Commercial Mediation: Blue Ocean Strategy and Co-operative Business Practice


I blog in peace. And today I blog about the application of mediation in commerce. And I want to specifically speak about co-operative business practice.

As many of you know, Gerhard Borstlap has recently joined ADR Network SA as our Operations Director. He is something of a philosopher in his own right, as am I, to the extent that we are seekers of wisdom. So we have been exchanging a lot of thoughts, ideas sharing and merging to some extent our own philosophies and those of others. Gerhard has a great interest in game theory and military strategy. And we believe that in as much as we are absolute proponents of non-violence and non-adversarialism, there is much to be learned from such theory and strategy that can be utilized in displacing what we regard as unhelpful systems and mindsets.

In resolving commercial conflict I often tell business owners and leaders that I regard competitive practice in business as average, mediocre at best, and ultimately detrimental at worst. And so I have been engaging with business leaders about co-operative business practice for some time. Recently a representative of a large group has asked to engage us on a transactional mediation mandate to set up co-operative partnerships with multi-nationals. Very exciting stuff.

But this morning before dawn, a light bulb went on for me and I realized that my philosophy and those of Gerhard’s merge and accord in a very powerful way. He talks a lot about blue ocean strategy and the art of war.

Allow me to explain: Red Ocean Strategy is about bloody competition in business. Thus the read waters. It is about confrontation, combat and ultimately conquering or destroying competitors who are regarded as opponents or enemies. It is about dividing up shrinking demand. It is about benchmarking. It is about head to head combat with rivals. We all know that this involves casualties along the way. It involves deteriment and often total destruction. Businesses bleed. Often to death.

BlueOcean Strategy makes competition irrelevant by creating uncontested market space. And I am going to expand here and say that it also involves destroying enemies or rivals by making them friends. We can compete with our rivals or we can co-operate with them, help them even, want the best for them. We can take business to stratospheric untapped unfathomable levels.

We believe that in business the ultimate way win victories is accomplished without combat. Sun Tzu says that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. We regard the enemy as adversarial patterns, competition, rivalry. We dismantle this by making competition irrelevant. Creating uncontested markets. Applying co-operative business strategy.

Corporate strategy has been profoundly influenced by military strategy. Rivalry, competition, combat. It has been about confronting an opponent and about fighting over a given piece of land that is limited and constant. But we know that the market is not constant. And it is not limited. So this kind of strategy adopts key constraints of war strategy.. Limited terrain and the need to conquer the enemy to succeed.

Superior strategy is accessible. It lives in a higher realm. Co-operation. Collaboration.

So how do we make this shift. We use the weaknesses of current strategy: rivalry, combat, competition to displace it with co-operative business practice.

Sin Tzu says who wishes to fight must count the cost. The cost is high. It is damaging. Often fatal.

So in practice how does this work. Organizationally you can take a big picture look and invite us in to systematically shift your business practices from competitive combative business practices and culture to co-operative business practice and culture.

Transactionally, transactional mediation is a powerful model of mediation used to create co-operation in legal contract and business relationship negotiations. The scope in commercial mediation is untapped. And it is powerful.

Both Gerhard and myself do public speaking around these topics. If you are interested, please email and

For ADR Training in Mediation and Arbitration

As always, and until next time, peace.



BlueOcean Strategy

The Art of War

Gerhard Borstlap