Competitive Strategy

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Image of Elon Musk courtesy of Flickr user Maurizio Pesce
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How Do Innovators Spot Market Opportunities?

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Executives need the ability to quickly spot both new opportunities and hidden risks. Asking the right questions can broaden perspective and shake up existing assumptions. For instance, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, has a noted ability to spot unmet market needs. Musk has said that his forward-thinking style, exemplified in his vision of commercializing electric vehicles for the mass market, comes from “just trying really hard — the first order of business is to try. You must try until your brain hurts.”


Strategy, not Technology, Drives Digital Transformation

Executives who think they're in a technology arms race are focusing on the wrong area: The 2015 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Research Project by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte identifies strategy, not technology, as the key driver of success in the digital arena. Conservative companies that avoid risk-taking are unlikely to thrive — and they'll also lose talent, as employees across all age groups want to work for businesses committed to digital progress. The report is available online and as a PDF, and the online version includes a Digital Business Interactive Tool with interactive charts to explore the data set.


Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem

Research from MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Information Systems Research says that to prepare for a future of digital disruption, companies need to consider which of four business models to adapt. "Given the amount of turmoil digital disruption is causing, it’s time for companies to evaluate these threats and opportunities and start creating new business options for the future — the more connected future of digital ecosystems," write Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner, both of CISR. Companies also need to develop new capabilities in two areas: learning more about their customers and becoming "more of an ecosystem."


How Global Is Your C-Suite?

New research shows that the vast majority of the world’s largest corporations are run by CEOs native to the country in which the company is headquartered. Does that matter? Some studies indicate that national diversity in the top management team can be associated with better performance. What’s more, the presence — or absence — of nonnative executives in a company’s top management team can send a signal to employees outside the home country: It indicates the long-term career prospects for foreign middle managers already in the company as well as for potential hires.


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From the Editor: Reflections on Change and Continuity

The Summer 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review highlights digital business and the technology-driven changes it brings. “Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem” and “Is Your Business Ready for a Digital Future?” directly address the topic of business changes driven by digital technologies. “How Twitter Users Can Generate Better Ideas” reports on fascinating research about how a digital platform — in this case, the social media network Twitter — is changing the way some businesspeople develop new ideas.


The New Mission for Multinationals

Something strange is happening as globalization marches forward: Increasingly, powerful local companies are winning out against multinational competitors. Some 73% of executives at large multinational companies say that “local companies are more effective competitors than other multinationals” in emerging markets. To compete effectively, multinationals need to let go of their global strategies and embrace a new mission: Integrate locally and adapt globally. That means becoming embedded in local distribution, supply, talent and regulatory networks as well as in the broader society.


Competing With Ordinary Resources

Not every company can be built around exceptional talent or exclusive technology. Instead, companies also can thrive by the innovative use of ordinary resources, such as well-managed staffs and competent websites. As management scholars Sumantra Ghoshal and Christopher Bartlett once wrote: “The key function of management is to help ordinary people produce extraordinary results.” The authors examine how business models leveraging regular resources will take different approaches than those focused on scarce strategic resources.

Image courtesy of Wal-Mart.

Sustaining an Analytics Advantage

Many companies have maintained a competitive advantage through analytics for many years — even decades. Those companies include Wal-Mart, ABB Electric, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Amazon. Peter C. Bell (Ivey Business School) writes that "research over a 30-year period suggests that there have been five basic ways in which companies have sustained an advantage generated through analytics." Tactics include keeping your company's analytics secret and applying analytics to the right problems.


The Other Talent War: Competing Through Alumni

Companies increasingly recognize the value of maintaining good relationships with former employees. Recent research, however, reveals a new insight: It’s also wise to pay attention to what your competitors’ former employees are up to. "Many managers don’t typically think of previous employees in competitive terms (if at all), and have virtually no tools or frameworks to help them wage this talent war," write the authors.


Image courtesy of The Walt Disney Company
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Is It Time to Hire a Chief Legal Strategist?

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Here’s a strategic angle that most businesses don’t think about: how they can use the law to secure strategic business goals. Leading companies such as the Walt Disney Company have managed to deploy their legal departments to shape the legal environment in order to secure long-term competitive advantages. But approaching legal issues in sophisticated and creative ways isn’t generally a specialty of most C-suite executives. That’s where a “chief legal strategist” comes in.

Image courtesy of Dupont.

Bridging the Sustainability Gap

Most mainstream investors are unconvinced that sustainability leadership translates into profits and marketplace success. Despite rising importance on the corporate agenda, sustainability —as currently understood and measured — interests only a small niche of investors. The authors argue that a “back to basics” approach for measuring sustainability’s direct impact on revenue growth, productivity and risk would provide mainstream investors with the data that’s critical to their decisions.

Image courtesy of Flickr user mike fabio.

The High Price of Customer Satisfaction

No company can last for long without satisfied customers. But misguided attempts to improve satisfaction can damage a company’s financial health. Research finds that the relationship between customer satisfaction and customer spending behavior is very weak, and that the return on investments in increasing customer satisfaction is often trivial or even negative. What matters is how customers rank your brand in satisfaction relative to your competitors.

Image courtesy of AT&T.

Making Data Visible So You Can Act On It

At AT&T, John Schulz, a director of sustainability operations, had to make the company’s energy and water use data visible before the company could formulate a plan to reduce those numbers. The company’s definition has now broadened and evolved to include the social perspective on sustainability.


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A Question Every Manager Should Ask (Hint: It Has to Do With Megatrends)

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The single best question companies should ask themselves is what megatrends are coming around the corner. That’s according to MIT Sloan’s Michael A. Cusumano. Two megatrends that stand out in the industries he studies: “the rising importance of industrywide platforms as opposed to stand-alone products, and the rising importance of services or service-like versions of products,” he says.

Courtesy of Under Armour

Which Strategy When?

Markets are changing, competition is shifting and businesses are suffering or perhaps thriving. Whatever the immediate circumstances, corporate managers ask the same questions: Where do we go from here, and which strategy will get us there? To figure out when it makes sense to pursue strategies of position, leverage or opportunity, managers must understand their company’s immediate circumstances, take stock of their current resources and determine the relationships among the various resources.

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A new look at older technologies

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Conventional wisdom has it that companies whose markets are being transformed by disruptive new technologies need to figure out how to switch to the new dominant technology. But two researchers argue that an alternative strategy –one that involves rethinking opportunities for the old technology — can sometimes make sense.

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