Beth Dunn got me thinking in the comments on my previous post about gender, race, and social media. Blue Ocean Strategy makes total sense and is the easiest way to win in a disruptive environment. You occupy the empty playing field, set the rules, norms, and customs, and make your own game. Newcomers to the field see whatever you’ve done as the norm and suddenly the idea is the institution – and you’re running the show. That’s the ideal.

What if, though, you don’t have a choice? What if it’s a red ocean and by circumstance or necessity you don’t have the luxury of moving to a blue ocean? How do you win when the odds are stacked against you in every way possible? Here’s a few thoughts from ninjutsu.

1. No perimeter is 100% secure. When it comes to finding your way into a C level office to have an opinion heard or finding your way to a job interview, there are gatekeepers, keymasters, etc. No perimeter is fully secure. There is almost always a way in.

Some thoughts: neutralize the gatekeeper, or even better, co-opt the gatekeeper. Find a way to ally yourself with a gatekeeper and then you’ve got your own personal concierge. If the gatekeeper is also an advisor, so much the better. Find the weak spot on the perimeter and press until you’re through.

2. Cultivate assets early and often. This is an old, old ninja strategy called katsura otoko, where you put an agent into an enemy territory long before – as in years or decades before – you need them. Disguised as a member of the community, they secretly gather information and recruit new allies to your army, but they’re rarely pressed into service until a critical moment.

You know all those junior people at corporations, the interns, the entry level folks? Find the promising ones in your own company or your competitor’s company and give them a hand. Mentor them. Help them out where you can in subtle ways. As time passes, you’ll not only gain their trust but you’ll also rise in power in the company along with them. In a few years, that entry level assistant may be EVP, and your friendship and efforts will have gotten you farther inside than you could possibly have otherwise done.

3. Look for crisis to be helpful. In old ninjutsu, the joei no jutsu strategy was to send in your infiltration teams to an area under severe crisis, like when an army was about to invade. The local warlord, desperate to conscript as many troops as possible, grabbed everyone they could with minimal or no background checks. What would be cautious recruitment in peacetime became haphazard carelessness in wartime. As a result, ninja agents got swept up into the enemy ranks and were positioned to gather information or conduct sabotage.

Every company facing a crisis of some kind looks for as many resources as possible, from hiring new employees to pulling in outside consultants. In a PR crisis, any friendly voice is welcomed. These are the times when you deploy your forces, volunteering, advocating, and being present and available to help. Putting yourself on someone’s radar in good times can be tough, as they have no need for you. Putting yourself on a VP’s radar in a time of crisis can secure your position of influence rapidly.

None of these strategies are exclusive to a red ocean environment, but they work well in nearly any environment due to human nature. If you as someone who is underrepresented want to break down barriers without burning bridges, consider looking at these and many other infiltration and subversion methods to sneak your way past glass ceilings and locked doors to the prize that you covet. If you as a small business want to win against much larger competitors and difficult conditions, these strategies have been proven time and again in the highest stakes contests of all on the battlefield.

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