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Customer Review

681 of 732 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I thought oceans were deep..., January 11, 2006
This review is from: Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant (Hardcover)
This book is mostly "fluff". Its basic argument is that companies who find themselves in hotly contested markets ("red oceans") should look for uncontested markets ("blue oceans"). They should do it in such a way as to ensure revenues (so go for mass), and profit (so watch the cost). Wow. I guess if the authors said: go for high-cost-small-markets, at least it will be original! The problem with this book is that it is a mishmash of old ideas, and its mortal sin is that it is trivial. It looks at successful products and service offerings, and in retrospect identifies the characteristics that made them succeed (at least revenue wise, there is no real financial analysis in this book). Naturally, finding those characteristics is the real issue, and it is the realm of entrepreneurial vision. Beyond some trivial labels placed on common sense planning activities, Blue Ocean does not help one iota in finding uncontested markets with large profit potential. Anyone who seriously tries to apply the ideas in the book will find they are either trivial or fluff.

The lack of originality is everywhere. Let's look closer: The book main point is that companies must do different things than competitors to be in uncontested markets. Fans of Michael Porter will immediately recognize this as the theme of his seminal 1996 article "What is Strategy" (go to [...] to buy this article). Interestingly enough, Kim and Mauborgne published their first work on value innovation in...yes, 1997. Porter identified three bases for successful strategies: need-based, variety-based, and access-based. Unlike the authors of Blue Ocean, he did not pretend to have an a priori formula for finding success. All he did was to show what makes a superior strategy, and why superior strategies are sustainable over a long period of time. Kim and Mauborge wrote a "formula" type prescription to finding quick success (by avoiding competition), but they neither truly give any tools to do so, nor prove that the companies they feature have created a sustainable profitable advantage. What the authors say is: focus, diverge and have a great marketing tagline. In other words - you want to be different? Be different. And how do you know which different to be? Ahhh, that's simple. Look at what customers and noncustomers need but do not get from the existing offering of the incumbents in the industry. Wow. Who would have thought about that?

The main tool of this book, the strategy canvas, is nothing more than an after the fact simplified two dimension graphical presentation of product or services' characteristics that make some products better than others. Do you remember the Quality Deployment Function, a product/service design matrix that came out of Japan, developed in the 80s by the Japanese consultant Yoji Akao? The QFD framework has been used by Japanese companies for decades now to translate "true" (and often unmet and unstated) customer needs into actions and designs to build and deliver a quality product. QDF also came with a little graphic help, but more sophisticated than the one in this book. Finding which characteristics will be the wining ones is an old market research goal, and it is much easier in retrospect.

The authors are not beyond copying any once popular simple concept. In chapter 4 they introduce with a big fanfare a revolutionary new concept, classifying businesses as Pioneers, Migrators, or Settlers. Anyone recognizing Boston Consulting Group's portfolio matrix of cash cow, question mark and star companies is not wrong. This simplistic labeling is what made BCG so popular (and destroyed many companies and made Wall Street discount conglomerates in the US) and probably why this book has attracted people desperately looking for simple solutions in complicated contested markets. But anyone actually responsible for charting strategy and managing competition in real contestable markets (i.e., business managers and executives) will quickly realize this book has no practical substance. It is all fluff. And if you are lucky to create a less contested market, this book will tell you nothing about how to KEEP it that way!

Finally, as a strategy professional, I realized quickly that this book is not really about strategy, which as Porter shows is a whole chain of operational activities geared toward the different positioning. This book is better titled "a book of lists of some successful products and services in the past 20 years, plus some trivial labels of where they were unique" because once you see beyond the superficial façade of the "value innovation process", this is what the book is all about: a list of some successful new products, created by companies and entrepreneurs who had the insight of how to be different. An insight as enigmatic after reading the book as it is before...

To apply the book's measure of "blue ocean innovation", it is not divergent from past books, nor focused on the real issues to justify its price. It does have a catchy tagline though, and like all quick fads, tagline is everything... I feel sorry for my hassled executive friends who are under severe pressure to compete and are hoping this book will help. It will not.
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Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 6, 2008, 4:14:16 PM PDT
B. Terry says:
I wish I had read your review before buying this book. I agree with every single paragraph here.

Posted on Apr 17, 2009, 10:47:22 AM PDT
Considering buying this book. Deeply appreciate your concise yet thorough summation of the meat found therein. You obviously have much more business experience than I do, and I'm grateful to benefit from it, since my budget is limited to buying only the least derivative, most bang-for-the-buck resources. Thank you!

