Hitting home

Brad Feld wrote a post yesterday that really hit home: Feld Thoughts: A Message to Graduating MBAs. My career has been conventional and unconventional with the goal of always remaining relevant. For a long time this was implementing CRM systems. First Siebel then Motive. I worked my tail off with the result being some impressive implementations at some very notable clients. That even led to be branching out solo twice. The second time around sailing solo, the boat capsized. Unlike other downturns, I did not navigate this one well. I spent a lot of time and energy pursing opportunities that were not a good fit. My dad who was a software entrepreneur consistently said during my childhood that you cannot know good times unless you know bad. Bad found me big time in 2008. On many levels, I thought I had failed as a provider, husband and father.

About a decade earlier, I made the decision to not pursue an MBA. The opportunity cost was too high. Salary and position were comparable to graduating MBAs. Though it had been a goal since the age of 17, it did not make economic sense. I have been fortunate to have an amazing partner and friend in my beautiful wife Andrea. She suggested that may I think about going back to get that MBA. Being settled in making Seattle our home, the Foster School of Business at UW made the most sense. I am glad that I went back. First, it rejuvenated the intellectual passion that had faded over the last few years. Second, it fills any resume gaps that remained. Third, the environment has been incredible for networking locally. But best of all, it provided a space for me to get back to being me.

One of the cool things I have been able to do was to recruit Brad Feld to come speak at UW. You can read about his talk here. This lead me to start the Rock Star Venture Capitalist Speaker Series.

Brad Feld @ UW
Brad speaking at UW.

Brad’s post is not Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement speech, but his point is clear. Go making meaning. Do what you are meant to do. If it was written 20 years ago it would have been titled Carpe Diem. I will be finished in December and working to being my best again. Just a warning: Watch out.

Blue Ocean Strategy vs The Art of War

One thing I know about myself is that I am better when I have a full plate. To stay busy, I enrolled in the Evening MBA program at University of Washington’s Foster School of Business last fall. I have been impressed with the curriculum and faculty.

The Blue Ocean Strategy was a recent assignment. The concept is about value innovation. “Red” oceans are known industries and markets. The competition is constantly trying to outperform rivals and the waters bloody. “Blue” oceans are industries and markets that are unknown today. Demand is created rather than fought over with ample opportunity for growth and profit. Blue oceans are often created from red oceans. A competitor finds an opening to create value and finds their blue ocean. Several examples are cited.

The authors, Kim and Mauborgne, are too dismissive of red ocean companies. They state that corporate strategy is heavily influenced by its roots in military strategy. Competition, confronting the opponent and driving him from the battlefield are listed; however this is not military strategy. It is the goal of a direct attack. It made me think how the blue ocean strategy would compare to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy.

Here are some select passages from The Art of War that conflict with the red ocean view of corporate/military strategy:
1) All warfare is based on deception.
2) In all history, there is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
3) Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

Clearly, Sun Tzu would not advocate a red ocean. In contrast, The Art of War is blue ocean:

You can only be sure of succeeding in your attacks is you only attack places that are undefended.

Pretty clear talk of finding uncontested market space, capturing new demand and making the competition irrelevant. In contrast, red oceans are prolonged fights exploiting differentiation or cost. These are commodity markets, not drivers of innovation. Blue oceans are value innovators and clearly have roots in military strategy from the 6th century BC.