You don’t need to be a fortune teller to forecast the big talking point of 2019. That’s right, the B-word. According to the official timetable for these things, on March 29 the UK will formerly begin to extricate itself from membership of the European Union.
Given current political events, the chances of things running that smoothly seem extremely remote indeed. Those of use who like watching a good drama unfold can at least comfort ourselves in the knowledge that, although we know Brexit is happening, we don’t really have a clue what will actually happen.
While politicians toil and sweat over the impossibly existential question of the meaning of Brexit, weary business leaders have got much more prosaic concerns on their minds, such as what is going to happen to their trading relationships with suppliers and clients in Europe and other parts of the world. Again, it’s an area where there is a distinct lack of clarity.
One of the key threads of the pro-leave narrative has always been that being tied to Brussels’ apron strings holds UK plc back. Yes, Europe is our biggest global trading partner. But if we didn’t have to frame our business dealings with the rest of the world through the prism of the single market and those pesky EU regulations, we could actually do a lot better for ourselves. We need Brexit so we can cut ourselves free and soar back to our rightful place as a global superpower in trade and commerce.
The obvious questions are – who are we going to do all this great new business with, and how?
Making things happen
You don’t have to be in the import and export business for the ramifications of Brexit to matter a lot. What will happen to the pound, what will happen to consumer confidence, what will happen to economic growth all matter. But as always is the case, the businesses which come out the other side strong and successful won’t be the ones sitting on their heels waiting for the politicians to sign a juicy trade deal with Donald Trump. They will be the ones going out there and making things happen for themselves.
That is why this seems an opportune time to remind ourselves of the business philosophy known as Blue Ocean Strategy. Brought to the world’s attention by a 2004 book of that name by professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, the concept is based on a thorough examination of strategies successful businesses have used stretching back over 100 years.
The conclusion it draws is this. Contrary to popular perception, many of the most successful businesses don’t rise to the top by out-competing their bitterest rivals. In fact, they shun competition altogether and achieve success by creating brand new markets from scratch themselves. These rich, undepleted waters of opportunity are what the authors refer to as blue oceans.
The reason this seems apt as we approach the Brexit end game is not just because we are entering uncharted waters. It isn’t even because it provides a nice metaphor for the way the UK, according to the Leavers’ vision, is turning its back on the EU competition and striking out for its own ground. It hasn’t even got anything to do with fishing quotas.
What we do mean is, 2019 is going to be a year when things change for UK businesses. A lot of well-worn assumptions are about to be given a serious shake up. Certain sectors are already feeling the pinch and things could get pretty tough. If we are to come out the other side of it stronger, wiser and healthier as an economy, let’s not pretend it will be because some bickering politicians rode to the rescue and finally straightened out the whole mess.
It will be because people in business do what they always do to be successful – innovate, adapt, grasp new opportunities from difficult situations. As we approach 2019 and B-Day, this is a good time for UK businesses to review their strategies, evaluate their models, assess their value streams and ask – is there something better we could be doing?
There is a blue ocean out there for every business, a market waiting for something no one knows they actually need yet. You’ve just got to work out what it is before anyone else does.