Teaching the Zoom Case Online

ZoomTortureThe Zoom live case is below. Most instructors are all or partially online now so I’m sharing some online tips for teaching the case. The key task here is to use some asynchronous learning before a synchronous session so you can hit the ground running. One really important tip: Use worksheet assignments and Google docs for group breakouts in synchronous sessions. Here’s how:

Asynchronous Zoom Assignments. I’ve created “worksheets” using essay questions in the Canvas survey/quiz tool. These questions are structured so the answers need not be long and are easy to grade. I have two worksheet assignments.

  • Strategy Diamond Worksheet. I use Hambrick & Fredrickson’s strategy diamond framework to answer the question “what is strategy?” I entered the worksheet as a quiz/survey in canvas but the link is the answer key in MS Word. Specifically, the prompt is: Zoom recently entered conferencing hardware, describe the strategy using the framework (e.g., Arena, Differentiator, Staging/Pacing, Vehicles, Economic Logic). While these are short essay questions, it is easy to see if they are able to understand the framework and allows synchronous sessions to move faster.
  • 5 Forces Worksheet. The 5 forces worksheet is also entered as a canvas survey. For each force, students list 3 actors ordered by their impact on industry profitability. Then they explain their ordering briefly. For buyer power: List several types of buyers in the video conferencing industry (at least 3) where each might be thought of as a market niche. Put them in order reflecting their willingness to pay (high to low). Then indicate a few factors that drive the differences in willingness to pay. Again, it is easy to grade since it is clear whether they understand from the order.

Synchronous Activities. Here, I rely on group breakouts with Google docs. Here are two such activities.

  • Industry evolution. The link goes to a 5 forces worksheet for before, during and after the pandemic (3 tables in the doc). As a breakout exercise, I assigned 2 teams to each page of the worksheet and told them to start at different places in the framework. Then, after 10 minutes, I brought them to the main room, shared the Google Doc and asked the teams to describe their analysis to predict how the industry will develop (post pandemic) – rivalry, growth, willingness to pay, etc. These are used to develop assumptions in the next exercise.
  • Financial Scenario Analysis. This link goes to a Google sheet with 8 Zoom financial models based on: 1) Rival product quality 2) Rival price competition, and 3) Zoom’s continued innovation/quality. Varying these 3 sources of uncertainty (H/L) generates 8 scenarios. I assigned each team to a scenario and at breakout, sent them all to the Google sheet to predict profit margins and revenue growth in that scenario. We then discussed the probabilities associated with each scenario. the bottom line was that the market capitalization was so high that selling the company should probably be considered as a very real alternative (e.g., what problem are you trying to solve?).

Contributed by Russ Coff

Zoom Wars Live Case

a53d805c5fbe0510926a423c6e184518I like to start the semester with a “ripped from the headlines” case. This is especially helpful if some of one’s cases are older. This semester, Zoom is a great alternative. The current market capitalization is about $80B which puts it well above many more established companies (including the combined value of the 7 largest airlines). I have compiled a short packet of news articles for the case. In addition, I have created a spreadsheet that guides students through key scenarios and how they would affect the value of the company (Do rivals match on quality? Is there a price war, Does Zoom keep innovating?). This highlights how qualitative analysis affects assumptions in quantitative models. It is also an introduction to decision trees as a simple tool for modeling complex sources of uncertainty (this is available in a separate instructor spreadsheet that uses PrecisionTree to model the uncertainty). The Zoom context hits just about every key aspect of a strategy course so you can circle back to it repeatedly:

