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On Listening for Silence

Reading Blue Ocean Strategy, I’m struck by a strong common theme in the six paths to Blue Oceans. The book seems to advocate that businesses understand their market offerings as existing in a system, one with complicated relationships between groups of buyers, types of industries, psychological forces and periods in time. Once those complicated relationships are understood (though they can never be understood fully), there is a subtle art to laying out the system and exploring the gaps that might help it to hum.

The book reminds me of the group facilitation training that I received at a young age. I was taught to listen not for what was being said in conversations, but HOW it was being said. By examining the assumptions, power dynamics, and conversational flow within the group it was easy to see how I could introduce a missing element in the conversation to move it forward. This stance, that of facilitator, is fundamentally different than that of a conversational participant. I cannot simultaneously focus on the dynamics of the conversation and focus on developing my own opinions as a participant. Facilitation requires that I hold myself back from being invested in the elements of a conversation (who is right in an argument, which idea the group will accept, etc) and instead focus on seeing the conversation as made up of equally important complimentary parts.

This detached stance seems like an important part of embracing blue oceans, and of strategy in general. To see a company operating in a broader system, one must become emotionally detached from the value of it’s product, the extraordinary qualities of it’s employees, even the survival of the firm. It means accepting that the system surrounding a company has the inalienable right to let the organization thrive and to rip it to shreds. Only when stepping away from the value of my own opinions and my own fate can I maintain the clarity necessary to see a system for it’s glorious silences and the endless opportunities nested there.


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