Princess Bride Iocane Powder: Anticipating rivals

20120522-143633Most students quickly grasp the concept of game theory–figuring out what your opponent is likely to do helps you decide what you ought to do. As this clip shows, however, failing to understand the real decision choices to be made can lead to deadly, but funny results. In class, after introducing simultaneous vs. sequential games, I show the clip, pausing it just before the 2:11 mark. At this point the poison is in the goblet, and I ask the students who haven’t seen the movie which goblet they think is poisoned. I record answers, and then show the clip (up to anywhere between 4:45 and 5:02). I then ask if they were surprised. I then show the remainder of the clip, and we discuss what mistake Vazinni made. Students see the real payoff matrix as: a) if I (Vazinni) guess wrong, I’m dead; b) If I guess right, then the Dread Pirate Roberts knows it too has incentive to kill me before he dies. I only live if Iocane powder kills instantly. My correct answer can only be not to drink either goblet if I want to live. After watching this video clip and class discussion, students can:

  • identify what is a simultaneous decision
  • identify the true payoffs in a payoff matrix
  • understand the value of changing the game
  • never get into a ground war in Asia (okay, just kidding about that one).

Princess Bride fans might also appreciate this clip illustrating non-substitutability…

Contributed by Russ Coff and Jay Janney

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

Research Chatter: Coffee talk for geeks

Ronnie Chatterji and Charlie Williams have put together an excellent research podcast series. They describe it as “Big ideas from business school professors.” It offers an excellent bridge between cutting edge business research and the world of practice. The podcast is sponsored by the Strategic Management Society (publisher of the Strategic Management Journal, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, and Global Strategy Journal). You can find the podcasts at iTunes, Soundcloud, and YouTube among other places. Want a quick taste? Here are some of the topics that this reviewer found especially interesting in the realm of entrepreneurship and innovation:

Contributed by Russ Coff

JebBush.com & Late Mover Disadvantages

DillonEdwardsEarly movers stand to lose if late movers learn from their mistakes and enter with better product offerings or better strategies. Classic early movers who lost include Osborne Computer Company  (subsequently overtaken by Compaq) or EMI’s exit from the CT Scanner business. Myspace and AoL might also be counted among early entrants that ultimately fizzled.

That said, early movers can can gain key assets that make it hard for rivals to enter and compete. You may have noticed that “JebBush.com” takes one to Donald Trump’s home page and there are numerous other political misdirections along these lines for other candidates. Similarly, Tesla Motors has only just gained ownership of the Tesla.com domain (probably at a handsome price). In this way, there can be a race to secure resources and capabilities to take advantage of an opportunity and others are in competition for those resources even if the resources are firm specific (as candidate domains tend to be). From a scholarly standpoint, such resources can be approached from a variety of perspectives including strategic factor market theory, Coasean bargaining, or first mover advantages. Of course, there is a humorous side to all of this. SNL has captured this nicely in their spoof commercial for Dillon Edwards Investments (note that this may be a bit “saucy” for many classrooms but we’re all adults here).

https://video.yahoo.com/dillon-edwards-investments-000000517.html

Contributed by Peter Klein

A PEST to Infest Your Analysis

pest-analysisPEST analysis can be helpful to identify trends or factors outside of a firm’s focal industry that will ultimately affect the industry. It stands for Political, Economic, Socio-cultural, and Technological factors. PESTEL is a similar framework that adds Environmental and Legal trends to the mix. The PEST framework is simple but it has the advantage of focusing trend analysis efforts so you can cover ground in a more systematic fashion (than, for example, SWOT analysis which is quite unsystematic). Shad Morris’ video below offers a great introduction to the analytic framework.

