Is blue ocean strategy only intended for start-ups?

Kim & Mauborgne: Whereas blue ocean strategies create new market space and change industry dynamics, they are not necessarily initiated by new entrants to an industry. In our work, we looked back over 100 years of data on blue ocean creation to see what patterns could be discerned. We found that blue oceans were created by both industry incumbents and new entrants, challenging the lore that start-ups have natural advantages over established companies in creating new market space. In the auto industry, think of GM which created the blue ocean of emotional, stylized cars in the 1920s, or the Japanese which created the blue ocean of small, gas efficient autos in the 70s, or Chrysler which created the blue ocean of minivans in the 80s—all were incumbents. Moreover, the blue oceans made by incumbents were usually within their core businesses. In fact, most blue oceans are created from within, not beyond, red oceans of existing industries. This challenges the view that new markets are in distant waters. Blue oceans are right next to you in every industry. Issues of perceived cannibalization or creative destruction for established companies also proved to be exaggerated. Blue oceans created profitable growth for every company launching them, start-ups and incumbents alike.

Our findings are encouraging for executives at the large, established corporations that are traditionally seen as the victims of new market space creation. For what they reveal is that large R&D budgets are not the key to creating new market space. The key is making the right strategic moves. What’s more, companies that understand what drives good strategic moves—incumbents or start-ups—will be well placed to create multiple blue oceans over time, thereby continuing to deliver high growth and profits over a sustained period. The creation of blue oceans, in other words, is a product of strategy and as such is very much a product of managerial action, not the size or age of the firm.

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