Posted on Jun 21, 2009, 5:19:06 AM PDT
Texas Slim says:
While I am sure the reviewer is correct on all the facts and that this book is not useful for sophisticated students of business strategy, I disagree with the overall rating. I have found that this well-written book is an eye-opener for less sophisticated colleagues. Sharing this book with them is a great way to begin a discussion on our product strategy.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 9, 2009, 11:47:58 AM PDT
Then the authors should present it as such.

Posted on Mar 13, 2010, 1:40:28 PM PST
I'm reading this book for a class right now, and I'm thinking the exact same thing. I'm glad I'm not the only one that doesn't see any substance in this book. Everything in this book seems like common sense, flowered up complicated terms, like "framework" and "canvas", and graphs that don't actually prove anything.

Posted on Apr 26, 2010, 7:00:14 PM PDT
B. Oh says:
B. Gilad, is there another book that would recommend on strategy?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2010, 6:41:34 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 27, 2010, 6:42:20 AM PDT
B. Gilad says:
B. Oh:
1. Michael E. Porter, "What is Strategy", Harvard Business Review, Nov. -Dec. 1996.
2. Phil Rosenzweig, The Halo Effect. Free Press, 2007.
In that order.

You know, people think you must need a whole book to understand strategies. Well, you don't. Porter's article is enough. Rosenzweig's book is about what strategy is NOT. As useful.
Hope it helps.

Posted on Jun 6, 2010, 3:52:06 PM PDT
C. Steinman says:
I purchased this book, but grew bored with it. I will pick it up again after a while, but my impression is that this reviewer has hit the nail on the head. The book seems trite to me. There are two issues with strategy: Developing good one and then implementing it. Implementation is harder. I do not think this book deals with implementation, but as soon as I read it I will be back to offer more thoughts.

Posted on Nov 3, 2010, 7:59:13 PM PDT
Daniel says:
Having worked in a mature industry that does a lot of creative work. I find that the arguments presented in this book is compelling for creative professionals to argue their cause for good design/innovative design. HOWEVER, I like to challenge the assumptions of the ideas presented in this book because as a professional working in an industry that survives on uniqueness and innovation, I find that my industry is suffering from hyper competition. Looking to business thinkers for help, I find Michael Porter's 5 Forces theory explains to me better why some of my peers in the industry are not doing financially well.

Blue Ocean strategy basically rehashes a lot of the ideals and thinking that is prevalent in a creative industry such as mine, but fails to acknowledge one of the biggest problem I face in my line of work. Doing innovative work takes up resources - Research, experimentation, testing, building of prototypes cost money. Research that yields no practical results do not convert to commercial value and thus cannot sustain a business entity.
Research that DO yield a result that can be successfully implemented, will be quickly copied by competitors in the industry (assuming Intellectual Property Law is not enforced or is flawed in complete protection. Peer to peer sharing proves that the IP law isn't a 100% safeguard), rendering competition to zero-sum.

As a frustrated professional in my industry seeking for answers, at the moment I find Michael Porter's argument much more sound and much more credible since the 5-forces Strategy model is very difficult to duplicate. Relationships with suppliers is usually a force that influences our choice of materials on a new product (which includes product aesthetic in the marketing intent) and as long as a supplier has a large bargaining power over us, we may have to substitute their services and products for another thereby compromising the design/marketing intent of the product, which is usually the case which my CEO is forced to do many times, much to our chagrin. The entire "Blue Ocean strategy through innovation" is thus jeopardized by the simple economic force of supplier's negotiation demands on the contract.

I very much agree with the reviewer's comment: "And if you are lucky to create a less contested market, this book will tell you nothing about how to KEEP it that way". Since I face this all the time. Every time we invest in a new entrepreneurial idea and innovation, somebody comes along and compete and we have been struggling to maintain dominance and *keeping the market uncontested*.

I have been entertaining thoughts of getting an MBA, and INSEAD is on my radar as one of the schools to apply to. But I now have second thoughts about applying for their program... And the "traditional" school of business thinking seems to aid me better in finding the answers I am looking for.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2011, 2:30:46 AM PDT
Jackal says:
Beautiful review, but sadly this book is a massive success. I do think the book is useful as an eyeopener for somebody that doesn't know much about competitive advantage. In terms of intellectual rigor the book is very weak indeed.
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