  • What is Zoom’s strategy? I use the strategy diamond framework (arena, vehicles differentiators, staging/pacing…) but one can use a standard set of questions to explore this.
  • Trends/PEST. The industry was growing at about 10% — what were the drivers of this and how will this change in the future?
  • Industry analysis:
    • Why was the videoconferencing market attractive (pre-COVID)? (e.g., network effects, value produced)
    • How did COVID change the market attractiveness?
    • Rivalry: Competitors like Microsoft and Cisco are putting substantial resources into their products. Will they match the quality? Will there be a price war?
    • Evolution: How will the industry change going forward?
  • Resources and Capabilities:
    • Why has Zoom been so successful even before the COVID pandemic?
    • Why has Zoom been more effective than rivals during the pandemic?
    • Will they be able to keep up the rate of innovation after COVID?
  • Corporate strategies. Do business portfolios confer an advantage to rivals?
    • Consider Microsoft’s complementary assets (e.g., MS Office) – Why might they be important?
    • Consider Cisco’s complementary assets  (e.g., enterprise networks) – Why might they be important?
    • Zoom has entered the hardware industry through multiple alliances with DTEN, Poly, NEAT and others. Evaluate both the strategy to enter the hardware arena and the vehicle (alliances).
  • Zoom’s global strategy? Zoom has operations all over the world. What is their global strategy? Is it sound?
  • Technology/Entrepreneurship. Of course, these are key aspects of the context. Why did Zoom CEO, Eric Yuan, leave WebEx? Why did his nascent company do so well against established, well-resourced, rivals.

There are many videos you can bring into this including (Thanks to Rich Makadok for suggestions):

Contributed by Russ Coff

Melissa’s Marvelous Movies: Back to school special

As many of us prepare to move our strategy courses online, we need video “shorts” that introduce core strategy principles to go along with key readings. By now, you may have already seen collections by David Kryscynski, Shad Morris, and others in the toolbox. Melissa Schilling has graciously made a new set of videos available that address core strategy principles not found in the other collections. Below is her video introducing agency problems but you might also like her introduction to network externalities.

The clip below is a lightning version of internal analysis (connecting value chain and VRIO analysis). This was my special request because I don’t like how most readings cover this critical topic.

This clip provides a very high level overview and may require some supporting materials. This one-page handout details the steps and this old AME article provides a longer reading on internal analysis on which this approach is based.

Contributed by Melissa Schilling

MicroTech: Negotiating Online Teaching

HandshakeHow can we make online courses more interactive? Often people create videos of their PPT lectures as the basis of an online course. We know we can do better. It turns out that negotiation exercises can work surprisingly well online. The MicroTech negotiation is already described in another post (see the older post for details). Here, I describe a simple adaptation to use it in an online course. The negotiation focuses on the problems promoting cooperation across divisions (for example to achieve synergies). In the exercise, two general managers negotiate over the terms to transfer a technology to take advantage of a market opportunity. Sub-optimal agreements (money left on the table) represent transaction costs and inefficiencies that must be overcome to create corporate value. The debrief can also focus on alignment of activities/units to achieve a strategy. The discussion focuses on how to achieve requisite cooperation. This is hard to achieve in a competitive culture. How, then, can the firm create a cooperative culture? This, it turns out, may be a VRIO resource…

To conduct this exercise online, follow these steps

  1. Assign roles and negotiation partners from the class list (1/2 of the class in each role). The roles can be emailed to the individuals with their assigned negotiating partners. I would try to pair them with people they may be less likely to know well to simulate negotiating across divisions (usually not someone on the same project team, etc.).
  2. Students conduct the negotiation (outside of class) at a time of their choosing. It can be done through video conference, email, or in person.
  3. Collect agreements (have them emailed back) by the night before class. Better yet, you might want to set up a simple poll to collect the agreements (like this one which will allow you to download the results and copy them into the spreadsheet that is used to summarize/analyze the results).
  4. Debrief can be synchronous or asynchronous
    • Synchronous. In a synchronous session, you can present the results of the negotiation and engage in a rich discussion of organizational design and strategy. What levers would students suggest changing to increase coordination between units? (focus on things like incentives, structure, people, processes/routines, etc.)
    • Asynchronous. Alternatively, you could record or post an overview of the results and conduct the discussion asynchronously. For example, I would assign student teams (perhaps project groups this time instead of the pairs) to  make recommendations on how to improve coordination (less $ left on the table). I have each team focus on one a lever such as incentives, organizational structure, people (hiring/firing), processes/routines, or create symbols (to influence the culture). Each team can work offline and share their insights for additional discussion (synchronous or asynchronous). I actually think asynchronous works better since teams have more time to think through their recommendations.

