On 19 April 1775, British troops (Redcoats) marched toward Concord, Massachusetts, to destroy military stores that had been collected by the American revolutionaries (Minutemen). At Lexington Green, a large, flat, open area, the Redcoats met the Minutemen in the first battle of the day. Both sides employed a similar battle strategy, firing at each other in the open from closed ranks. It was the dominant battle strategy of the day. The Redcoats quickly prevailed, and the Minutemen dispersed after a few volleys and a number of casualties.
Later in the day, as the Redcoats returned to Boston, a second battle developed. At various points along the road, Minutemen fired upon the Redcoat formations from inside houses and behind stone fences. When the Redcoats charged these positions, the Minutemen withdrew into the countryside and reappeared farther down the road. The Minutemen’s skirmish tactics took a heavy toll on the massed and extremely vulnerable Redcoats, who could do little but set fire to the buildings the Minutemen had already abandoned.
The two battles between the same opponents on the same day produced two very different results. It seems reasonable to suggest that between the two battles the Minutemen made a fundamental shift in their battle strategy, and this new strategy, rather than luck or chance, produced the significant difference in results.
Like the Minutemen, competitors frequently don’t compete the way one expects them to. This is one of the key difficulties for managers trying to understand, prepare for, and manage global competition. Western firms, and U.S. firms in particular, generally try to compete through some kind of strategic advantage. That is, they often try to develop a unique business strategy that will allow them to outmaneuver competitors. Yet many global Asian firms appear to compete successfully without much attempt to develop distinctive business strategies. Instead, they try to implement not-so-unique business strategies better than competitors and thereby to gain competitive advantage.
In this paper, I will distinguish between these two modes of competing, discuss some of their implications, and illustrate my analysis with research conducted in U.S. and Japanese semiconductor companies.1 I will then consider what happens when these two modes confront each other in a global market and discuss some of the implications for U.S. competitiveness in global markets.