Differentiation = Less Disgusting Seats?

Firms work hard to differentiate their services. A common theme in strategy courses is that customers must have a willingness to pay that exceeds the cost of the premium service. If so, we can explore whether a given firm has an advantage in offering the premium service. Sometimes the bar for “premium” isn’t very high… As always, the Onion hits it right on the head with this clip:

Contributed by Russ Coff

Dollar Auction: Looking for Bubble

8410493_origEconomic bubbles reflect irrational escalation but there is always an element of underlying rationality. This classic exercise, the Dollar Auction, is an ideal vehicle to emphasize how this can come about — even with actors who intend to be rational. With much fanfare, the instructor auctions off a dollar bill (a very crisp one to reflect a “rare” asset). The bill goes to the winner; however, the second-highest bidder also loses the amount that they bid. The game begins with one player bidding five cents (the min), hoping to make a ninety-five-cent profit. However, a ten cent bid would still yield a ninety-cent profit (if bidding stopped there). If the first bidder bids ninety five cents, and the second bidder bids one dollar (for no net gain or loss), the first bidder stands to lose ninety five cents unless she bids $1.05. In this way, bidding continues well beyond a dollar, usually until one player issues a preemptively high bid to signal intent to outbid at any cost. Only the auctioneer gets to profit in the end. While the incentive structure is idiosyncratic, one might debrief with a discussion of why they didn’t anticipate this problem when they started bidding? This fits broadly in discussions where escalation is a risk (decisions under uncertainty, M&A, technology investments, etc.). You may find that some students have seen this exercise previously. However, it only takes two uninformed bidders to create a bubble. Of course, the following classic bubble video is a good fit in the debrief (came out right before the real estate bubble)…

Contributed by Russ Coff

The Emperor’s New Rope…

This is another in a series of reminders that individuals respond to perceptions even if they are inaccurate. The short video of the invisible rope prank might be followed by a discussion of how firms can influence the perceptions of their rivals, complementors, and/or customers. This is especially an issue in contexts where there is a great deal of uncertainty (entrepreneurship, technology, etc.). An earlier post presents a driving prank with a similar theme.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Strategic Complementarities at Steak

Complementarities drive so many aspects of strategy — particularly in the context of corporate strategy. M&A, Alliances, diversification and global strategy are fundamentally about complementarities between businesses and regions. On the video below, Will Mitchell notes that it would , “get a conversation started about one of the 3 additional forces I use in industry analysis – Porter 5, plus social factors, new strategies, and complementary organizations. The video is short enough to make the point about complementation, then to spark discussion of what this would mean in business strategy (e.g., software upgrades for hardware).” The video is also valuable in exploring how a narrow product can expand its market appeal or find new markets. See also the classic complementarities video here.

Contributed by Will Mitchell

I Can’t Write No … Dissertation

If Mick Jagger were a PhD student, we might have gotten a very different song. In the spirit of yesterday’s dissertation defense humor, today we have a musical number on writing a dissertation. Really, how often do people write songs about this? Of course, the fact that they put this together probably explains why their dissertations weren’t completed…

Contributed by Russ Coff

Die Another Day Gazelle

This clip shows a cheetah catching a gazelle. Then a hyena tries to steal dinner from the cheetah. While they are busy fighting, the gazelle, who was playing dead, gets up and runs away. In this way, a cunning weaker firm might avoid being noticed by more resource rich firms until the moment when it has more resources of its own. A basic principle of competitive dynamics under bounded rationality is to fly under the radar so as to avoid retaliation from stronger incumbents.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Cultural Sensitivity Gone Wild

Almost anything good can be taken too far. Cultural sensitivity may be no exception. Individuals who try to be overly culturally sensitive may risk appearing disingenuine or alienate those in their own culture. Perhaps this has application in a discussion of global strategy (as well as etiquette in restaurants).

 

Contributed by Russ Coff

All About that Bitch

Much has been made of glass ceilings in organizations and this is a very appropriate conversation for strategy courses. Recent research indicates that appointments of female executives have positive implications for innovation but investor reactions are sometimes negative when such appointments are announced. This video might start the discussion and the research takes it in a more serious direction (as the title suggests, the content may be a bit edgy for some…).