Click here are all of the required materials (roles, spreadsheet, PowerPoint, etc.).

Contributed by Russ Coff

Extreme Ironing as a Capability

In conducting internal analysis, managers often point to things they do well as critical strengths. However, for it to be an important strength, it would be important to know: 1) How it relates to value creation (e.g., does it lower costs or increase willingness to pay), and 2) Do rivals have similar or substitute capabilities. In the end, many things that managers report as strengths may not be relevant in determining whether the firm has a competitive advantage. Take this video on extreme ironing, for example. One might ask their class if it depicts valuable capabilities? It might if you consider promotional expertise (video has over a million views)…

Contributed by Russ Coff

Amazon’s New Spin

AmazonSpinTreeAmazon is encouraging employee spinouts. They are offering employees $10,000 plus 3 months salary to quit and form entrepreneurial ventures in their Delivery Service Partner Program. This makes for an excellent “ripped from the headlines” case. I ask students to read a brief packet of news articles on the program and complete a poll before class (here is the poll I used). Since the program started, Amazon has shifted 30-50% of its delivery needs away from big vendors (USPS, UPS, FedEx, etc.) in favor of internal and small external service providers. It brings out multiple strategic issues and can be used to frame a semesters worth of strategy issues:

  • Market structure: How does this alter the market structure for Amazon? On the other side, what is the market structure that employee entrepreneurs face?
  • Competitive dynamics: How will players respond? (FedEx has now declined to serve Amazon)
  • Internal analysis: How might this move enhance Amazon’s competitive advantage? Do the entrepreneurial ventures enjoy any competitive advantages?
  • Entrepreneurship: Is the opportunity for employee entrepreneurs attractive?
  • Corporate: Should Amazon vertically integrate into the delivery business? How does their tapered integration affect the market?
  • Alliances: How do the collaborative relationships between Amazon and its partners differ between big and small partners?

I have created a student spreadsheet that allows students to analyze the proposal from the perspective of an employee. It helps them consider two key sources of uncertainty: 1) how much help will Amazon provide on an ongoing basis? and 2) how smoothly will their implementation go? This is then compared against buying a FedEx route since there is an active market for these businesses. This is shown in the decision tree above. In addition, this is a final spreadsheet with the scenarios and decision tree completed.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Netflix Sequel: Bidding Wars the Movie

disney-leaves-netflixAs Netflix’s strategy unfolds it becomes clearer the extent to which it threatens traditional media companies. Initially, Netflix was a welcome partner who paid for access to older entertainment assets – new income streams for studios. More recently they have developed new content and lure top talent away from traditional media companies. Now, by offering a compelling portfolio of options, they compete more directly against traditional media companies. AT&T, Comcast, Fox, and Disney have taken notice of Netflix’s increasingly vertically integrated business model that bypasses traditional distributors (cable, DSL, satellite) and doesn’t rely on advertising revenue. The new model is driving mega mergers & bidding wars as rivals try to build compelling portfolios to offer streaming services. This is a great live case to frame many strategic management course topics including:

  • What is strategy? I use the Strategy Diamond and Netflix is a great case to look at things like staging and pacing, vehicles, and arenas.
  • Market structure – How attractive is the media industry and how has this streaming model affected industry profitability
  • Resources/Capabilities – Rivals lack some resources and some of their substantial existing resources have become “core rigidities” that hinder adaptation
  • Competitive dynamics – What strategic moves can we observe? How will Netflix respond?
  • Disruptive innovation – Netflix started as a limited low-cost alternative but added features that eventually made it a significant threat to incumbents.
  • Corporate strategy – The billions rivals spent on M&A are another critical angle. This also provides a vehicle to discuss when vertical integration creates value.

