Krug: Five Ways to Survive in Business’ Shark-Infested Waters
Krug: Five Ways to Survive in Business’ Shark-Infested Waters

Those who have had the opportunity to read the business book “Blue Ocean Strategy,” probably know that the best chance for success exists where the competition is scarce.

If that has escaped you in any way, blow the dust off of Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne’s 2005 effort and give it another quick .....

Those who have had the opportunity to read the business book “Blue Ocean Strategy,” probably know that the best chance for success exists where the competition is scarce.

If that has escaped you in any way, blow the dust off of Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne’s 2005 effort and give it another quick read. You’ll pick it back up in a chapter or two and perhaps then wonder how such a simple idea can be so complex, so challenging to execute and took mankind more than 2000 years to be brought to the fore.

Compete where nobody is competing?

Wow! Brilliant!

Heading for blue ocean is a great notion, if your brand has the capacity to swim away from the shark-infested waters where teeth are chomping into profits and the thrash of tails in the water is deafening for the competitors and their customers.

But what if you are afloat in that shark tank, and you are not in the most nimble of seafaring crafts?

And what if you don’t have Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban and/or Daymond John to throw overboard to chum the waters, thus keeping the Great Whites, Hammerheads and Makos occupied while you ponder the best direction to row?

What if your natural environment is just going to be “red-ocean territory” for the foreseeable future?

Well, let me spell it out a tad more clearly: You can eat or be eaten.


Not much more to it than that.

And to exert your dominance in any kind of business, the key is clearly conveying what specialties you bring to the party – your differentiation and the differentiation of your approach to whatever problem it is that needs resolving – in a meaningful way.

You need not be the biggest or the best or the most affordable. You need to be different, and the difference of your differentness to be useful and meaningful.

You need your products or services to be distinct and clear.

You need to be thinking about the jobs to be done, as Clayton Christensen so brilliantly explained, and focused on the work that your clients need rather than the activities you might want to perform or be capable of completing.

So how do you do that when the sharks are chomping on your sleeve and ready for more?

Well, here are five thoughts on it to get your mind thinking about it.

Clarity of Purpose

The first step in business, intuitively, one might think, would be ahead. A furtive stride forward that is equal parts aggressive and assertive. But action before thought typically doesn’t work anywhere in nature, and it would reason not to be the best move in business, either. No, before you make a move to escape the noise of your very densely packed marketplace, take a step backward and look inward. Your customers won’t know who you are until you know who you are.

Ask the Difficult Questions

Who are you? What is your business? What are you good at? What are you capable of doing better than anyone in the world? And have you bothered to tell anyone about this, or have you just hung it on a website with the hope that the world would see it? Lots of questions to be asked and answered before a step can be taken in any direction. But the most reasonable approach to standing out in a crowd is defining who you are and what you do. There’s an audience for virtually everyone out there, and an interconnectedness in the world that would allow you to find your customers or have them find you – if, and this is a big if, you clearly define yourself.

Be Disruptive First, and then Innovative

After you know who you are and what you do, take a look around. Anyone around you that does it in some way that resembles your way? Are their products or services comparable to yours? In what way are they different? In what ways are yours better? Are you going to compete on quality? On price? On value? On service? What is it about your products and services that are going to be so useful to the industry that they could be disruptive to the marketplace? Figure that out first, and wander into that space – as tight as it might be – where nobody has ventured previously. Wriggle around in there, and test your theories. Disrupt your own conventions first. If you find something to be potentially viable within the space where you can be excellent, then focus on innovation. There’s always going to be a better microprocessor, a smarter phone and a more fuel-efficient automobile. But unless those solutions are in someway highly differentiated, they are merely iterations and not innovations.

Seek the Solutions: Theirs, not Yours

While you are busy trying to solve the problems in your business, be sure that you are paying attention to the real problems that your clients are facing. They are in that tight space with you, as well. Is it easier to create solutions in tight space or determine which solution is best in tight space? That’s a difficult equation no matter which side of the equal sign you stand. Some of your clients will tell you where it hurts and let you play doctor. Others will merely give you symptoms. It’s up to you, your willingness to prod and poke and ask questions and to truly look at a client’s problem as if it were your own before you can find the answers to their most challenging questions – especially the ones that they don’t know to ask.

Swimming, Swimming, Just Keep Swimming

At the risk of doing science a lack of justice, not all sharks must swim to survive. But let’s just pretend that we aren’t marine biologists here for a moment and focus on those sharks that must keep moving to survive as the basis of an analogy for business. OK? OK! In a competitive environment, napping is a bad idea. There always must be time set aside for thinking about ways to stand out in the crowd while (and this is important, so if you’ve already stopped reading, start reading again) seeking the open waters. Yes, juggle these two concepts simultaneously. Work to find solutions in a tight space. Work to find solutions that your competitors haven’t considered. Manage your current clients while you seek out new solutions for them and others like them. It’s the nature of survival through growth.

Oh, and always wear sunscreen.

• • •

 As always, stay classy.

Chris Krug is president of the progressive media communications firm No Limit Agency in Chicago. No Limit is a full-service agency whose practice focuses on strategy, brand management, creative campaigns and delivering unparalleled earned placement in the media. No Limit Agency works with some of the best-known and fastest-growing brands in North America, and that’s not a coincidence. Contact Krug by calling 312-526-3996 or via email at [email protected].