You want to innovate. Hurdles are always in the way. Let’s find workarounds.

When company leadership or internal change makers are authorized to innovate, drive value innovation, or implement a specific blue ocean strategy, there will be hurdles. Rest assured.

There is a good chance the hurdles will take the form of one or more of the following.

Cognitive: Employees need to be aware of the need for a strategic shift. Red oceans are safe. They often times spin off cashflow and staff and investors will ask, why is there a need for change?

Limited Resources: The more significant a strategic shift may be, the higher the perceived costs. In many of the companies needing blue ocean implementation, resources are being slashed, not added.

Motivation: Stakeholders and sacred cow protecting staff will lack the motivation to move fast and seriously when it comes to challenging the status quo.

The final hurdle found to be most common.

Politics: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” “The risk isn’t worth the price.” “Not on my watch.” “Who’s responsible if this doesn’t work?”

In the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, the key to overcoming these hurdles has been found to be universally, tipping point leadership.

Several definitions for tipping point leadership are available.

From the NIH. “Tipping point leadership. … The theory of tipping points hinges on the insight that in any organization, fundamental changes can occur quickly when the beliefs and energies of a critical mass of people create an epidemic movement toward an idea.”

From Blue Ocean Shift on Medium. Tipping point leadership is about how to execute strategy fast and at low cost. It provides companies with a specific framework to be used, together with fair process, for overcoming the four key organizational hurdles that block implementation; namely, the cognitive, resource, motivational, and political hurdles.”

The primary focus of the book’s description of tipping point leadership is found on page 148 in the text.

So how might a leader break through these hurdles quickly with lower cost? This framework is called for.

For the cognitive hurdle: To make a real case for change, don’t just point at the numbers and demand better ones. Your abstract message won’t move people. Instead, make key managers experience your organization’s problems. One reason military culture works as well as it does at times is due to the fact, leadership is generally credited with having experience more or more extreme examples of what the soldier being led is experiencing. There is credibility. Beyond that point, the tipping point leader insist on making those she leads experience the real issues being addressed.  One example we’re experiencing in real time is the poor leader’s previous insistence on working from the office. With the onslaught of Covid-19 we’re seeing cognitive hurdles drop daily as former control freaks are seeing productivity levels sustained or increased. Better numbers weren’t demanded. As a result, some better numbers are now the case. In short, one of the best ways to beat this hurdle is to meet with the disgruntled. The disgruntled employees, customers, investors, or anyone that will play a role in assisting with the blue ocean transformation. When you meet, meet with intent to listen and act. People know bull-s..t a mile away now.

Limited resources always present a challenge. We don’t all have access the cash reserves to fund every initiative. Tipping point leaders don’t emphasize their lack of resources. They emphasize the multiplication of the resources they have. The corporate move to Gmail, Google Suite, and Google Classroom, is a good example of how certain groups have made the best of limited resources. Tipping point leaders do the resource research and learn to maximize. One of the key methods used by Blue Ocean Strategists? Work in hot spots, cold spots, and do some horse trading. Hot spots are low or underutilized resource areas that have potential for higher returns. Cold spots are high cost or high resource areas that aren’t returning results. Horse trading involves trading some resources needed by others for the resources you need. Pretty simple really.

Manage the motivational hurdles. How can one motivate the masses with speed with limited costs? NOT FROM THE TOP DOWN!

There is a need to focus on three factors that will disproportionately lead to results. Kingpins, fishbowl management, and atomization.

Kingpins are the ground zero players in your organization. They are the influencers all others watch. They are well respected and persuasive. Once you have identified and equipped the kingpin, put her in a fishbowl so to speak. If you’re holding weekly calls or Zoom’s, put her in the thick of reporting out. If there are leaders in the initiative, point them out and provide them a platform. this has to be done fairly with all parties involved in the process given some airtime. Blue Ocean calls this involvement of all parties as “fair process”. Atomization is the process of making sure the implementation of any initiative is broken down into smaller manageable pieces. When those involved in the process see their part in the blue ocean shift as attainable, they are more likely to buy into the process and expend valuable time and emotional commitment to the initiative. If you don’t atomize you risk the entire project looking to0 big, too complex, or fraught. with too much risk.

Finally, the political hurdle is often real. Corporate politics is as real as any civic type. Powerful interest that have built little kingdoms inside organizations are often the primary hurdle to any meaningful change. Overcoming these powerful interests should include one or all three of the following influence factors. Leveraging angels, silencing devils, or securing the involvement of a consigliere.

  • Angels are defined as those who stand to gain the most with the change.
  • Devils are those who stand to lose the most with the change.
  • The consigliere is the political insider who knows where all the bodies are buried and knows how to navigate the land mines.

Appoint the consigliere as your right hand. This is the right move in most cases. 

With respect to angels and devils, forget the middle ground. Identify who these players are in your organization. Isolate the devil by building a coalition with the angels prior to getting too far along. It’s like crowding out weeds with healthy growth. When you know the devil’s arguments you build your case in counterpoint prior to their attack. It’s the only way to navigate the issues.

In summary, focus on the acts of disproportionate influence. You don’t always need a bulldozer when a lever will do the trick. If you are interested in a more detailed discussion around implementing any strategic initiative, especially a blue ocean shift, consider a free hour with me. There is no obligation. Schedule the call here.

Sherman G. Mohr is an Insead Blue Ocean Strategy Institute Certified Blue Ocean Strategy consultant residing in Nashville, TN. He serves as co-found of marketing, technology, and healthcare firms.