Friday, December 01, 2006

The Blue Ocean Strategy

The Blue Ocean Strategy is a business strategy about capturing uncontested market space, thereby making competition irrelevant. It is also a book written by Professor W. Chan Kim and Professor Renée Mauborgne, from the INSEAD business school.

The "ocean" refers to the market or industry. "Blue Oceans" are untapped and uncontested market, which provides little or no competition for anyone who would "dive" in, since the market is not crowded. "Red Ocean" on the other hand, refers to a saturated market where there are fierce competition, already crowded with people (companies) providing the same type of services, producing the same kind of goods.

The idea is to do something different from everyone else, produce something that no one has yet seen, thereby creating a "blue ocean".

Some examples of companies that created the "Blue Ocean": Cirque du Soleil (unique circus format), Gmail (tons of email storage space for free) and Nintendo Wii (first home game console with movement sensor devices for gaming).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mark Cuban on Becoming a Billionaire

by Paul Allen

Last night I caught part of Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on cable. Donny was interviewing billionaire Mark Cuban, who is one of the smartest entrepreneurs I’ve ever followed.

The best written article I’ve seen about how Mark turned into a multi-billion dollar company is the chapter in Net Entrepreneurs Only, published around 2000, to highlight a dozen or so successful online entrepreneurs. The work ethic that Mark and his partner Todd had back then is nicely described there. Mark talked about it again last night. He described a typical work day.

He works from home most of the time. Never lets anyone call him on the phone (except his wife). If they want a phone meeting or if he needs to have a meeting in person, he arranges it through email. His wife has 2 girls, including a 6-week old girl, so Mark describes a typical day as involving playing with his girls, feeding them in the morning, he even mentioned watching the Wiggles and Stanley with his older daughter. He had a great daddy-gleam in his eye as he talked about his girls. He seems to care more about his family than anything else.

I think there are at least three major lessons we can learn from Mark Cuban. (I happen to have almost the exact same approach to work that he does, and is has taken me places, but not nearly as far as Mark. Not even close. So we’ll use Mark as the reason why internet entrepreneurs should adopt these practices.)
  1. He reads like crazy and uses email like crazy and has access at his fingertips to all his correspondence for the last 15 years. The way he described it on the Big Idea was really cool.
    (I have used Folio VIEWS for 16 years as my full-text database, and now I use gmail for my email archive. Someday I’ll combine the two into a single seach engine.)
    Mark dives in deep to any new technology. He learns everything he can about it and talks to all the pioneers in developing it. He knows his stuff.
  2. He is willing to do the blocking and tackling to build a business, even if it means thousands of hours of what others might think is tedious work.
    He described launching AudioNet (the precursor to and working crazy hours doing nothing but posting on forums and emailing and doing everything possible to generate interest and usage of his internet sports radio channel.
  3. Like Warren Buffett, who claims that being an investor made him a better business man, and being a business man made him a better investor, Cuban obviously does both, does them a lot, and loves them.
The reason he was able to sell his internet company at a peak valuation of $5.7 billion is that he had seen the hardware industry, the networking industry, and the software industry all go through bubbles. He sold a computer software company for $6 million in 1990, and started investing. So he knew some of the macrotrends in the investment industry and saw the internet bubble for what it was. He got out when he could.

He said, and he is 100% right, that most entrepreneurs aren’t willing to do the required blocking and tackling to build a successful company. John Bresee, at, describes pretty much the same approach in the first few years of It was mostly going online all the time, trying to get links to your site, posting in usenet groups, on message boards and doing email. Same thing for the 2nd person at eBay. I remember reading that he used to answers something like 1,500 emails per day.

Most of the internet millionaires I know and the internet billionaires I’ve read about were completely willing to work 12-16 hours a day doing the most tedious possible things, like email and guerilla marketing, in order to get their companies in a position to win in their market.

