Did you see Uber coming? How about Airbnb? Who expected Amazon to become Amazon.com? Who thought any software company would compete with Microsoft?
The idea of business strategy is to create a sustainable competitive advantage. How do you do that in an environment when whole industries are being disintermediated and when companies that have stood the test of time start failing that same test?
There is a sustainable competitive advantage for those who would pursue it, but it isn’t going to be found in most treatise you read on strategy now.
As Nature Would Have It
Charles Darwin didn’t actually say these oft-attributed words, but they are truer now than ever, regardless of the actual source:
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one who is most adaptable to change.
Welcome to the Disruptive Age.
Adaptability: A sustainable competitive advantage is only going to be built by believing that any choice you make, over time, will become unsustainable. Given a long enough timeline, what you are doing now is likely to be exactly the wrong thing to do. It will be the wrong thing to “continue doing.”
The “sustainable” part of a sustainable competitive advantage will be the ability to adapt to new realities. This means unlearning what you have learned, and it certainly means the killing of sacred cows. The more married you are to “the way we’ve always done things around here,” the more certain that you won’t be “around here” at all.
The primary competency for competitive advantage is the ability to lead change in response to changing conditions, challenges, and the recognition of opportunities.
Resourcefulness: With the exception of the capacity for compassion, there is no greater human attribute than resourcefulness. There are no problems that human beings have been unable to solve when given enough time to do so. This is true in spite of the fact that the same human beings who are capable of magnificent feats of creativity are also the greatest obstacle to that same creative force.
Creativity is limitless. Resourcefulness has no real boundaries, and any that are perceived are only the boundaries of the person perceiving them.
The “sustainable” part of a sustainable competitive advantage is the ability and the willingness to attract and unleash the creative force of individuals and groups. The “sustainability” is going to be infusing the work of problem-solving with purpose and meaning, as well as fully empowering people to create and to fail.
Much has changed in the last few decades. The changes coming over the few decades in front of us are going to make the last few look like a walk in the park.
The questions you have to answer if you seek a sustainable competitive advantage are, “How willing are you to change, including what you believe,” and “How fast can you generate the ideas you need to anticipate and respond to new realities?”
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