I see a lot of similarities in thought processes between Blue Ocean Strategy and Design-Thinking. Blue Ocean Strategy is a good reference book, and if we can integrate thought process of BOS with Design-Thinking tools, we may have a holistic solution.

Value Innovation

First thing BOS tells you is not to look at a competitor. If you look at a competitor, then your product/service may look almost like your competitor and you cannot differentiate, which is very true. “Value Innovation” is the cornerstone of Blue Ocean Strategy.

“Value Innovation” is nothing but creating a leap in Value offerings to buyers/users, thereby creating new uncontested market space, making competition irrelevant.

BOS says that Value without Innovation is an incremental innovation, which will not help you stand out in a marketplace. Innovation without value to user tends to be technology driven, often shooting beyond needs of buyers or what buyers can afford. So, Blue Ocean Strategy suggests “Value” for User with “Innovation” is a “Radical Innovation” which will help to achieve growth in the market.

Design Thinking and Value Innovation

Design Thinking is nothing but “User-Centered Design” where we designers are trained to focus everything from User’s point of view. We never look at competitors or competitor products. When you do research of users(Ethnographic, Empathy, etc…), we can easily find out what kind of values we can add to the user through our product. Design Thinking helps us to achieve Radical Innovations than Incremental Innovations by “User Research”.

In User Research, we study product/service users(primary, secondary and tertiary), buyers(Who may not use the product), Non-Customers, etc… Insights from research help us to achieve New Value Propositions for the product/service.

As a designer, during the research process, we look at both Emotional and Rational needs of the user.

Instead of just making functional, utility product, design thinking process aims to provide emotional connect to every product.

Emotional connect is never optional but essential.

Surprisingly, Blue Ocean Strategy too talks about adding Emotional Feeling to the product, citing an example of SWATCH(This case study too could be found in many books on Design).

To create Value Innovation, Blue Ocean Strategy asks us to “Look across the chain of buyers”, “Look at three tiers of customers”.

In User Research phase, we designers generally look/observe/study Users, Buyers of the product, Influencers/Decision makers, and other Non-Customers.

In fact to obtain “Radical Innovation” we provide more importance to “Non-Customers”. In fact, we go one step above and study the various circumstances and the jobs to be done by the user in certain circumstances.

For radical innovation, the study of jobs and circumstances are important.

(Will post a separate post connecting “The Innovators Solution, Jobs to be done and Design Thinking”).

Blue Ocean Strategy talks about the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost. Though I agree that low-cost strategy might be a disrupting growth strategy for some products/markets, but need not be for all the cases. Design Thinking doesn’t constrain to look only for the low-cost factor.(If not used properly, it can be a drawback too).

The Four Actions Framework

Above, you can see the image of BOS’s “The Four Actions Framework”.

As a designer, though I follow “Design Thinking” I use some of the materials from BOS. Four-Action framework and Strategy Canvas are a couple of the tools I use. Through User research and Insight analysis, we arrive at a lot of Value Propositions. Though “Design Thinking” has different ways of finalizing Value Curves, I see this BOS framework a simple and easy one. The only issue is, we may not use the “Industry Standard” from the above framework.

Create, Eliminate, Reduce and Raise actions help in finalizing effective user values for product/service. There is another support tool for Four Action Framework — “Value Proposition Canvas” from Strategyzer.com

We do use BOS strategy canvas, as I feel it is simpler and provides a clear visual.

So, if you are planning to use Blue Ocean Strategy, you can use “User Research Methods” from design thinking process to identify new “Value Propositions” and “Emotional Appeal”. User Research will help in reconstructing the market boundaries. As I said earlier, there are a lot of similarities between BOS and Design thinking. In next post, I shall discuss some more details.

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