China’s Comparative Advantage of Low Labor Costs: Think Again

globalbizComparative advantage is about nations leveraging their unique resource advantages. There was a time when, for China, that referred to cheap labor. There was once a notion that good manufacturing jobs were “shipped” to China because wages were so low. This narrative still bubbles up in today’s political rhetoric. However, today’s news also highlights that Foxconn, the World’s largest contract manufacturing company, is replacing 60,000 workers with robots. Wages in China do remain below those in other countries. However, the comparative advantage is no longer about cheap unskilled labor. In fact, China has produced about 60 million college graduates in the last ten years. At this rate, the World Bank predicts there to be up to 200 million by 2030. This is greater than the entire U.S. workforce. In short, they seek a comparative advantage based on human capital as opposed to generic labor. Cheap labor, in turn, may be replaced by capial investments (Foxconn seems to be on the leading edge in this trend). A question for a global strategy class might be how should other countries respond? Would an education arms race help or hurt comparative advantage?

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

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

Having your IP Stolen is a Real Beach

Knowledge and intellectual property inherently complicate exchange (e.g., property rights are poorly defined, the value is unclear, there are high transaction costs). One manifestation of this is the disclosure problem (Arrow’s 1962 information paradox). Figuring out the “price” for an idea requires revealing data which intrinsically reduces its value. Entrepreneurs often have ideas stolen by larger corporations that have significant complementary assets. Accordingly, they often try to go it alone despite the fact that their lack of such resources may ultimately create less value (for example, Tony Fadell tried to go it alone before bringing the iPod idea to Apple). His alliance with Apple turned out very well. However, this is often not the case. This clip illustrates what happened to Kramer (on Seinfeld) when he approached Calvin Klein with his idea for a new cologne called “beach” hoping to access their resources while gaining a signal of the idea’s value. He reveals the idea in an effort to obtain both. While it is funny, it will also kick off a serious discussion on this issue.

Contributed by Michael LeibleinMarcel Bogers and Marcus Holgersson

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

Smooth Recovery: Learning to Pivot

Pivoting from one strategy to another is essential for entrepreneurial firms but also for more established firms operating in a dynamic environment (see other materials on dynamic capabilities on this site). The video below can stimulate a conversation on what it takes to pivot (both in entrepreneurial and established contexts). Of course, its also moderately entertaining…

Contributed by Russ Coff

Chrome Goes on Safari: Vertical integration advantage realized?

Chrome has been sucking power from your laptop batteries. Google has been playing catch up to Apple’s Safari in terms of power consumption on Mac computers for some time. Apple’s product is optimized to be more efficient to their own proprietary operating system while Google is optimizing development efforts across platforms. Indeed, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer also enjoys a power consumption advantage on Windows machines. Of course, this could just be a flaw in Chrome but it does seem like it might be linked to specialization on a single platform as opposed to cross-platform compatibility. Strategy classes might explore more deeply how valuable the advantage of vertical integration might be in this case. Also, what type of organization must be in place to realize this potential value. Of course, the ad revenue gleaned from these products may justify vertical integration but it is less clear how this would create value for users. Power consumption, on the other hand, would be important to users.

Contributed by Russ Coff

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

iPhone Killers? Not when Rivals are Complementors…

iphone_killer1There has been much ado over the years about how Apple rivals seek to introduce iPhone killers. Here is a sampling of so-called iPhone killers that turned out not to be. Horace Dediu points out the revenue that rivals like Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and Amazon get from the iPhone. It turns out that iPhone owners are more likely to shop on their phones. This creates much more ad revenue for Google and purchases for Amazon. Apple remains the largest customer of Samsung’s semiconductor division and the largest source of operating profits. Microsoft has licensed IP for the iPhone and is increasingly offering software applications for iPhones. This graphic is a bit busy but shows the revenue and operating income growth of Apple and these key rivals — all strongly positively correlated. Of course, the whole sector is growing so the correlational evidence may not be as convincing as one might like. Nevertheless, performance is increasing overall, why would these rivals want to kill their golden goose?

Contributed by Russ Coff

SocialCompare

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

Grocery Stores Find a New Bag

Traditional grocery stores are losing share as new organizational forms emerge (15% over the last decade). Once thought to be as stable a market as can be, new business models increasingly challenge the landscape. The link above includes mostly additional services such as “Grocerants” (upscale restaurants within grocery stores), fishmongers, butchers, more delivery options. Also, online grocers are back and some are peeling off customers with more targeted business models. Many of these differentiated alternatives are more focused smaller stores serving specific types of consumers. However, not all of the change is on the differentiation side of the aisle. The trend also includes increasing popularity of lower cost alternatives alike Aldi. This is discussed in a related toolbox post with Aldi videos.

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

Network Effects Silence Phones!

In teaching industry analysis, I always make a point of discussing network effects as a potential barrier to entry (see Peter Klein’s comment to this post on the term “network externalities”). Usually, I use an example like the iPhone FaceTime application which increases in value depending on the number of family and friends who have iPhones. This, in turn makes it hard for rivals to enter because of the need for a large installed base. Google+ is another example in it’s failure to make much of a dent in Facebook’s market. Now, a new app gives discount points to students for locking their phones based on the number of other locked phones in the same vicinity. As such, when the whole class locks down using the PocketPoints app, they all get discount points. This pushes everyone to adopt the same app to get the most points and makes it hard for a competitor to enter. This might also be a nice way to turn the class into a lab to study game theory, or incentives. It does all this and keeps people off their phones in class! The following video describes the app.

Heard Through Virginia Postrel

Dr. K Prescribes Strategy Videos

David Kryscynski (Dr. K) has provided an excellent series of online videos to supplement your course or to help move portions of it online. These are very well produced and may allow you to spend class time on more experiential activities found elsewhere on this site. Below is the video on Porter’s generic strategies but I have provided links to all of the available videos below and listed others that you can gain access to through Wiley. Dr. K’s newest collection can be found on his free web page at LearnStrategy.org.

More Videos (below) Accompany Text

The videos below are also available but are designed to accompany the textbook: Strategic Management 1e by Jeff Dyer, Paul Godfrey, Robert Jensen and David Bryce (BYU Marriott School of Business). Contact your local Wiley sales representative or Executive Editor, Lise Johnson, at lise.johnson@wiley.com to receive additional information about class-testing or possibly using the videos without the text. For information on how to utilize these animations for non-academic use please send an email to ols_dept@byu.edu.

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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

Changing the Game

This interview with the founders of Justin.tv and Twitch presents an example of how founders shift their strategy in the face of feedback from customers, and emerging opportunities. They started Justin.tv to broadcast their lives, but soon discovered that people really wanted to watch gaming. This interview describes how they pivoted. In a strategy class, this illustrates intended vs. emergent strategies as well as the need for entrepreneurs to pivot off of initial ideas. There is also an interesting discussion of how technology has helped to make gaming and poker into competitive sports. You may think these guys are crazy, but Amazon paid $1 Billion for Twitch. The video goes on (@ 19 min) to discuss their involvement with Y-Combinator which provided seed capital. Warning: around 13:45 there is discussion of mature content that some students may find inappropriate.
Contributed by Susana Velez-Castrillon

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