Is Your Ocean Red or Blue?

Have you ever thought about how architecture is practiced?  Why so many architects are just not very collegial with one another and our professional organizations serve more as a source for legal documents, status, and continuing education instead of as a true collaborative resource?  Maybe you just naturally assume that you have to compete, after all work pays the bills.  Our profession has accepted the premise of a business strategy called Red Ocean (think blood in the water),  that assumes at its core that we can only win if everyone else losesOur work becomes a product or commodity and offering more of it for less is the only way to stay ahead of the game (sound familiar to how we undercut our fees and lose money on jobs to keep or get a client?) 

A more recent strategy to emerge turns that premise on its head.  Called the Blue Ocean strategy, it asks us to rethink the idea of beating the competition and instead examine that for which we are actually competing.  In other words, is the prize really worth it?  Are we decimating ourselves just to win?

By looking at who we really are and what we really want to do; we can, according to Blue Ocean thinking, define a new market that we can serve with the full force of our individual talent and passion.  It seems almost too good to be true.  I am transported back to my days as an idealistic student full of dreams and ambition, not the soul-crushing professional environment that awaits said student ideologues.  

Of course, there is a catch: you have to actually be innovative (and not too risk-adverse either). In a Blue Ocean paradigm, the focus is on the value of what we have to offer and finding a market that is actually seeking that value.  No building industry, creating niche markets requiring hyper-specialization is not the point, it's about innovation.  Innovation that also takes into account utility, price and cost in an attempt to make competition irrelevant.  That's something that we have a hard time with, because we want to keep designing buildings, and so do all the other architects. Also,blue ocean is an ideal that may not prove lasting. Mohammad Jamil of the Change Management Community is his article "Red and Blue Ocean Strategy" argues that the two strategies are in fact interdependent and cyclical, with blue oceans driving innovation, which in turn drives the red ocean competition that will eventually spawn more innovation.  I think that what matters most is that we realize that we are not constrained by the "way things are" and instead start asking a lot more critical questions:
  1. What are you really trying to achieve and why?
  2. To whom will it matter?
  3. Can you abandon old habits and dependencies?
Stop swimming with the sharks and chart a course to peaceful waters.  When survival isn't the primary issue, it's amazing what you can achieve.