Why Your Competitive Advantage May Be Your Path To Failure

Two old ships wrecked on shore

All organizations must innovate. I’m going to presume you understand the imperative to engage in strategic change in your people, processes, and products. In fact, I believe the same maxim applies to individuals. You must change yourself, how you do things, and your skills. If you or your organization fail to innovate, you’ll soon become irrelevant in whatever “market” you compete. Ironically, the most significant barrier to innovation might be whatever it is that made you uniquely competitive today.

That organizational talent, process, or technology that got you where you are today is most likely to become the very thing that will make you irrelevant in the near future.

I’ve had conversations with leaders in various sectors recently about staying competitive, about moving on to the next big thing, and about envisioning a new future. In various ways, they were all expressing the same need: innovation. They each recognized that regardless of what is happening today—whether leading the pack, fighting it out right in the middle, or trailing the competitors—they have an inherent need to change their organizations, to become something new and different for a better future.

In those conversations, each leader focused a lot of their attention on core organizational capabilities that make them strong. It’s common for leaders to point to talented people. Sometimes they describe key intellectual property. Often they explain how a unique process provides quality and/or cost competitiveness. I heard one leader describe a technology that no one else has today.

Each of those organizational capabilities play a significant role in creating the present success that the organizations, their leaders, and the teams all enjoy.

However, those same organizational capabilities also have the potential to play a significant role in driving the organization to failure.

Once they discover what makes them unique, how they “win,” leaders can become hyper-focused on those good things and fail to develop other capabilities that prepare them for success in the future.

That is, those core capabilities can be the engine of organizational failure if the leaders allow those capabilities to become core rigidities.

In 2012, I wrote Avoiding Core Rigidities, in which I first explored this challenge of core capabilities and core rigidities. It’s telling that the topic remains equally if not more relevant almost five years later.

Just a few months later, in 2013, I wrote Skills and Culture of Innovation, in which I presented a model, The Innovator’s DNA, for leading innovation—for guiding your organization out of dependence on core rigidities. The model describes “five discovery skills” of innovation leaders and three elements of innovative organizations.

The problem is apparent. It’s easy to see why we depend so heavily on what made us strong.

The solution is harder. Developing the five discovery skills and building an organization that exhibits the three elements of innovation requires leaders to be self-reflective and teams to honest with one another.

With strong leadership, core rigidities can be avoided and new core capabilities can be developed.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by WEB AGENCY. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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