Contributed by Shad Morris

Discussing Terrorism in a Strategy Class

I started my class last Saturday with words of hope that my students’ friends and family were safe. Since I teach in Madison Wisconsin, it was a fair bet that they were not heavily touched. This first response is probably a good starting point. However, where does the discussion in a strategy class go then? Here are a few brief thoughts:

  • Responding to the humanitarian crisis. From there, one might explore how firms can respond to the humanitarian crisis. Do the Syrian refugees and terror victims all over the world pose an imperative to which businesses must respond? How can they help? What types of businesses can make a real difference?
  • Responsibility to shareholders. Should firms help even if this hurts shareholder returns? Of course, helping people can build a firm’s reputation. When would this come into play and how can firms position such actions to help firm performance (eliminating any conflict with shareholders)? If it does hurt profitability, when is that justifiable? When is it an imperative?
  • Global strategy. How should firms develop and execute international strategies in a more uncertain business environment? How should they balance this type of risk in their portfolio?
  • Employee Welfare. What steps should be taken to assure employee welfare and/or help employees in need?
  • Opportunity. Some firms may see economic opportunities amid the uncertainty. Of course, defense contractors and security-related firms may win. What other types of firms might see opportunity? See, for example, the video below about Ikea’s refugee shelters or bulletproof blankets for kids in response to school shootings.
  • Exploitation & Fraud. One of my students pointed out that some firms may take advantage the situation and play off of people’s fears. This might be considered the unethical side of opportunity and is certainly important to discuss as well.
  • Broader economic impactAndrew Ross Sorkin offers a brief discussion of this. Conventional wisdom (from studies of the economic impact) is that attacks cause only small blips in GDP and stock markets. However, the political impact and the diversion of resources to agencies like homeland security and defense contractors show up positively in GDP and so understate the impact. Isolationism also may impact global trade well beyond the initial shock.

You may notice that I offer questions rather than answers. I think this topic is fruitful for class discussion and I would hope to learn from the students. I only wish I had answers…

Contributed by Russ Coff

MegaBrew: M&A value or flat beer?

The $104B merger between AB InBev and SABMiller makes a great holiday addition to your classroom.ABInbevTree While it is largely a corporate strategy question, I used this discussion to kick off my course and I plan to come back to it as we hit various topics. Here is a packet of news articles that I used as the basis of the case. I also had students complete a brief online poll in advance of the class. This allowed me to start by summarizing their positions and to call on people who I knew had relatively unusual opinions. I used the case to show them how to draw a decision tree (click the image to enlarge) reflecting the uncertainty associated with the acquisition. Of course, it also frames topics throughout the course. Here are a few examples:

  • Internal capabilities. AB InBev’s capability to conduct acquisitions and to cut costs.
  • External analysis. Market structure for beer in different countries (namely Africa and China which drive this deal). Also, we compared the market structure for micro- and macro-brews. Of course, these mega-brews act to control distribution channels so barriers to entry are a key part of the game.
  • Competitive dynamics. Of course this is a game among the rivals but it also includes adjacent industries (like spirits).
  • Corporate. What are the logics for value creation? For example, to what extent does scale lower manufacturing costs as opposed to purchasing power or other mechanisms. At what point is a larger scale no longer an advantage?
  • Strategic factor markets: The M&A context makes it clear that most of the synergies go to the target (especially at the 50% bid premium).
  • Global. As indicated above, this is mostly about entry into new markets (China and Africa, among others).

Contributed by Russ Coff

How Xerox PARC Lost the PC: Putting the “O” in VRIO

Sometimes students struggle with how a firm can have valuable, rare, inimitable resources and still not have an advantage. This is central to the resource-based view and the VRIO framework. This clip from “Triumph of the Nerds” shows how PARC Xerox developed the GUI interface, object-oriented programming, and local area networks. Then it shows how they failed to exploit any of these innovations. In particular, it shows how Steve Jobs toured PARC and lifted the GUI to create the Macintosh computer. Here is a nice discussion of what the Xerox engineers thought of Steve Jobs’ visit. This can lead to a nice discussion of intellectual property, complementary assets, internal and external analysis. It is useful to show the first half (first 4.5 minutes) and ask students to speculate on why we don’t all have Xerox computers. Then the second half explains how Apple exploited the innovations.

Given Apple’s legal actions against Samsung and Google over the look and feel of their product, there is a certain irony that Apple imitated Xerox in their flagship product.

