Blue Ocean Strategy – It Fits a New Pharmacy Model

Pharmacists have described the community pharmacy environment for as long as I can remember, as being restrictive and confined, no matter the physical size of the pharmacy.
They call it the “four-wall syndrome” and it is, in fact, a form of depression.

The one thing that characterises the profession overall is that there is little positive interaction, with social contact limited to brief conversations at education events, or at meetings called to discuss a particular pharmacy problem.
But nowhere is there a forum for pharmacists to come together to discuss new ideas, share philosophies, discuss the “what if” to brainstorm ridiculous and hilarious ideas, even to “make” something from scratch – a shared endeavour to create, innovate and share concepts.

That type of forum does exist in the IT world where computer “geeks”, often very solitary people with an even tighter “four walled” environment, can actually come together in such an environment to create events they call “Hackathons”.
Some pharmacists have even joined in with this type of experience.

In my entire experience in pharmacy (now approaching 60 years) the symptom of the “four-wall syndrome” is expressed as “I can’t even go to the toilet without breaking the law”.
That statement does illustrate that pharmacists collectively have not been innovative in solving a very personal human health need in simply being able to address a call of nature appropriately.

What does that say about pharmacist innovation and the ability to create solutions?

I do know from personal experience that if a forum is created to encourage innovation, you very quickly get collective solutions.
But the other side of the equation is to have solutions translate into adoption and action through leadership organisations, and herein lies the difficulty.
Anything that comes from a “grass roots” activity is seen as “competition” by the various leadership organisations and has to be squashed because pharmacy leaders, mostly diligent and intelligent people, cannot grasp the concept of sharing and have an ability to create alliance partnerships.

Which is why pharmacy is in the straight-jacket that it is.

In my management consulting days my strategy was to create these types of positive environments.
I did not see it as a systems process – it just felt right to do it that way.
And most of the topics related to activities external to pharmacy, to model what was going on in other arenas that could be adapted to community pharmacy in the form of a vision to aspire to, or as part of a management system or infrastructure for a marketing strategy.
That process was always rewarding and well supported by the pharmacy community.

I am continually researching for my articles for i2P and recently I came across a book describing a process that I have described above that formed part of my communications strategy as a management consultant.

It is called the “Blue Oceans Strategy” and I wish that I had the foresight to document this strategy many years ago.
However that did not happen, but it has given me the ability to say that here is an organised body of knowledge that is the exact reference book for community pharmacy now, and into the future.

In a nutshell, the Blue Ocean Strategy says that if you want to remain competitive design your own space and come up with a completely new concept, and deal with it by exclusively competing in that new space – a space your competitors are not geared to compete in, so you leave them behind by going in a different direction.
Existing competition (Red Ocean Strategies) are left behind in favour of Blue Ocean Strategies.

Blue Ocean Strategies can be adopted in many fields of endeavour and I have reprinted a case study involving a multicultural youth orchestra that formed up in war-torn Iraq that necessitated remote methods of training and a Blue Ocean Strategy.
The story follows and at the foot of this story will be a link to the Blue Oceans site, a link to their strategy tools plus a link to the book. Visualise the story by replacing the word “orchestra” with “community pharmacy”

The ‘Bravest Orchestra in the World’

A ‘blue ocean’ way of uniting people through music

By The Blue Ocean Strategy Team

There is no limit to what one can achieve once you put your mind to it. This is what teenager Zuhal Sultan must have thought, back in 2008, when she turned to the internet with the odd request to help her start a National Youth Orchestra in Iraq. A tweet to the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq secured her $50K to get started. The internet also put Zuhal in touch with Paul MacAlindin, a Scottish conductor who was intrigued by the idea of starting an orchestra in Iraq and agreed to take this journey with her.

Paul MacAlindin, conductor National Youth Orchestra in Iraq

With limited funds, a lack of educated musicians and a range of logistical barriers, setting up an orchestra in Iraq was not an easy task. Paul MacAlindin, who not only became the conductor but was also the strategic brain of the orchestra, turned to blue ocean strategy to make the project a success. It worked. Between 2008 and 2013 the orchestra held dozens of performances and achieved international fame. The Blue Ocean Strategy Team spoke to conductor MacAlindin to learn more about this orchestra’s unconventional and ‘blue ocean’ journey.

What triggered you to apply blue ocean strategy to this case?

Paul MacAlindin: After accepting the challenge to create the orchestra, I quickly learned the hard truth: almost all National Youth Orchestras are highly established, western-centric and quite elite. Only the very best players of the respective countries are selected. Our competitors were Rolls Royces and we were a Mini.

