A Company’s Most Sustainable Advantage

siebel-sauce.jpgBy Adam Dole
Many of today’s top companies are so fixated on what their competition is doing, that they often forget to focus on their single most important competitive advantage; their strengths! In the current economic climate, companies need to stop focusing on the competition and start getting back to what they do better than anyone else. Using their strengths to create a competitive advantage might sound obvious, but focusing on the internal measures of excellence that come naturally is surprisingly too often the first thing that gets overlooked or brushed aside.
Natural strengths tend to hang around and show up whether you like it or not. As a result, spending any time trying to suppress them, or believing that your weaknesses will ever out-perform your strengths will rarely provide the same value or return on investment that spending that same time playing to your strengths will. So why fight it? Knowing how to play to your strengths might just be the one way out of this economic crisis.

The negative pressure that is self-generated when focusing on the competition rather than your own internal DNA, causes even the most established of organizations to forget what originally made them great. If we look at what has happened with AOL or even Yahoo in the past few years, we can see that their core strength of ‘connecting people’ has gotten lost among all the efforts to keep up with their strong search engine neighbors.
Apple is cliché but often a great example of recent success. Prior to the development of the iPhone, do you think that Steve Jobs looked at how successful RIM Blackberry was at customer acquisition, and wished Apple could innovate more like Blackberry? Of course not! What would it take to look inside yourself or your own organization to create a unique vision that only you or your organization, with its particular DNA and strengths could carry out? The next time you are charged with creating something new and innovative, challenge yourself by looking inwards to your own strengths.
I recently had an experience when I was able to make an explicit decision to play to my strengths in deciding whether or not to join the new Design MBA program at CCA. Design strategy has always been a passion and strength of mine. I knew that if I could leverage this strength during the length of any MBA program that I chose, not only would I have more fun, but it would also increase my chances of personal success. After my first semester in the new Design MBA program at CCA, I can confidently say that betting on my strengths was the right decision. I have not only been experiencing personal academic success in the program, but have had fun doing it! If only all businesses could apply this same strengths-based way of thinking to their everyday decisions, they might have a better chance of finding a way to innovate their way through this current economic climate. What is keeping more businesses from playing to their strengths?

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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