How many of you are willing to do that? Have you ever spent till 2 or 3 in the morning working on your web site, visiting and posting on message boards, looking for the hundreds of online directories that should be linking to your company, finding email lists to advertise on, and visiting thousands of sites looking for the ones that ought to be your affiliates?

How many times have you done that? Would you be willing to do it many times a week, for several months, or even a year or two, to get your company in a position to succeed.

For some people, it might not be worth it. There is definitely more to happiness than financial success. And sometimes the pursuit of financial success costs people their health, family, friends, and peace of mind.

So it’s definitely not for everyone. But it is an essential ingredient in most entrepreneur success stories.

Another lesson I’ll point out, is that Mark Cuban is an avid blogger, and probably has one of the most interesting and controversial blogs in the world. He is never afraid to say what he thinks, no matter what fine the NBA might throw at him. He is incredibly smart and outspoken.

I have said before that every CEO should blog. It is so healthy for CEOs to be in touch with customers, employees, and to get feedback from everyone. And I love the transparency of blogging. That is healthy for companies.

If you are an internet entrepreneur, definitely check out the Mark Cuban blog regularly. He talks about trends that most people ignore. He got into HD TV when so many people ignored it, partly because he saw computer pricing drop over the years which led to a huge adoption rate, and he saw the same thing coming with plasma screens. He knows that we will all have amazing high-definition screens in multiple places in our homes in the coming years, and so just like with where he and Todd went on a rampage and signed hundreds of licensing deals for audio content on the interenet in the first years in business, he repeated that approach with HDNet, and he is a leader in that marketplace now.

He has more ideas that he can handle himself, so sometimes he’ll throw things out that he won’t be doing personally, like this post about “3 ideas that are all yours.” Not well received by some of his readers (he has a TON of comments on his blog.)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Anticipating the Career Plateau

By Stephen Xavier

Executive coaching engagements typically occur with top-performing executives. In fact, their enduring ability to perform is often the primary force behind their quicker-than-average climb up the corporate ladder. The challenge, however, is for these employees to become good managers or leaders.

There is frequently a major disconnect between a top performer's attitude and the skills required to be a great leader. The former tends toward a know-it-all and just-get-it-done attitude. These individuals tend to believe that they must know plenty to have climbed so high, and so fast.

Because high performers cherish their accumulated knowledge and experience, they have a difficult time understanding why they have now reached a plateau and their careers have stalled.

They've been seen in a positive light for so long because of their ability to perform. As a result, their natural managerial or leadership skills have been wrongly assumed to be proficient when, in fact, they are often quite underdeveloped.

As such, they commonly face these shortcomings:
They are culturally unaware – This type of "innocent ignorance" comes from never having worked in a culture where self-development and improvement of skills were promoted. Instead they've been in an environment where success was determined by performance alone.
They have not had the benefit of good role models – When a top performer's direct boss or manager lacks the skills or the foresight to recognize where an employee could improve, it limits the individual unnecessarily.
They are overly confident – Top performers tend to be egotistical, mainly because they've found a way to rise above the norm and have been celebrated accordingly. Confident of their ability to undertake any task or fulfill any expectation, they eagerly take on any responsibility before realizing they, too, have their limits.

When a company's top performers are promoted to positions that require management and/or leadership skills, it's only a matter of time before their underdeveloped skills become blatantly obvious. Because most top-performing types have had little if any management or leadership training, what happens to the employees who are suddenly deprived of that support? They become bitter and resentful, and, unfortunately, it can go unreported far too long.

Something’s Gotta Give
Inevitably, something has to change, whether it means revoking the promotion or bringing in an executive coach to help the top performer become a stronger leader. When the choice is the latter, it's critical for the coach to be highly respected by all involved.