Contributed by Rich Makadok

Apple Clones Jobs in Jony Ive

Rather than fully embed superior design capabilities in organizational routines, Apple has instead identified and promoted Jony Ive into the design guru role once occupied by Steve Jobs. Ive “worked closely with the late co-founder Steve Jobs, who called Mr Ive his spiritual partner on products stretching back to the iMac.” As before, the reliance on a single person in this role raises key questions: An article published in the New Yorker earlier this year described how “Mr Ive had been describing himself as both ‘deeply, deeply tired‘ and ‘always anxious’ and said he was uncomfortable knowing that ‘a hundred thousand Apple employees rely on his decision-making – his taste – and that a sudden announcement of his retirement would ambush Apple shareholders.‘” Can this be described as an organizational capability? An organizational routine? A dynamic capability? Does it matter that the capability is largely embedded in a single person who is not an owner? All good questions to kick off a nice class discussion…
Contributed by Russ Coff

Exercise: Show Me the Money

Here is a simple exercise to demonstrate competitive advantage on the first day of class. Hold up a crisp $20 bill and ask “Who wants this?” When people look puzzled, ask, “I mean, who really wants this?” and then “Does anyone want this?”  Continue this way (repeating this in different ways) until someone actually gets up, walks over, and takes the $20 from your hand. Then the discussion focuses on why this particular person got the money. How did their motivation differ? Did they have different information or perception of the opportunity? Did they have a positional advantage based on where they were sitting? Other personal attributes (e.g., entrepreneurial)? The main question, then, is why do some people/firms perform better than others? This simple exercise gets at the nexus of perceived opportunity, position, resources, and other factors that operate both at the individual and firm level. Note that instructors should tell the class not to share this with other students. However, if you do have a student who has heard about the exercise (and grabs the money), asymmetric information about an opportunity is certainly one aspect of the discussion. The following “vine” might also help drive home the point about money and resources…

Contributed by Rich Makadok

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

Fly Like an Eagle: Dynamic capabilities in the wild

American Eagle Outfitters has shown strength among teens at a time when hipster Abercrombie & Fitch is struggling (see this WSJ article for details). The company credited their “Don’t Ask Why” collection in part for its 3% increase in revenue. They referred to the collection a cost-effective “testing lab” to spot trends. By experimenting with new fabrics, washes and styles, they believe they can gauge which styles are gaining favor and add them to the regular collection. American Eagle said the process was key to turning around the company’s tops business, which is now one of the best-performing segments. For example, one of the trends is to abandon the logo covered clothing that was popular in the 1990s. For class, this might make a discussion of dynamic capabilities much more tangible than the academic literature has so far achieved. How do they do it? Does this confer an advantage? If so, to what extent is it sustainable? Of course, this is also an opportunity to bring research into the classroom. For example, one might have students discuss whether this example looks more like Eisenhardt & Martin’s view or dynamic capabilities or those of Teece, Helfat, Peteraf, Winter or others (even Coff had something to say about this ;-).

Contributed by Aya Chacar

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

Samsung Throws Apple for a Loop

Will Samsung Pay win a standards war over Apple and Google? Apple Pay and Google Pay may have gotten lots of buzz but adoption of contactless payment has been slow. The near field communications (NFC) technologies that they rely on require that merchants invest in new technology at the point of sale. Samsung has acquired LoopPay and its technology to allow phones to communicate with any magnetic strip reader. The new service is expected to launch in the 2nd half of 2015. Even if NFC is ultimately a superior technology, the ease of adoption may allow Samsung to dominate as users seek a solution that they can use with most merchants. Meanwhile, Google plans to include it’s Pay app on all Android devices which could increase its penetration. Though it is important to note that this might create a conflict with its key Android partner Samsung. This should engender a nice discussion of strategy in “winner take all” standards wars. In class, one might assign groups to debate why Google, Apple, Samsung, or other will win this market.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Strategic Magic: Success stunts learning

