Leadership

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Competitive Advantage


Udayakumar Nalinasekaren
Dec 20, 2010

Competitive AdvantageCompetitive Advantage is a subject of leadership. Managers and leaders who run enterprises need to understand competitive advantage deeply to add value to stakeholders. I saw an interesting demonstration of competitive advantage. Friends from the bird kingdom demonstrated this to me in a very effectively and  interesting manner.

We were waiting for a river cruise and decided to snack with a packet of pop-corn. Three or four pigeons and a couple of sparrows spotted us with the pop-corn, recognized the opportunity and immediately formed a vigil around us. We were sitting on a bench by the riverside. The pigeons were more trusting and landed right close to our feet. They cocked their head to one side and started circling impatiently on the floor in a dance like gait waiting for us to throw food for them.

On the contrary, our sparrow friends perched themselves a safe 10-15 feet away but at our eye level. They started chirping in anticipation for us to throw some corn.

Wisdom has it that if you start feeding pigeons, more pigeons will land at the scene. My wife warned me not to do it. Still, I threw the first corn. The pigeons and the sparrows saw the corn on the floor at the same time. The pigeons were very close to their food. Before the pigeons could reach the corn, one of the sparrows darted in like a bullet, picked up the corn with its beak and flew away to a zone of no competition to eat the food in peace. All this happened in a matter of seconds. I threw the next corn. Again, although the pigeons were way close to it, the next sparrow darted in to win it and flew away. The pigeons in fact never won for the next 10 corns I threw at them.

The sparrows were agile, fast, had sharp focus and their primary objective was to lift the food away to safety before eating it. "Grab and vanish" was the sparrow strategy. They came back for more later because at any given moment they were content with the food they got. "Eat first" was the pigeon strategy. The pigeons were big, slow, wanted to eat first because they were probably afraid of not getting enough food or losing food to other pigeons. The sparrows were focusing on their own objectives. The pigeons were in a way focusing on their competition and eating at the same time.

That was an amusing and insightful demonstration. Competitive advantage is achieved by focusing on strengths. It is also achieved by focusing sharply on objectives and not the competition. That does not mean that the competition can be ignored.


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