“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage” ~ Jack Welch

Today, the firms operate in an even more competitive industry dictated by an ever unparalleled dynamism. Jack Welch never said anything more meaningful. In current times, when change is the only thing that is constant, a firm’s ability to learn, and more importantly “unlearn and then relearn” creates the most important distinguishing factor for sustainable competitive advantage.

Michael Porter’s framework for competitive advantage probably explains few of the focus issues firms may keep in mind while formulating strategies at the top level.

However, this is the way to achieve sustainable competitive advantage and a firm’s top executive needs to understand the core to his firm, based on which he can take this call. However, due to the dynamism of the industry structure, he needs to continually analyze and re-evaluate his strategies, based on the core.

A firm probably has multiple dimensions of personality traits, talents, resources and skills, and hundreds of other characteristics, but what is it that when all the others are surgically removed distinguishes the character of the firm at the very core? This is essentially the key which needs to be leveraged successfully and innovated upon continually to attain that otherwise illusive competitive advantage.

So how does one recognize one’s core?

One may argue that achieving “customer loyalty” may be a step towards achieving a sustainable competitive advantage. It’s not a secret that loyal customers are good for an organization or brand. You don’t see too many executives saying they don’t want more of them. But in spite of that what intrigues me is how few companies truly acknowledge, take care of and leverage those loyal customers in a way that measurably accelerates market share and recurring revenue while mitigating competitive risk and reducing sales & marketing costs. But in spite of  “customers” being a crucial focal point for business, it is required to recognize that in current times, the very nature of business is evolving. With the very definition of a firm’s role in an industry or even the definition of the industry under such a strict evolution, it is crucial to note that the very target customers are deemed to change in this dynamic market structure. So identifying and acquiring new customers, in spite of the spiraling costs of new customer acquisitions, may play a key role for sustenance.

Thus a firm’s source of resources for the “Ultimate Competitive Advantage” is much more than the sources of revenue. Smaller firms whose ability to learn and “unlearn and then relearn”have reaped the benefits in the past. The problem started after they grew to a certain size where they couldn’t stay so nimble on their feet, and faced competition from other firms, who were more adaptive to the dynamic industry structure.

Sometimes, one tends to think that probably a firm’s organization structure and the culture is the inherent and most important source of competitive advantage. But how can a firm leverage that to quantifiable profits since at the end of the day, business decisions are based on ROI figures and financial achievements. This is probably where a firm needs to rediscover itself.

By Kar

Dr. Kar works in the interface of digital transformation and data science. Professionally a professor in one of the top B-Schools of Asia and an alumni of XLRI, he has extensive experience in teaching, training, consultancy and research in reputed institutes. He is a regular contributor of Business Fundas and a frequent author in research platforms. He is widely cited as a researcher. Note: The articles authored in this blog are his personal views and does not reflect that of his affiliations.