Contributed by Russ Coff

Business Combination Scavenger Hunt

GunsDrugsRich Makadok invites his students to send pictures of strange business combinations. The sequence of Delta Dental commercials offer humorous combinations of businesses that drive home the topic of corporate strategy. However, these pale when compared to many real world combinations. One of my favorites is when the CEO of Occidental Petroleum (Armand Hammer) purchased a significant interest in the company that makes Arm & Hammer Baking Soda because he liked the name. The scavenger hunt exercise involves asking students to search for real life examples of strange business combinations and bring pictures to class. Once you are looking for them, you realize the examples are everywhere. For example, Boeing plans to produce a new smartphone (really, not a joke). The restaurant above offers family planning advice and products. The exercise will help students realize how rare a sound corporate strategy really is. Click <Continue Reading> to see additional examples (in many cases, you can click the picture to go to the company’s web page): Continue reading

Scenario Planning Success?

In 1993, AT&T released a series of commercials offering their vision for the future. Their predictions were surprisingly on target (ebooks, turn-by-turn GPS directions, iPads, sending documents via mobile devices, video conferencing, electronic tollbooths, on-demand videos). Someone had a good handle on technology possibilities that would transform our world. And yet, AT&T was decidedly NOT the company to bring us this future: it was effectively gone within a decade. Colbert offers some explanation for how the AT&T brand collapsed and rose again after the disappearance of the old ma bell. Mike Leiblein points out that the company may have failed to make appropriate investments or been concerned about cannibalization of their existing products. This old case about internal disruptors from Bell Labs trying to shake things up at AT&T suggests that is true – the company ejected the “disruptors” and tried to suppress the heresy that the internet would change everything. Ironically, at the time these commercials were filmed, Rebecca Henderson was writing about organizational limitations that hinder incumbents from successfully pursuing radical innovation. These ads make a nice point about the limits of scenario planning. Even if a company has people who can see the future clearly, it may be unable to execute. Here are a few slides that Charlie Williams uses to make that point.

Contributed by Charlie Williams

Technological Breakthrough: BookBook

This excellent ad for the 2015 IKEA catalog spoofs Apple’s over-the-top spots about their new products (as well as Samsung’s “next best thing”). This will spur some additional discussion about the value of older technologies and how to sell them to customers as the “best thing you always had.” It also is a nice opener for a discussion of how IKEA leverages their capabilities (advertising and reputation). You can find more background in this Forbes article. For an even lighter take on legacy products, see this Onion post on failing newspapers.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Strategic Mgt of Job Interviews

RecruiterQuestion-GoogleThis Onion video illustrates some … um … interesting strategies one might apply in job interviews. While the strategies portrayed are entertaining, there is a key point hidden behind the humor: Analyzing a company’s strategy might help students ask questions that set them apart from other job candidates. Here is a 6-step “listicle” by Google’s HR executive on how to prepare for an interview. Getting a job could be turned into a class exercise that helps students see how the strategy content might be useful right away (as opposed to waiting until they are CEOs). For any case, consider a range of recruiter questions that convey a deeper understanding of a company’s strategy. For example, a good question for Apple might reveal an understanding of the nature and extent of their competitive advantage as well as strategic challenges: “How does Apple’s culture of creative product design extend to less creative jobs like sales and service?” or “How does Apple create a sense of urgency among employees to respond to rivals like Samsung?” Many of the key strategy frameworks can be applied to generate such probing questions:

  • 5 forces/Industry analysis might help you understand the market position & efforts to increase buyer switching costs. This might include marketing or operations efforts to get closer to customers (customer intimacy). Probing questions along these lines convey that you understand strategic issues in the industry.
  • VRINE/Internal analysis might help identify key resources to leverage (e.g., Apple example above). If culture is a critical resource, one might ask questions about how they develop and maintain it.
  • STAR framework might help to identify levers to develop and maintain a valuable culture or, for example, coordination across units (e.g., MicroTech negotiation). Thus, one could probe into hiring, reward systems, structure, and processes to understand how they achieve these capabilities.
  • “Four C” framework might be useful if alliances are a key component of the firm’s strategy (outsourcing, R&D, etc.). How do they find partners with congruent goals? How do they managing the changing relationship over time? End game?

