• Shreyas Prakash

Purple Ocean Strategy

Updated: Jun 25

Before we get into this concept of MAYA — acronym for Most Advanced Yet Acceptable, we need to understand how innovation evolves in our society.

Two types of innovation

We can roughly classify innovation into two forms — incremental innovation and radical innovation. Every society has its own share of socio-cultural meanings that people share by virtue of being a part of it. While thinking of new ideas, we tend to still think with these socio-cultural meanings as a reference.

For instance, if we have to think of a 3D mouse, we still get fixated on how a 2D mouse is used in our normal context of using our computers. In such examples, this could still be categorised as incremental innovation, where we are still climbing an existing hill. Most of the products are incremental innovations. Even if we take Google as an example, there were a lot of predecessors (Reddit, Yahoo answers etc.) that came before Google to make it possible.

It's usually not the first person in the market that wins the lottery. It's usually a series of incremental improvements by various companies that ultimately reaches a tipping point — with one key winner.

Radical innovation is a bit different. The principles based on which these innovations happen are not entirely based on the existing socio-cultural regime. Roberto Verganti (2014) talks about how Nintendo Wii adopted a radical approach in which there was a radical shift in both technology and meaning as follows —

Nintendo declined to engage in the battle along the technology dimension but instead focused on the meaning dimension, developing games that were more playable and enjoyable for less expert players. Nintendo took advantage of the arrival of inexpensive sensors, both for acceleration and infra-red imaging, and used these simple, inexpensive technologies to launch a major meaning change: games for everyone.

With the introduction of the Nintendo Wii, console games opened up outside the normal, small niche segment of skilled experts and let the entire family play sports, exercise, and interact with one another without requiring expert skills. The Wii redefined the playing field by combining a simple technology shift with a massive meaning shift. Sony and Microsoft struggled to catch up.

Nintendo Wii was not just climbing an existing hill. It was finding a new hill. This was radical innovation.

Hill climbing vs. Hill Finding

Radical innovation does take time for the society to accept it.

How do you convince folks to climb a new hill when they are so used to climb an existing hill?

They might have to come down their current hill, and go through the process of climbing a new hill all over again. Even if this new hill IS the promised land, it would be difficult for folks to adapt.

There could be staunch criticism, hatred or even vehement denial against the innovation to exist. It wouldn't be embraced wholeheartedly at one go. When incremental innovation could easily piggyback on existing socio-cultural phenomenon and gain easier adoption, radical innovation faces tough resistance against such barriers and friction points.

Blue Ocean Strategy

Come what may, radical innovation is absolutely important for any society to thrive and flourish.

There might be a disposal of existing meanings, and new meanings might have to be created. For instance, the personal computer came with the disposal of previous meanings of being just a 'calculator'. The personal computer came with an introduction of new meanings too (documentation, archiving, video games etc)

Owing to the newness of the meaning, and the newness of the category, it comes with its own share of risks. People don't exactly 'get' what the utility of such categories in the moment.

Red Oceans and Blue Oceans

This is where the mental model of Most Advanced Yet Acceptable Change (MAYA) coined by Raymond Loewy comes into picture. This proposes to combine surprise with recognition. In other words, we need to always balance novelty with typicality.

Radical innovation comes with too much of a surprise. Think of culture defining movies such as Shawshank Redemption and Fight Club which were still not accepted widely when released.

Radical expansion helps companies thrive by adopting a blue ocean strategy. They don't have to involve in zero sum games where they benefit from others loss in a competitive environment. Instead, they shed all these, and compete in new frontiers, in markets which have not been defined yet. In radical innovation, it becomes a positive-sum game, and entire categories are created.

Incremental innovation comes with too much of recognition. You are piggybacking on existing ideas, meanings that it runs the risk of becoming a trite — a cliché.

You might be probably bored with the triteness of most of the landing pages we see on the internet taken straight out of Noun Project, Humaans and Illustrators websites.

They were having novelty at one point of time. But they became too typical due to overuse. Just like worn-out coins.

Companies involving in incremental innovation usually have to adopt competing strategies with other existing players in the market as they are fundamentally zero sum games, commonly titled — red ocean strategy

Purple Ocean Strategy

If you take the red ocean strategy, you play zero sum games with competitors and might run the risk of becoming a typicality.

If you take the blue ocean strategy, you play positive sum games creating new markets and categories altogether. This might run a risk of being too novel, leading to less adoption.

MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) states that the ideal solution lies somewhere in the balance between the two.

Red Ocean Strategy + Blue Ocean Strategy = Purple Ocean Strategy.

This involves being far away from the competitors so that you are having something novel, and yet not being too radical that you dont lose the connection with the current ground reality


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