How to Find Your Competitive Advantage

11 September 2021

It’s Always Good to Have Some Kind of Advantage. Here’s How You Can Find Your Competitive Advantage.

It’s 1979… Pink Floyd just released “The Wall”… 

Sony just came out with the first walkman – for a whopping $200… 

And businessmen everywhere are about to have their minds blown.

It wasn’t because they dropped acid, picked up a walkman and started grooving to Pink Floyd… It was actually because of this guy – Micheal Porter.

This Harvard Business Professor wrote a paper called “How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy” where he first coined the term “competitive advantage”… changing how companies considered competition forever.

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But… What Exactly Is a Competitive Advantage, and How Can You Make the Most of It?

By definition, competitive advantage is “A condition or circumstance that puts an individual or company in a favourable or superior position.” 

And this has been happening for thousands of years; In the beginning, our thumbs were a competitive advantage… but now it’s a lot more complicated than that. 

When it comes to companies, a competitive edge can come  through a first-mover advantage; of course being the first to bring anything to market will give you a leg-up on those who come after.

Things can go favourably your way through a low-cost advantage, where you can deliver your product or service at a lower cost than your competitor, and secure more sales as a result.

Or, it can be through something like proprietary technology, whereby a company develops a brand new product, patents it, and corners the market… which is exactly what SONY did with that walkman back in 1979.

Now, truthfully the walkman wasn’t as much a breakthrough in tech as in imagination; most of the components were already in production or testing as a part of other devices.

All the design team had to do was get creative with their tech – stacking existing components – and voila! The first portable music-player was born; before discontinuing them in 2010, they’d sold over 400 million worldwide.

SONY did the thing; the thing Michael Porter wrote about… it cornered its market through a key competitive advantage, but the execs might have put too much stock in what Porter had to say… because as we all know, the walkman lost to the iPod in the end.

You see, Porter’s paper talked about striving for sustainable competitive advantage – it sounds great and all, but it’s just not real life… things change, industries change, demands change. 

We saw the same thing happen with Netflix, going from the new guy… to choking out Blockbuster and dominating the streaming market – they saw where things were going, and created the technology to take us there.

But, What Happens after That? 

The whole thought of sustainable competitive advantage is really nothing more than a nice idea – an idea Rita Gunther McGrath tore to shreds.  

She’s a professor at Columbia School of Business in New York, and one of the world’s leading experts on strategy.

McGrath hit us with this – “Competitive advantage is transient not Sustainable” – and damn, she right. 

Netflix got to ride that wave – alone – for years. 

They had:

  • the first mover advantage
  • low-cost advantage
  • proprietary technology – especially with cinematch, the software that analyzes what you watch & makes recommendations
  • not to mention IP assets from producing original content

But… you remember what happened with the walkman right?… you know where this goes.

The tides started to turn for Netflix through the 2010’s, as others began to notice their successful model and copy it for themselves – each managing to pull off its own bitchin’ bottom turn and charge into it.

Now, we’ve got the likes of Hulu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and HBO Max, all trying to crest the same wave… meanwhile Netflix is just praying it’s not gonna be a closeout for them. 

So, in this situation… How can Netflix hold onto its advantage?  Amazon prime already beat them in library size, as of January 2019… Disney’s brand has legions of diehard fans all around the world…

Netflix is putting up a damn good fight right now; still listed as the top streaming service with 200 million subscribers, and has been voted to have the best original content of them all… I mean, have you seen The Circle?… talk about bringing some weird new shit to market, folks eat it up. 

But… How Does Any of This Relate to You?

Well… I mean… it doesn’t really?… but y’know, also, it does.

Obviously there are some pretty big differences between companies like Netflix and SONY… and people like you and I.. the thing is though, there’s some overlap.

People can definitely approach their competitive advantage in the same way SONY did, by stacking their existing tech… in your case, skills… and bringing something truly unique to the market. 

Or, with a Netflix approach, through being the first to take things in a new direction. 

Whichever method you choose to define your competitive advantage, you gotta watch out for a common trap though

Working hard isn’t a competitive advantage… especially when the odds are stacked against you… it’s important to recognize when your approach isn’t working.

Both you… and this guy… could use a little leverage

In his case, he needs one of these…

But in your case, you build leverage by up-skilling, and creatively stacking those skills so that you can offer something others can’t, but… that only takes us so far, right?

The key to really honing in on your personal competitive advantage is – and stick with us here –

Finding Your Favourite Shit Sandwich

This colourful concept was put forward by American author Mark Manson – but with a book titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” I guess none of us should be that surprised.

So this whole idea hinges on the fact that everything sucks – some of the time. Even if you land your dream career, some parts of it are bound to be awful.

The thought that you “do what you love and nothing feels like work” is just… a load of crap, really, everything comes with some kind of struggle or sacrifice… and the ones you can endure… that’s where you discover your personal shit sandwich, err advantage.

What aspects of your industry are you able to tolerate better than the rest? 

Are you an artist whose drive is unaffected by rejection? That’s a major advantage as a creative person.

Are you able to stay up all night long writing code? Because eating that sleepless shit sandwich gives you an edge over other developers.

If you want to be a star surgeon, being able to endure the 90 hour work week is a special kind of shit sammich you’ll need to eat, in order to make it.

And all of this can be more eloquently summed up by one of this generation’s leading entrepreneurial voices, Naval Ravikant.

“When competing against the incumbent, better to focus on what they won’t do rather than what they can’t do” 

Doing the thing that others won’t do is easily the strongest place to start cultivating your personal competitive advantage… but there is one more piece to this disjointed puzzle. 

You are the only You… and that’s an advantage too. 

There is no other person on this planet who thinks and acts just like you do…

Look at it this way:

What’s the Competitive Advantage of Kanye? 

There are others out there making music and working on collabs with companies… but Ye’s advantage – on top of his musical talent – literally comes from him… being himself. 

There’s quite literally no one like him, or anyone capable of creating the way he does.

So what is it about you that makes you stand out? What is the most useful way for you to be yourself?

That’s a… well, it’s a big question…. doesn’t have to be a hard one, though.

The more skills you learn and stack – the more knowledge you expose yourself to – will lead you to a place of deeply understanding yourself; who you are, what you’re passionate about, what your hidden talents are… what shit sandwiches you like the best. 

We don’t find our passions through thinking, we find our passions through doing –  so go do some stuff! – trial by fire, baby.

The more compatible skills you stack around yourself, the more you’ll be able to flesh out the idea of “you” – and this is important if you wanna be your own personal version of Ye. 

Through this process, you become more you and more unique than ever before – which means you get to ride the wave a lot longer than those around you because, well… no one can compete with you, at being you.

If you are a Kanye fan, don’t forget to check out 15 Things Kanye West & Elon Musk Have in Common.

Before you go, we wanted to fill you in about something actually pretty relevant to what we talked about today.

We’re launching our latest online course tomorrow called Learning Mastery, where we’ll teach you how to learn new skills on your own, allowing you to stack advantages and be even more unique than you already are.

Head to alux.com/courses and enroll today… see you on the inside, Aluxer.