When it comes to brand creation and product development, no other strategy is as effective as being first to market—despite the fact that enormous emphasis is placed on creativity, research, sales promotion, media spending, and especially, innovation.
“Very few people talk about speed as an advantage,” says MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steve Spear, an expert on sustainable competitive advantage and author of The High Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition. “They talk about cost, they talk about market access or gaining preferred access to suppliers in a static way, but the ecosystem is tumultuous. Nothing is static. Once you slow down, the world goes by.”
Creating competitive advantage with internal operations
Some companies outperform competitors in many ways at once―cost, speed, innovation, service. How do they do it? In his executive education program, Creating High Velocity Organizations, Spear shows how exceptional organizations create competitive advantage through the strength of their internal operations. As different as the industries might be—automobile, military, pharmaceutical—they have a relentless urgency about discovery. Discovery about what their customs want, how they are used, the way their products are manufactured, and whether there are better ways to meet demand.
Spear often uses the analogy of zombies to make his point—too many organizations respond to multiple threats with a zombie-like response, working around the issues. Those organizations are constantly plagued by aggravation in the workplace. And occasionally those problems coalesce to cause catastrophic failures; routine factors can catch up to an organization and cause disaster. The organizations that attack their problems with a more “heroic” and agile approach solve the problems instead of working around them and, more importantly, make the effort to understand what caused the problem(s) in the first place.
Spear’s larger point: problem solving must be a constantly nurtured core capability. “The competitive market is replete with problems to be solved. What do people need? What forms and features will be loved solutions? Those who get the answers right, fastest win outsized rewards for their success, with everyone else fighting over crumbs,” says Spear. “Look at Apple— they earn more than 90% of all smartphone profits while owning less than 20% market share.”