i-failAn emerging literature focuses on learning from failures — both in terms of entrepreneurship and strategy more broadly. For some recent examples, see studies by Ariño and de la Torre (1998), Eggers (2012), and Kim & Miner (2007). It might appear that learning from success should be taken for granted — the actor has done something well and will naturally repeat the behavior. However, in the complex world of strategic decision-making, causality and can be especially hard to determine. It turns out that failure tends to trigger more rigorous analysis of the causes (even if these analyses suffer from attribution biases). On balance, success may tend to trigger much less rigorous analysis (if any) that is even more biased in the attributions made. This WSJ article on a magician’s ability to dupe audiences illustrates the principle nicely. In class, this discussion might be used to discuss the role of luck and how it may skew attributions, reducing the likelihood of serial success in strategic decision-making. The magic trick described in the article (or something similar) might be a nice, and dramatic, way to introduce the topic in class — all you need is two dimes…

Contributed by Donald E. Hatfield

North Korea: Craziness & Competitive Advantage?

Madness has been recognized in the game theoretic literature as a potential source of advantage. That is, a crazy person willing to pre-commit to a course of action might preempt rivals who consider that course to be irrational. In this context, North Korea’s attack on Sony might be considered as credible commitment to being crazy. As such, it confirms that North Korea may be unpredictable and might engage in activities that appear quite irrational. Thus, without incurring the cost of a full scale war, they can convince the west that they would be willing to sacrifice everything to hurt their rivals. In the scheme of things, attacking Sony is a relatively cheap way to do this. Here is an academic paper applying madman theory to the North Korean context. This might lead to a nice discussion of related game theoretic strategies in a business context.

Contributed by Nicolai Foss

Boeing’s Self-Destructing Android

In a torrent of irony, Boeing is partnering with Blackberry to deliver a more secure line of smartphones. Do their capabilities transfer? Does their brand transfer? Did they pick the right partner to imbue confidence? This is almost an entry for the business combination scavenger hunt. Whether the business model makes sense or not, one might think Sony’s experience will help to create demand for this type of enhanced security. If asked to do a testimonial, will Sony byte?

 

Contributed by Russ Coff

Honda “B” Emerges

In this video, Henry Mintzberg presents the story behind the classic Honda B case. That is, when Honda tried to enter the traditional US motorcycle market with large machines but ran into implementation problems that pushed it toward introducing small bikes through non-traditional distribution channels. As a result of their pivots, they were able to create a new market for smaller bikes in the US. This was a startling contrast to the “A” case which implied that the strategy was intentional from the start.

Heard Through Marko Rillo

Love Triangle Goes Hostile

Few things are more dramatic than a good hostile takeover attempt. Dollar General has been trying all summer to break up the planned nuptials between Family Dollar and Dollar Tree. They have offered $600 million more for Family Dollar than the preferred suitor. Two things may be preventing Family Dollar from switching partners: 1) concerns that a Dollar General deal would be thwarted by anti-trust regulators, and 2) the Family Dollar CEO would lose his job if Dollar General takes over. Of course, they say the second issue is not on their minds. This makes a great “ripped from the headlines” case (here is a small packet of news articles). There are many directions that the discussion can go which, I think, makes for a nice introductory case to frame the rest of the semester. Here are a few:

  • What is an industry? The anti-trust argument assumes that the industry is defined as small discount stores (in other words, Wal-Mart is not really a player).
  • Corporate governance: How much should it matter what the Family Dollar CEO’s preferences are?
  • Cost advantages: Do any of the players have a cost advantage? At what point do the advantages of scale diminish?
  • Industry structure: What, if anything, makes this an attractive industry?
  • Competitive dynamics: What will be the next competitive move? What has driven the past moves?
  • M&A Synergies: The news packet includes an estimate of the synergies and suggests that Dollar General could create more value. Do you buy this analysis?
  • Scenario planning: How might this unfold? To explore this, I have created a simple decision tree and added financials draws from a SeekingAlpha analysis in the news packet. Here is the spreadsheet (which uses the Precision Tree Excel add-in).

Contributed by Russ Coff