I have assembled some useful materials to frame a discussion of this case. First, the case can be taught using a series of recent news articles (sample article pack). In addition, I have prepared a spreadsheet to explore scenarios for how various events might affect the value of Netflix. For instance, what would happen to its business model if the market started to value the company  as a traditional media company as opposed to a tech firm? Similarly, what will happen if rivals’ M&A strategies succeed and pose a critical challenge? Finally, here is a link to a sample pre-class survey to help students think about the strategic issues before class.

Contributed by Russ Coff

 

Exercise: Building a Strategy

811fp5fkral-_sl1500_Generic strategies are easy enough to explain and students typically feel that they understand. But do they really? Could they develop and implement a sound strategy? Sometimes it’s worth a bit of additional hands-on experience to make sure the lessons stick. Probably the most important message is alignment — the need to design the organization and product to fit the strategy. In other words, to make the appropriate tradeoffs. Lee Bolman offers a very simple house building exercise (out of index cards) that makes these points very nicely. Teams plan what kind of houses they will build and organize their production. Strategies naturally fall into more low cost (simple one story house) or differentiation (complex two story). The 20% quality bonus and 20% first mover bonus help to highlight these competing objectives. This one-page handout describes the rules and process for running the exercise. The debrief focuses on the teams’ strategies and how they organized:

  • Planning process — How did they frame the problem and explore solutions?
  • Competitive Dynamics — A strategy is more likely to be successful if few firms (teams) adopt it. How do they anticipate what rivals will do?
  • Implementation — Plans often don’t unfold as expected. A common problem is that when the time is up, they are stuck with inventories of unfinished products.

Overall, this is a simple and easy to implement exercise that drives home basic strategy and organization issues nicely. The exercise can be run in a little as 75 minutes, though 90 to 120 minutes provides more time for both the exercise and debriefing.  The steps to run the exercise are:

  1. Provide materials to teams (2 packs of 3-5 cards, 2-3 rolls of tape, 2-3 markers).
  2. Distribute the Quality Housing Instructions.  Briefly introduce the exercise and announce how much time is available for planning (10 min). At the end of the production period, do a count-down from 5 and firmly announce “Stop!”.  Teams may be startled when the time is up.
  3. Once teams have produced, have them calculate their expenses, revenue, and net income.  You can check houses against the specifications either immediately after a team produces, or after all teams have produced. If a team produces multiple houses, test a few to see if they can be dropped 12 inches without damage.
  4. Collect the financial results from all teams (revenue, costs, net), and award the bonuses for quality and first-to-market.

Contributed by Lee Bolman

Print the Legend: A multidimensional case

Print the Legend (2014) is a documentary about the 3-D printing industry, that offers an engaging case study covering industry, firm & technology life cycles, disruptive technologies, and strategy in emerging firms & industries. This industry was established in the 1980s focusing on large expensive printers for industrial use – Two key players dominated using different technologies. The market was seriously shaken by startups in the 2010s that drastically reduced pricing created a consumer market. As such, we see two distinct market segments (industrial & consumer) and two technologies (stereolithography & fused-deposition) all battling it out.

The film follows two startups from emergence through VC funding, and shows their diverging paths as one is acquired and one remains independent. MakerBot, hires an experienced Strategy Director who (with the VC) radically shifts the founding strategy. This leads to high turnover and eventually, founder exit and acquisition by a leading industrial 3-D printing incumbent. In contrast, FormLabs, takes a more emergent approach to strategizing and positioning. The award-winning film is very well-made and fun to watch – Students love it and learn from it. It features a prominent VC (Brad Feld) and startups that students may be aware of.

Teaching notes: The film (available on Netflix) runs 100 minutes, so with discussion, it takes a full 3-hour class. It is helpful toward the end of the semester as a “movie day” with popcorn and snacks – students appreciate a break the week before their big final project is due. It is helpful to spend about 20 minutes at the start of class giving a mini-lecture on firm & industry life cycles and disruptive technologies, to set up the film, as well as about 10 minutes at the end for a debrief. One can show the film in 10-20 minute segments, pausing to discuss what has happened so far. This case has been a big hit over the 2 years it has been in use. It’s a little logistically complex, and requires strict adherence to a schedule, but once you have it down, it’s a very easy class and case to teach. Full teaching notes, assigned pre-reading, slides, and film segments are available on Gina’s shared teaching site.

