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  • Writer's pictureBrenna McCormick

Reduce/Eliminate/Raise/Create: Some Prompts for the New Year, Inspired by Blue Ocean Strategy

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

While I love the Time Between Years, I will confess, New Year’s as a holiday is not my favorite. I do not want to relive the past year. I do not want to set unrealistic resolutions without better habit building. I do not really want to stay up past midnight. Instead, being (clearly un-fun) the mom of a toddler, an introvert, and someone who thrives on structure, my greatest desire is to go to bed at a reasonable time so that I can function the next morning—when we are supposed to magically kick of these #NewYearNewYou transformations. (And which I hope we are tempering with some gentle kindness after the unrelenting heartbreak, reckoning and recalibration that was 2020.)

This morning, feeling a little over-saturated on holiday sugar and social media posts and articles about New Year’s goals and reflection prompts, I also acknowledge that I can’t escape them. I like to plan, I like to reflect. It is a powerful way to acknowledge learning. Being a strategist, I also like to think through how the dreams and ideas that have been bubbling up in this Time Between Years can be explored further.

Most importantly, I also believe in the power of the right question to unlock a new perspective.

So, with curiosity, I read of questions that smart minds put forth at this time of year, and then stew a bit, feeling overwhelmed, and wondering if things can be reflected-to-death. (Answer: Yes, they can.)

However, a collision of caffeine, marketing strategy, and desire to distill my thoughts into something I could both plan and be inspired by, came to the rescue.

Inspired by Blue Ocean Strategy

After a coffee refill, I was muddling through my thoughts in my Morning Pages, on what I want to at least build upon in 2021. Which is how I ended up using the word “reduce” when thinking about January finances and food waste in our household, which was then followed by a question where I asked myself about re-imagining. Realizing these sounded familiar, I then found myself writing out a very simplified version of the Blue Ocean Strategy Four Actions Framework, created by management thought-leaders and authors, Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

What can I reduce?

What can I eliminate?

What can I raise/improve?

What can I create?

If you are not familiar with it, Blue Ocean Strategy is a best-selling book and strategy for rethinking points of business and brand differentiation with the goal of creating new, untapped markets. Kim and Mauborgne have also retooled their framework for new applications, including applying it to the creation of new leadership models (which is fairly close to where my own intuitive repurposing of the tool landed this morning).

The Blue Ocean Strategy Four Actions framework is composed of four questions, all framed within the context of industry (“What can I raise above industry standards?”) as its original purpose is to disrupt perceived boundaries. In the Blue Ocean Leadership Grid, the questions lead with “What acts and activities that leaders invest their time and intelligence in…” (which, good gravy, these just add more gibberish for your brain to chew through when trying to think.)

My reapplication—and super simplification—of Kim and Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy questions led to some good organization of my thinking for the beginning of a New Year and which I feel are useful for planning, especially on a monthly or weekly basis.

They can even be helpful when starting a new project, similar to one you've done before:

What can I reduce?

What can I eliminate?

What can I raise/improve?

What can I create?

While the goal of applying the Four Action Framework is differentiation, one thing that I have always liked about the phrasing of the prompts it is how it focused on actionable outcomes. I also liked that my answers didn’t have to be deep, but can be intuitive. They also fell into a few categories, which I found helpful for simplifying my approach to actually seeing them through, with something like “reducing clutter.” (I did have to think through what fell into Reduce and what should be in Eliminate, which was a good exercise.)

However, I also realized that the questions can easily be shifted from action to dreaming:

What do I want to reduce?

What do I want to eliminate?

What do I want to raise/improve?

What do I want to create?

Or turn up the intensity with need vs. want:

What do I need to reduce?

What do I need to eliminate?

What do I need to raise/improve?

What do I need to create?

Whether you have a desire to reflect as you hang a new calendar; or are burned-out on goal setting and resolutions and want to just turn the page on 2020; or, maybe you just want to see what feels good in 2021. All of these are perfectly good ways to start the New Year. And, if you find yourself at this time of year, like me, collecting questions to reflect on, then I hope that these help to spark your thinking.

Reflecting & Connecting

What are your habits for starting or planning a New Year?

Do you have helpful questions that inspire you, your work or your decision making?

I look forward to hearing from you.


This article in the New York Times focuses on reflection vs. resolutions. I especially like that they call out how it is important to not be self-critical in reflecting. I always like to approach reflection from a place of curiosity and ask myself, "What did I learn?"

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