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The Strategy Canvas: Simple is hard. Really hard.


The strategy canvas was developed by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors of strategy at INSEAD business school and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute in Fontainebleau, France. They created it as an alternative to the typical strategic planning process.

In part 1 of this series, we dug deeper into this powerful diagnostic tool that captures your organization’s strategic landscape and prospects in a simple visual.


Kim and Mauborgne note that getting down to basics and seeing the big picture is challenging. “Drawing a strategy canvas is never easy,” they write. “Even identifying the key factors of competition is far from straightforward.”

You’ll have to put aside conventional thinking about your company, your competition and even your customers. So if it’s a struggle, don’t worry. It’s just a sign that your current strategy is weak and needs this kind of attention. As the authors write, “From this awakening, comes exploration.”

They break the strategy canvas down in four stages.

In this step, the strategic planning participants in your company arrive at a common understanding of your current condition by:

• Comparing your business with your competitors’ by drawing “as is” strategy pictures

• Seeing where your strategy needs to, or could, change.

The draft strategy canvas shows where you overlap on the cust

mer choice factors with your key competitors, where you may have competitive advantage, and where they may have competitive advantage currently.

This is the fieldwork component, where leaders get busy with outreach. Talk to your customers. Talk to your competition’s customers. Talk to users if they’re different from customers. In this stage, managers come face-to-face with their products/services to learn about:

• Adoption hurdles for noncustomers

• The competition’s distinctive advantages

• Factors you should eliminate, create, or change

“There is simply no substitute for seeing for yourself,” Kim and Mauborgne write.

This step is critical to seeing the world through the eyes of your customers, potential customers and lost customers. There is often a huge gap between how an organization sees itself during the Visual Awakening stage and how customers see it during the Visual Exploration stage.

This is the time to revise based on your exploration, and share your results more widely by:

• Drawing new “to be” strategy canvases based on your fieldwork

• Getting feedback on alternative strategy pictures from customers, lost customers, competitors’ customers, and noncustomers

• Using this feedback to build the best “to be” strategy

Challenging your thinking–your underlying assumptions, beliefs, perceptions, etc.–about your current and potential “to be” strategies is critical here. Far too many organizations are constrained by their historical success–“this is the way we’ve always done it”–to allow themselves to see what’s possible, or where potential disruption will occur. As Matthew Olsen and Derek Van Bever wrote in Stall Points, “ is the assumptions you believe the most deeply or than you haven held as true for the longest time that are likely to prove your undoing.”

As a result, they are too late to truly change when a disruptor appears out of seemingly nowhere.

Now it’s time to share your final strategy canvas with everyone in your organization by:

• Distributing your before-and-after strategic profiles on a single page for easy comparison

• Pursuing only the projects and actions that support the new strategy and letting the rest go

This one-page image should become the referential document for all investments and other business decisions moving forward.

Strategy requires making choices about both what you will, and won’t, do. If an idea doesn’t support the strategy, it doesn’t happen. Ideally, your strategy canvas is being referenced across your organization to ensure actions across departments and units align to the same strategic goals.

As the authors indicate, strategic planning doesn’t end with the canvas. What it does do, however, is set the process off in the right direction by putting, as they write, the “strategy back into strategic planning.”


In a world of perpetual whitewater, your strategy -- how you position yourself in the market to win your customers’ choice -- must constantly evolve. Our consultants and coaches can help. We’ve worked with dozens of organizations from start-ups to Fortune 50 companies to help them deliver better results. Reach out and let’s get started.

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