Why business is like ... Blue Herons

When fishing, the Inuit don't look for fish because they can't always see them. Instead, they look for a blue heron flying above the water, indicating the presence of a shoal. In business, as we search for commercial opportunities - that 'gap in the market' - we look for large metaphorical shoals with no competing heron in sight. But for the Inuit, the mere presence of competition is a good reason to advance.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A company that clearly hunts the Inuit way is Tesco. The supermarket chain's success has come not so much from creating new markets as identifying existing markets teeming with competition and then disrupting them. When the mobile telecom boom was in full swing, Tesco entered the fray with a better-value offering, and last year it announced plans to launch a clothing website in the wake of online fashion sensation Asos.com, whose average sales growth has exceeded 50% for the past five years. Like the Inuit, Tesco fishes for business in waters where other companies are enjoying success.

Of course, this tactic carries risks. For the past 15 years, the car insurance industry has been packed full of competitors, but few of them have made money, so it's wrong to assume that the presence of competition always signals opportunity. But sort your blue herons from your red herrings and, like the Inuit, you could be onto something.

Jennifer Harris is director of JRBH Strategy & Management, www.jrbh.co.uk

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