Can Empathy Create Blue Oceans?
A few months ago I read a book called “Blue Ocean Strategy” which talks about avoiding the competition and creating new “blue” oceans rather than struggling in “red oceans.” Blue oceans refer to industries that are not currently in existence – the unknown market space where demand is created rather than fought for. Companies that follow this route are game changers and innovators who either give rise to completely new industries or alter the boundaries of an existing one. This is the pursuit of value innovation, which simultaneously combines differentiation and low cost (no way!) By leaving the competition behind, the opportunity for growth is both profitable and rapid.
Sounds great right? Then why isn’t everyone creating blue oceans? Well one of the problems with blue oceans, is that it’s unknown. There are no metrics and past data that can be used to predict the outcome. Being unable to calculate the risk is like taking a shot in the dark. But with great risk comes great reward. Innovation by definition is new and original, it departs from current experiences and behavior, and renders market research obsolete. It’s creating something people want, before they even want it! If we all based our thinking on past data and patterns, innovation wouldn’t exist.
I believe the solution to this dilemma, is empathy. By tapping into empathy, we understand people, we can predict their unrealized wants and needs, and we can connect with that through innovation. Empathy is not numbers, it’s not something you can measure empirically. It’s an understanding of both the rational and irrational mindset. It goes beyond asking, “what?” and more towards “why?” The search for empathy is what it means to be a cultural anthropologist.
Great entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Henry Ford gave us products we didn’t even know we wanted. Smart phones and cars were inconceivable at the time they were introduced, but look where they are today. Jobs and Ford differentiated between need and want. They differentiated between going against the current, and changing the world in blue oceans. How? It begins with empathy.