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Management article
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Reference no. R0101G
Published by: Harvard Business Publishing
Originally published in: "Harvard Business Review", 2001
Revision date: 16-Jan-2020

Abstract

The success of Yahoo!, eBay, Enron, and other companies that have become adept at morphing to meet the demands of changing markets can't be explained using traditional thinking about competitive strategy. These companies have succeeded by pursuing constantly evolving strategies in market spaces that were considered unattractive according to traditional measures. In this article - the third in an HBR series by Kathleen Eisenhardt and Donald Sull on strategy in the new economy - the authors ask, what are the sources of competitive advantage in high-velocity markets? The secret, they say, is strategy as simple rules. The companies know that the greatest opportunities for competitive advantage lie in market confusion, but they recognize the need for a few crucial strategic processes and a few simple rules. In traditional strategy, advantage comes from exploiting resources or stable market positions. In strategy as simple rules, advantage comes from successfully seizing fleeting opportunities. Key strategic processes, such as product innovation, partnering, or spinout creation, place the company where the flow of opportunities is greatest. Simple rules then provide the guidelines within which managers can pursue such opportunities. Simple rules, which grow out of experience, fall into five broad categories: how-to rules, boundary conditions, priority rules, timing rules, and exit rules. Companies with simple-rules strategies must follow the rules religiously and avoid the temptation to change them too frequently. A consistent strategy helps managers sort through opportunities and gain short-term advantage by exploiting the attractive ones.

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Abstract

The success of Yahoo!, eBay, Enron, and other companies that have become adept at morphing to meet the demands of changing markets can't be explained using traditional thinking about competitive strategy. These companies have succeeded by pursuing constantly evolving strategies in market spaces that were considered unattractive according to traditional measures. In this article - the third in an HBR series by Kathleen Eisenhardt and Donald Sull on strategy in the new economy - the authors ask, what are the sources of competitive advantage in high-velocity markets? The secret, they say, is strategy as simple rules. The companies know that the greatest opportunities for competitive advantage lie in market confusion, but they recognize the need for a few crucial strategic processes and a few simple rules. In traditional strategy, advantage comes from exploiting resources or stable market positions. In strategy as simple rules, advantage comes from successfully seizing fleeting opportunities. Key strategic processes, such as product innovation, partnering, or spinout creation, place the company where the flow of opportunities is greatest. Simple rules then provide the guidelines within which managers can pursue such opportunities. Simple rules, which grow out of experience, fall into five broad categories: how-to rules, boundary conditions, priority rules, timing rules, and exit rules. Companies with simple-rules strategies must follow the rules religiously and avoid the temptation to change them too frequently. A consistent strategy helps managers sort through opportunities and gain short-term advantage by exploiting the attractive ones.

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