Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thai talk: Political reform via the 'blue-ocean strategy'

That's probably a very polite way of saying those corrupt, vote-buying manipulators passing themselves off as professional politicians should try to reinvent themselves with some new platform instead of just relying on their old networks of vote-canvassers to put them back in their old parliament seats. Cholvit Chearachit of Srinakharinwirot University wrote in Matichon recently that Thai politicians should dump their good old textbooks that favour a red-ocean strategy and adopt the title strategy in W Chan Kim's and Renee Mauborgne's famous book "Blue Ocean Strategy". The authors suggest that rather than competing within the confines of the existing industry or trying to steal customers from rivals (the bloody or red-ocean strategy), they should develop uncontested market space that makes the competition irrelevant. According to Kim and Mauborgne, competing in overcrowded industries is no way to sustain high performance. The real opportunity, they say, is to create blue oceans of uncontested market space. They propose two very important aspects of the strategy: one is to find and develop blue oceans, and the other is to exploit and protect blue oceans. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than fought over. There is ample opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid. There are two ways to create blue oceans: one is to launch completely new industries and the other is to create a blue ocean from within a red ocean. The idea, of course, is to do something different from everybody else, producing something that no one has yet seen, thereby creating a blue ocean. The authors don't agree with marketing guru Michael Porter's theory that successful businesses are either low-cost providers or niche-players. Instead, the blue-ocean concept is to find value that crosses conventional market segmentation and offering value at a lower cost. What, then, would a blue-ocean political strategy entail? For a start, politicians would have to stop fighting for votes in the same old market - in other words, paying the same village headmen to canvass for votes in the same old constituencies. Politicians would have to look for an untapped voting base. What about starting with the 30-40 per cent of eligible voters who did not exercise their electoral rights last time? That, clearly, is the real blue ocean, because other candidates have ignored these non-voters whose decision to vote next time could turn the picture upside down. If the politicians continue to fight it out over in the red ocean, they will be shedding blood over the same old market. Thai politics will be forever stuck in the mud. The blue-ocean concept calls for the raising and creating of value for the market, while simultaneously reducing or eliminating features or services that are less valued by the current market or future markets. An innovative politician would try to raise his political party's standards through his own personal integrity, thus creating a market value for himself. In other words, he should try to enhance his value not by making wild, impossible promises in exchange for votes. What should these new blue-ocean politicians reduce and eliminate? Of course, if they really want to reach out to new horizons, this new breed of politicians would have to reduce their reliance on the old patronage system to win elections and build a permanent support base with public-centred policy platforms. And, this perhaps the most innovative step of all, they should eliminate all connections with money politics. A genuine blue-ocean strategy for a promising politician would, in short, entail eliminating corruption, reducing red tape, creating respectability and increasing public trust. This is admittedly easier said than done. But then, even if they constitute a drop in the ocean, we still hope the few good men in politics who go into the blue ocean can make enough waves to chase the old guard out of the red ocean.

By Suthichai Yoon

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