Contributed by Gina Dokko

Does the Term “Core Competence” Destroy Value?

CoreCompSoul1The term “core competence” has taken hold in the business world. Not many academic terms break through to common usage so this might be viewed as a tremendous success. Unfortunately, it isn’t clear that it is particularly useful with the modified practitioner definition. As it is commonly used, it seems to mean “stuff the firm is pretty good at.” Unlike Prahalad and Hamel’s original article, common usage does not suggest that these capabilities: necessarily confer value in the eyes of customers over what rivals can produce, are hard to imitate, or that they are especially relevant in a corporate (multi-business) context.

Stripped of these defining characteristics, is the term useful?

As it is commonly used, the term can help firms distinguish what they are relatively good at from things that they are not. This is akin to a simple business unit-level internal analysis that identifies strengths and weaknesses. While it is important for firms to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, by not comparing the strengths to rivals, we cannot infer whether the firm has a competitive advantage or how long such an advantage might last. It could even reflect a competitive disadvantage if rivals are superior in those areas. As a mode of internal analysis, the common usage doesn’t really go beyond SWOT analysis, which itself is woefully inadequate as a form of analysis.

When practitioners use the term core competence, it is often preceded by the words “stick to your…” That is, the firm should understand what they are good at and avoid straying from strengths. Of course, acquiring a new competence should be an important strategic decision – not to be taken lightly. However, the traditional advice seems to miss the mark if it implies that firms should avoid such decisions altogether. Classic examples of railroads, radio broadcasting, or, more recently, Toys ‘R’ Us illustrate how sticking to one’s knitting is not always the best strategy.

In short, as an internal analysis tool, the common usage of the term core competence does not add much value – certainly not relative to other internal analysis tools like value chain and VRIO analysis.

How do multi-business firms create value?   Continue reading

Bride of Frankenwatch: An RBV story

WatchThe Financial Times reports that in 2010, a Heuer Autavia Reference 2446, a popular driver’s chronograph of the 1960s, was sold for £5,400. But late in 2016, Christie’s achieved $125,000 for an identical watch. Valuable and rare resources are heavily sought after. This also creates a strong incentive to imitate. Enter “Frankenwatches.” Enterprising individuals have been able to cobble together watches from vintage spare parts that can be convincing. This has bread mistrust in the market and increased the value of market mechanisms (e.g., prim auction houses) that can certify authenticity. Then, there is also a market for known fakes (if they are done well). Ultimately, this demonstrates valuable and rare resources as well as imperfect imitation. Perfect for watch affectionados and students of the resource based view. The Financial Times article is a good (and timely) reading to prime a classroom discussion of strategic resources and attempts to imitate.

Contributed by Russ Coff (H/T Nicolai Foss)

Will Pokémon Keep GOing?

The augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon Go, has taken the world by storm as players roam the real world catching Pokémon and battling in Pokémon gyms. The game has set 5 records since its launch in July 2016 — including the most revenue by a mobile game in its first month ($206.5 million). Nintendo’s stock doubled 15 days into the release, adding $7.5B in value, but then settled back into a mere 50% increase when it became clear that Nintendo was a partner with limited ownership in the company that developed the game (Niantic, a Google spinoff). Although the game is free, users can make purchases in the app store to support their Pokémon ‘hunting’. The bewildering success must clearly be keeping Niantic’s CEO, John Hanke, and his crew awake at night. Besides the operational issues related to scaling up, intellectual property (IP) had become a big issue. A slew of imitators were emerging as well as a number of companies trying to steal the game’s data content and algorithm. In addition, the formidable international expansion faces roadblocks in the most populous Asian countries while potential users were impatient. There were many additional potential revenue sources to be tapped and explored such as the recent win-win partnership with McDonalds Japan. Moreover, while getting gamers out and about was good, there were a number of unintended consequences. On the plus side, many entrepreneurs were finding ways to make money from the game — for example restaurants could lure in customers if there was a Pokestop nearby. At the same time, users and non-users worried about possible injuries, trespassing, and invasion of privacy among other things. Naturally, this makes an outstanding ripped-from-the-headlines case for strategy courses. It is a great vehicle to cover key topics such as entrepreneurship, strategic alliances, internal analysis/capabilities, and external analysis. The following are some materials that are useful for the case:

