The Six Paths Blue Ocean Strategy Framework for Leadership

When doing Blue Ocean Shift type work and innovation planning, one of your key steps will be utilizing the Six Paths Framework. As part of my Blue Ocean Personal leadership series, I’m finishing up with this article on the use of the Six Paths Framework.

The Six Paths Framework is a core strategic tool used in Blue Ocean Strategy. It was created by Prof. W. Chan Kim and Prof. Renee Mauborgne.

Applying the six paths framework as you develop your leadership skills will help you expand your thinking and question your assumptions about your role, standards, personal growth, and your future career. Each of the paths represents an area, or possible prohibition to growth, around which we generally place our assumptions. Assumptions that keep us trapped personally in bloody red oceans of competition with other leaders or at the least, poor versions of ourselves.

Most people tend to look only within their specific industry and customer base when developing a path for personal growth or a career path – a practice that is not likely to lead to significant change. One productive approach is to use the Six Paths Framework. The framework will challenge the six fundamental assumptions underlying your personal development strategies.

It is only when we question our “regular” assumptions that we start the process of change in our minds and actions. There is nothing new about the information you are bringing to this process; the 6 paths framework simply allows you to view familiar data from a new perspective. To break free of the red ocean, look at your leadership life and its key factors across the following six paths.

  • Path 1 – Industry
  • Path 2 – Look across strategic groups within an industry
  • Path 3 – Look across the Chain of Buyers
  • Path 4 – Look across Complementary Services and Offerings
  • Path 5 – Look across Functional/Emotional Appeal for Buyers
  • Path 6 – Look across Time / Trends

Step One: Looking Across Alternative Industries

What is your current industry? View this question as high level but be mindful of the detail.

In my case, the industry is a Social Enterprise – Position Chief Digital Officer

Social Enterprise is a for-profit or non-profit entity that is vision and mission-driven. As an industry professional in this space, I focus on identifying the strategic course and digital implementations for companies and individuals in need to make digital innovation a part of their business and life.


Industry One: Not for Profits – Alternative Position – Chief Marketing Officer

The CMO Role is increasingly defined as a technical and strategic one as well. CMO’s bring expertise to the brand, narrative expertise to the company or their own story and help solve significant go to market problems as it pertains to key issues around marketing and sales.


Industry Two: Health Care – Alternative Position Chief Information Officer

In larger companies, this role is vast with responsibilities that involve data, IT infrastructure, security and so on.

The questions to ask in looking across industries at other leaders might include:

  • Why would CSuite leadership look to you and your position as vital compared to that of Industry Leaders in other roles such as CIO or CMO?
  • What might one learn from comparing their positions within a company with similar leaders in similar roles in other industries?

STEP TWO: Looking Across Strategic Groups

MY STRATEGIC GROUP – Chief Digital Officers/Digital Thought and Transformation Leaders

This group is responsible for every digital touch relative to the company’s internal or external constituents. AI, machine learning, data collection, user experience are key areas. MOBILE expertise assumed.


In my case, I’m looking at Theorists, AI and Data Scientists, Engineers in Digital.

This group leads the charge in thought and innovation. Much of what the CDO and that group do, is weave innovations by this group into existence.

What group in your industry is contributing at a higher strategic level than you? What might you learn from them?


Chief Marketing Officers/Content Directors/Brand Directors

This group implements much of what the CDO group determines are priorities for the company. Their talents and expertise are key, however, they are often working at the behest of others.

What might you learn from those whose path you may have already walked? Is there a group of professionals in your industry doing strategically less vital work but doing so in ways you should be aware?

STEP THREE: Looking Across the Chain of Buyers

Look first at your current buyer: i.e. the buyer of your time or service or labor.

In this case, my current employer, online Audiences, colleagues

My current employer is the primary user of my services and expertise. Online audiences read and utilize my content occasionally, and my colleagues at the office are the actual implementers of my work and ideas.


Answer: My CEO and founder of the company.

He and the company are the key purchasers of my time and mind share.

Do you know who the current buyer of your talent, skill, and leadership really is? Do you know what they want? Have you asked them?


Answer: My Colleagues

My colleagues are the influencers to the CEO and the collaborators via supporting research and feedback through testing of my recommendations and ideas. When they suggest to the CEO that things are good, implementation is a bit faster, employee buy-in is a bit deeper.

STEP FOUR: Looking Across Complementary Products and Services

In step four, one is asked to consider their look across complementary products and services via a “before, during and after” process.

View your expertise, processes, communications, and more as your complementary product and service offerings when you’re assessing your leadership.

BEFORE: Activities prior to assigned tasks or prior to an engagement.

Sherman’s Core Strategic and Technical Consulting Expertise is the primary focus. What do people see, hear, read, and know about you prior to engaging you at work or for a gig?

  • Current and previous employers, clients, and partners do business with me utilizing my current areas of expertise in technology, strategic implementations, soft skills, communications, and marketing.

DURING: Sherman’s During the Relationship Offering

The core offering during a relationship is communication, ongoing expertise, answering questions, offering guidance, etc.

  • Colleagues count on my expertise in strategic thinking, operational expertise, technology assessments, business experience, and willingness to learn.

AFTER: Sherman’s After the Implementation/Launch Processes.

After the launch or post-implementation is the most important phase. This is where your entire strategic offering will begin to either bring forth fruit or fall flat. How do your buyers perceive your, before, during and after the purchase, processes?

  • Colleagues, employers, and clients appreciate how I deliver implementations, processes, measurements, data, and follow-up after important strategic and business decisions.

As leaders, we all offer our services, products, time, and expertise in three specific parts of the relationship cycle. Before, during, and after. Understanding how clients, colleagues, and constituents experience leadership in all three phases is very important. Upon receiving feedback from the audience, one should be able to enhance their leadership services and expertise in all three phases.

STEP FIVE: Looking Across Functional vs. Emotional Orientation

Simply put, most offerings are purchased either in intellectual states or emotional states. If we lead personally out of one area, it pays to build the leadership muscle in the opposite. We grow by flexing muscles in areas of weakness, not just strength.


  • What are the key reasons, functionally and tactically, that people follow my leadership?


  • What are the key reasons people follow my emotional qualities as a leader?

There are areas of both of these broad qualities that are imperative. It’s important to gauge and gather feedback from my audiences and co-workers.

STEP SIX: Looking Across Time

What trends have a high probability of impacting your leadership and industry, are irreversible and are evolving in a clear trajectory?

TREND ONE – AI and Machine Learning

  • These technological developments are bringing to the front of everyone’s minds the role of management, leadership, staff, and the corporate relationship with employees. As a leader in any industry, keeping an eye on how this trend is affecting the company, client, or society is key.

TREND TWO – Trade Barriers and Nationalism

  • Real economic factors are at play in our business. They are global in nature now. A true assessment of how nationalism and protectionism affect business is imperative.

TREND THREE – Regulation and Taxation

  • These areas of government reach are to be studied and understood. Without a significant understanding of how rules and regs affect one’s business, one’s destiny is nothing but hardship.

As a leader, time and trends can be waves to ride if viewed through the lends of Blue Ocean Strategy. When the non-customer is viewed with foremost importance, wins can take place.

Visiting Paris for Inspiration

Sherman Mohr serves as an Advisor for Blue Ocean Strategy influenced enterprises. He is an Insead Blue Ocean Strategy Institute Certified Blue Ocean Strategist.