Contributed by Russ Coff

Secret Ingredient: Scorpion Venom

The resource based view focuses on the firm’s “secret sauce” – a resource that rivals would like to get but can’t. One isolating mechanism is causal ambiguity – they can’t identify what they should be trying to imitate. This commercial focuses on rumors about what the secret ingredient might be and may be useful for seeding such a discussion. For a recent academic treatment of causal ambiguity, see  Adelaide Wilcox King’s AMR paper.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Fail to Pivot: Battleship v. Lighthouse

Sometimes no matter how strong your resources are, you still can’t win. In those cases, it’s critical to avoid conflict so you can fight another day. This classic video depicts a battleship demanding that a rival change course to avoid collision. This might be useful for competitive dynamics (game theory), entrepreneurship (failure to pivot) or strategy process (cognition & stubbornness) where it may be critical to know when to change course. Guoli Chen, Crossland, & Luo’s recent SMJ article on CEO overconfidence is a nice academic complement to this. Of course there is a large literature on escalation of commitment that is also relevant.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Mission (Out of) Control

After a year of (painful?) meetings, Stanford Business School concluded that their mission was “to be the leading academic school of management in the world in terms of its impact on management theory, thinking, practice and performance.” Prior to that effort, we had no idea what they were about. Glad to have that cleared up. Years later, mission statements are still a key focus in the practice of strategy despite being almost ignored in the academic literature. One could ignore this in teaching strategy (many do) or one might discuss when mission statements are a grand waste of time and when they may prove to be useful. Automated mission statement generators help to make this point. While there are several good ones, this Mission Statement Generator is my favorite. With a single click, you can get profound statements like “It is our mission to continue to assertively operationalize principle-centered intellectual capital as well as endeavor to globally morph multimedia based solutions to meet our customer’s needs.” Of course, there is no shortage of Dilbert cartoons on the topic of mission statements. Now, Weird Al has gotten into the game with a new song that could have been written entirely from a mission statement generator. I think he deserves an honorary MBA for the strategic management anthem.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Stuck in the Middle Blues

Samsung’s profits are down by a whopping 25% and they put the blame firmly on Chinese competitors entering with cheaper smartphones (see this NYT article). Companies like Xiaomi and Huawei have increased market share in China over the last year as they sell good products at break-even prices. Now, they have turned their sights on western markets that eat into Samsung’s bread and butter. Pressure on Samsung to respond with lower prices? Perhaps but Apple continues to compete effectively at the high end. It’s proprietary operating system keeps rivals from fully imitating many of the most important product attributes. For now, Samsung is signalling that it will accelerate efforts to differentiate their products — an innovation war more than a price war. The real winner may be Google which gains as Android dominates growth in this market. As you can see, this “live” case allows one to explore the complexities of how different strategies play out in the market. It also pushes us to explore how a sequence of strategies might unfold leading to a longer term competitive advantage. This case might go nicely with the HBS case on Samsung’s dual (cost/differentiation) advantage in memory chips and the threat of Chinese rivals. Of course, in the race for new features, one wonders what they will think of next…

Heard Through Michael Leiblein

Team Shirk: Sustained dysfunction

Team building is one of the largest and fastest growing segments of management consulting but, as recent NPR story illustrates, the consequences are not always functional teams (click <Here> for the NPR audio). Trainers may promise that a workshop or two will transform a low performing team into a winner. However, the many team building “fails” suggest that it is often more difficult than that. A class discussion may focus on the factors that make teamwork difficult to achieve. Undergraduates often assume that employees naturally cooperate since they are “all on the same team.” It is quite important to help them understand what real organizations are like and why teamwork may be rare and, accordingly, a source of competitive advantage. Bob Sutton’s discussion of dysfunctional competition within Sears might help bring this to light. Of course, there are many other resources here for teamwork and strategy – while they won’t transform every dysfunctional team, they will help to highlight the issues. Of course, this discussion isn’t complete without an engineer’s description of team building:

Contributed by Russ Coff

An Apple A Day Kills Profit?

This quick Zack King video shows what happens to profit in the healthcare industry when patients are healthy. You might talk about healthcare policy and strategy when good strategies reduce profit. Here, an important distinction might be made between industry and firm level profit. This might also trigger some interesting discussions of ethics. Here are more Zack King videos.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Money Tree Strategy?

These two quick Zack King videos might be a nice introduction to competitive advantage. It is sort of in the spirit of Dick Rumelt’s Silver Doodle example. Would a firm have a competitive advantage if it could copy and paste money? If it owned a money tree? Consider the opportunity cost and watch heads spin… Here are more Zack King videos.

Contributed by Russ Coff