Contributed by Aya Chacar and Russ Coff

K-Cosmetics: Covering the Globe

Successful strategy is often a combination of luck firm specific skills and favorable conditions. AmorePacfic makes a great ripped-from-the-headlines case since it rose to be the #1 South Korean firm buoyed by a growing and large domestic demand from a growing population. Hallyu – the Korean equivalent of Hollywood was also a driving factor as South Koreans want to look like their favorite stars and use the same cosmetic products and that includes men. In fact, it is estimated that a whopping 20% of South Korean men use cosmetic products on a regular basis. AmorPacific capitalized on this growing trend by building up its brand and investing in R&D and ultimately riding the popularity of K-pop and K-movies to expand internationally. At a time that demand is softening, K-cosmetics are still growing with exports increasingly exceeding imports and Korean cosmetics brands now more popular than European brands in China and increasing their penetration in many countries including China, Hong Kong, Japan, the US, Vietnam, and in a surprising list of other countries such as Poland where their addition to Sephora’s product line and other large retailers will ensure broad distribution. How has a $150 1.7 oz managed to gain global popularity? Some materials for the case might include:

Contributed by Aya Chacar

Fun and Game Theory

Economics-games.com is a free educational games site for teaching microeconomics, industrial organization and game theory. This site includes some simple (short) simulations designed to demonstrate specific principles. This should not be confused with longer simulations that extend across many class sessions. Instructors set up user IDs & passwords for their class and students are paired with others in the class (or even across universities if desired). These are really nice interactive online exercises that can be done between classes. In this sense, they are an excellent online complement beyond the usual readings and talking head videos. Here are some of the games:

  • Cournot and Stackelberg games
  • Public good financing game
  • Common-pool resources game
  • Prisoner’s dilemma
  • Asymmetric matching penny game
  • An air transport economics simulation covering price discrimination, vertical differentiation and peak-load pricing.

In addition, you may wish to check out some of their longer, commercial games (http://aireconsim.com).
Contributed by Nicolas Gruyer

Differentiation Can be a Pain in the Butt

Differentiation can be a challenge if existing products have identified the most central value propositions for customers. Increasingly, firms must differentiate using paths that may not follow others and there may be good reasons that rivals have left the path uncharted. Here is an example of differentiation whose time may not have come…

Contributed by Russ Coff

Bring Me Your Confusions!

Presenting material clearly and concisely may not be the best way to help students learn. In fact, presenting ambiguous information that leverages common sources of confusion may be a much better route to learning. This post is intended to serve as a BLEG to solicit examples of confusions that students experience. Accordingly, this is a starting point for developing new material that draws on confusion to teach strategy. We begin by understanding what confuses students. Here are some examples that come to mind (please add your own examples in the comments):