We knew that, if we wanted to make this work, we couldn’t just copy their strategy. We simply didn’t have the means, the talent or the historical reputation to do so.

Blue ocean strategy was a key course in my MBA program and a personal eye-opener. Creating extraordinary value while keeping costs low was exactly what we set out to achieve with the orchestra. So when I was looking for a way to tackle our challenges, blue ocean strategy was the first thing that came to mind.

Musicians performing in France in 2013

What were the biggest challenges you faced? 

Paul MacAlindin: As our musicians were based in Iraq, we faced huge logistical and educational barriers. Getting these young people out of Iraq to perform was a challenge, but even inside the country conditions were not ideal. Music schools didn’t exist, so all of the players were self-taught. Another issue was the poor quality of instruments, with no place or the tools to maintain or fix them.

National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, the bravest orchestra in the world


In essence we had all the odds against us to be taken seriously. But we had a drive and determination that was beyond all the struggles. And ultimately blue ocean strategy showed us the way to overcome our challenges. Our competitors were Rolls Royces and we were a Mini. We knew that, if we wanted to make this work, we couldn’t just copy their strategy.

How did blue ocean strategy help you to tackle these challenges?

Paul MacAlindin: When defining our strategy we made use of the blue ocean strategy tool called the Eliminate-Reduce-Raise-Create (ERRC) Grid. This framework helped us to focus on the actions and values that would really make a difference for us, while cutting out those that carried more cost than value.

Finding something to ELIMINATE turned out to be easy. Traditional youth orchestras relied heavily on big names, soloists, to give status and visibility to their group. Since we did not have the financial means and our talent was poorly supported in Iraq, we decided this would not be a factor to drive our success.

Another big cost for orchestras is finding, educating and training musicians. Since we had no infrastructure available in Iraq, we turned to the internet for help. Our auditions were held over YouTube and individual lessons were done over Skype. By following this approach, we not only managed to REDUCE the cost of in-situ training, but we were also able to leverage the power of social media in the process.

One factor that we RAISED was partnerships. We partnered with established players, such as the British Council and the Beethovenfest in Bonn. They not only provided financial and reputational support, but also brought us a large amount of media attention.

Ultimately what we CREATED was something unique in the world of youth orchestras. Traditional orchestras focused on the great masterpieces of classical music, but we did not want to limit ourselves to this. We got Kurdish and Arab composers to write music that would display the rich culture and traditions of the country. In every concert we put Iraqi music on equal footing with Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert. We loved it, and so did the public.

National Youth Orchestra Iraq, uniting people through music

Sky News called you the “Bravest Orchestra in the World”. What did you learn from this experience?

Paul MacAlindin: After 6 extraordinary years, our journey came to an abrupt end when ISIS came in and cut the country in half. Although the story of Iraq is tragic, the success of the youth orchestra shows a different side of the country. Our unique blend of Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, Arab, Turkomen, Assyrian and Armenian musicians underlined the power of being united. These young people are a symbol of the talent that is out there and the resilience that they demonstrate. Our message was one of hope. One that still can be heard today.

Paul MacAlindin, conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, used blue ocean strategy to break down barriers and create unity across cultures. Can a blue ocean approach help solve some of the world’s most intractable questions?


Youth Orchestra Iraq


It wasn’t easy. To organize two weeks of performances it would take 50 weeks of preparation. Our journey was met with many hurdles, disappointments and relentless skepticism. Looking back at it now, I realize Blue Ocean Strategy gave me the strength to persevere through our many dark days.

Here is a link to the Blue Oceans Site

Here is a link to the Blue Ocean Tools

Here is a link to the Blue Ocean Books – there is a set of three – buy the package. 

This global bestseller, embraced by organisations and industries worldwide, challenges everything you thought you knew about the requirements for strategic success.
Now updated with fresh content from the authors, Blue Ocean Strategy argues that cut-throat competition results in nothing but a bloody “red ocean” of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool.
Based on a study of 150 strategic moves (spanning more than 100 years across 30 industries), the authors argue that lasting success comes not from battling competitors but from creating “blue oceans”—untapped new market spaces ripe for growth.

Blue Ocean Strategy presents a systematic approach to making the competition irrelevant and outlines principles and tools any organization can use to create and capture their own blue oceans.

An injection of Blue Ocean Strategy is just the medicine to create a grass roots action to cure your professional problems.
Don’t wait for your leaders to bring you into the 21st century – do it yourself and create upward stimulation – only then will pharmacy leader bodies begin to re-organise themselves.

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