Some successful approaches that can breed respect and success include:
Establishing alignment with senior executives – The astute executive coach kicks off an engagement by going straight to the top to identify attitudes about coaching. Coaching engagements simply cannot succeed if they occur in a skeptical environment or if they fall upon dubious minds. Further, having support from the top can ensure even greater success for the coach and client if roadblocks occur – who better to remove them than the CEO, after all?
Building enthusiastic perception – When a stigma has developed about coaching, senior management needs to instigate a change in the company culture's thinking about the value of coaching. If it doesn't begin with senior management, it's not likely to go anywhere. Also, it's advantageous if coachees do not keep coaching engagements secret. A more constructive attitude is being upfront and honest to direct reports by thoroughly explaining the process being undertaken and its goals. Senior management can begin by highlighting results of their 360 assessments and thanking direct reports for their input.
Working through the boss to become the coachee's advocate – By working as an advocate for the coachee, an executive coach adds a positive element to the whole engagement. Also, the coach is responsible for working closely with the coachee's boss to ensure managerial support and to make sure the coaching is being referred to in the best light possible.
Anticipating problems with the boss – Any coach worth his or her salt knows that even mild resistance on the boss' part is a red flag that calls for the coach to take additional measures. It doesn't matter if the resistance is only a function of the manager's style; resistance tends to breed resistance. What often happens is the coachee isn't getting the help needed from the boss. Offering excuses that dwell on the coachee's great performance or autonomy usually tells the coach the boss doesn't know how to manage the person effectively.
Addressing every last detail – A skilled coach leaves nothing to chance. Additional precautionary steps may also include circulating informative articles about executive coaching and providing management with sample memos and e-mail messages about executive coaching that can be distributed among staff. These communiqués share supplementary information about the purpose for and benefits of the coaching process. Most importantly, a professional coach has a plan that covers all bases and details for each engagement.
Painting pictures of success – More than anyone, skilled executive coaches know how to identify the face of success in a coaching engagement. They know the "before" and "after" scenarios, and they can describe what success feels and looks like from previous engagements. As such, many have found that painting a picture of success is useful as a tool for gaining additional buy-in from a coachee.

It's that special something about visualizing success that makes someone work that much harder for it. A coach can also offer testimonials from previous clients that describe what it felt like to reach success during their engagements.

Steep and Rapid
After high performers or employees tagged with high potential buy into the process and understand the need for coaching, they typically begin to develop a high level of trust in the coach's ability to support them. Then, it's only a matter of time before they see the value in the coach's skill, knowledge, intellect, experience and political savvy.

The learning curve is said to be very steep at the early stage. Coachees then learn and accelerate that learning very quickly, tackling the challenges they must overcome, and they tend to reach them fast.

The challenge comes when it's time to sustain the newly learned behaviors. Even as coachees embrace a new way of learning, the tendency is to regress to old behaviors as the coaching engagement comes to an end.

That's why it's also important for executive coaches to nurture the relationship over the long haul, even after the engagement has ended. Not only is it the right thing to do; such efforts will also establish tremendous credibility for the coach in the eyes of others in the company, and open pathways for future engagements in that organization.

Commitment to Change
Unfortunately, the changeover to exceptional manager or leader is rarely a smooth, simple or speedy one. Some of the most difficult areas for top performers to modify are those they believe to be their own best practices or strengths. Through coaching, they learn to acknowledge that the skills, attitudes and tools they counted on during their climb to their current level are not always the same skills, attitudes and tools they need to move to the next level and beyond.

Top performers must come to a simple realization: Success requires a commitment to change. If they don't, they are likely to plateau or, even worse, fail miserably. To help top performers become great leaders, it's time they are trained with the management skills necessary to succeed.

The faster they embrace executive coaching as a tool to accomplish this goal, the quicker they can gain knowledge and skills, which in turn translate to higher productivity and, ultimately, to a greater return on investment for the company. USBR

Stephen Xavier is president of Cornerstone Executive Development Group LLC, a global firm based in Califronia. Cornerstone specializes in executive coaching and related leadership development issues. Its clients are Fortune 500 companies that cover a broad range of industries. Contact him at or visit