  • What does 5 Forces tell us about the firm’s advantage? Students often put a focal firm in the center and consider rivals to be substitutes. They don’t understand that the framework addresses the industry and not the firm.
  • What industry to choose for 5 forces? Students often choose an umbrella industry instead of the specific segment they are considering entering (e.g., beer instead of micro brews in South Africa). The result, then, is almost useless for making decisions and the analysis is not used to make recommendations.
  • Some resources are valuable while others are Inimitable (VRIO): Students think they are looking for some resources that fit in each bucket (V,R,I, & O) instead of a few resources that meet all of the criteria. They don’t understand that VRIO is a filter to evaluate all strengths in the value chain.
  • What is that “O” for anyway (in VRIO)? It seems to make sense but students often don’t really understand how a firm can have all of the pieces and still not execute. I use Xerox PARC as an example.
  • How do we make decisions using VRIO? Students often think they understand but don’t really know how to use it to make a decision. For example, how are capabilities relevant to decisions like entering new markets or fending off rivals?
  • Motivation for diversification: guilty until proven innocent. Students often suggest that a firm should acquire a successful target. They fail to see that future success is built into the acquisition price and don’t ask why the buyer could create unique value over other bidders.
  • Technology advantages erode rapidly. People see technology as key but miss that it can be easy to reverse engineer (leading to a temporary advantage). While the iPhone confers an advantage to Apple, Samsung has more market share.
  • Core competence is not what a firm does well if rivals can do it better. Core competence must refer to VRIO resources in order to create value.

Again, please add your own examples in the comments below. The following TED talk by Derek Muller describes the technique in teaching science.

 You can find a string of educational videos that leverage this “confusion” technique to teach principles of science here.

Contributed by Rich Makadok and David Kryscynski

Princess Bride, Nonsubstitutability & the RBV

screen-shot-2012-08-28-at-2-04-20-pmNonsubstitutability is a critical resource attribute for sustaining a competitive advantage. Otherwise, a rival may find a different resource that can nullify an advantage without actually imitating the focal firm’s resource or capability. An example might be Apple’s iPhone patent for the “screen bounce” when the user scrolls to the bottom of a page or list. Early Android phones had the same feature but, more recent phones, work around this patent by displaying a blue tinge at the edge of the screen (see picture) when one has scrolled to the end. In this way, many patents do not confer an advantage as rivals find ways to work around them and customers don’t perceive a significant difference in the product. In class, one might give this example coupled with the video below which depicts a battle between Fezzik and Westley in the Princess Bride — agility and size can be discussed as substitutes in determining competitive advantage (of course, Westley wins though he at first seems to be at a disadvantage).

PrincessBride-Nonsubstitutability (click to download)

Contributed by Russ Coff

Lego Industry Ecosystem

Lego profits have more than doubled in the last five years. The company has sold non-core businesses and doubled down on the core building block products. They are the undisputed king of building toys. A recent New York Times article describes the lay of the land brick by brick. Lego has focused on more wholesome building themes (Star Wars, etc.) while rivals have sought space where they don’t have to directly compete. For example, Mattel’s MEGA unit has a series of much more realistic building sets (Sponge Bob, Terminator, and Star Trek). Similarly, McFarlane toys has a very successful series of “Walk Dead” building sets that deviate from the image Lego prefers to maintain. In addition to competitors seeking to differentiate, many complementors have emerged such as Pley which offers Lego set rentals (the “Netlix” of the Lego world) or numerous used Lego trading businesses (here is one in Madison). Interestingly, research suggests that these Lego sets may actually reduce creativity — especially compared to the older version that involved a simple bucket of bricks rather than a kit to build a specific thing. Of course, their move into Lego films brings in an interesting discussion of diversification.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Smartphone Scavenger Hunt

Of course there are a spate of Chinese entrants into the Smartphone space. This probably comes as no surprise since many of them have been manufacturing phones for other firms and have large local markets that help to incubate their capabilities to become global players. In addition, there are some players that seek to leverage very different capabilities into the smartphone space. For example, I have reported here on Boeing’s efforts to leverage their defense contracting capabilities — now, it would appear that the U.S. government is interested in Boeing’s self-destructing Black phone. More recently, Pepsico is entering the fray with a branded Android phone. These examples fit nicely with the business combination scavenger hunt exercise. Of course, it is worth noting that Pepsi and Boeing are entering via strategic alliances with key players who have significant capabilities. Given these very different approaches, capabilities, and entry modes, one might have a fruitful class discussion of the emergent competitive dynamics in the industry.

Contributed by Russ Coff