen, the sharks, the exhaustion and the unknowns.
• The adaptability to change course and yet keep the big picture in focus.
• The passion and a fair bit of craziness.

So, when you think you can’t manage another day of running your company, immerse yourself in the actual blue ocean, it’s a great strength builder for succeeding in business.


Laurie S. Foster

Laurie brings a strong background of academics, consulting and entrepreneurship to BCR. After earning a BA in Economics and an MBA from Stanford University, Laurie launched a 15 year consulting career on the East Coast with Bain & Company and Mercer Management Consulting. She managed $1-5 million client engagements focused on strategic planning, organization development and infrastructure alignment in a variety of industries including energy, hotel and leisure, financial services, and transportation worldwide.

At BCR, Laurie works with Hawaii CEOs and senior management teams in leadership and governance, strategic planning, and organizational effectiveness all with an emphasis on implementation and change management. She leads BCR’s Family Business Consulting practice and has had extensive experience consulting and working with family businesses in Hawaii, including growing up in a large, Hawaii based family business.

If you have any questions or need advice regarding the strategic direction of your business, please give us a call at (808)545-4111. Or reach out via our Contact Us page.

Selected Links:

• http://www.bcrhawaii.com/consulting-services/development-and-implementation-of-strategy/
• http://www.bcrhawaii.com/who-we-are/
• http://www.bcrhawaii.com/consulting-services/
• http://www.bcrhawaii.com/team/laurie-s-foster/

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