Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Several months ago, Umair Haque, Director of Havas Media Lab and a blogger for Harvard Business School discussed an interesting concept known as asymmetrical competition on his blog. The concept can be applied to the competition occurring in the corporate world and has some specific relevance to college stores. Haque explains that in years past the majority of competition was symmetrical, meaning that companies typically competed with comparable resources and capabilities. Some examples of these competitors include Ford and General Motors. Today, the competition has become asymmetrical and new companies are emerging and rewriting the rules of strategy to displace the leaders of yesterday. Google is one example of a company that is doing exactly the opposite of what traditional strategy says and yet has become the world’s most powerful brand in record time. Hague explains that while new companies have always produced competition what we are seeing now is different. “First, rarely before have new and lateral entrants been able to upset incumbents so decisively - to actually put them out of commission. Second, rarely have they been able to dominate entire industries with such speed. Third, almost never before have so many revolutionaries threatened so many incumbents across a broad sweep of industries. Fourth, in asymmetrical contests, yesterday's sources of advantage become today's sources of disadvantage.” Asymmetric competition is happening across the corporate world and could soon impact college stores. In the last several months, we have seen new companies emerge and existing companies introduce new technologies and solutions for the higher education market. As new companies and technologies are introduced and acquisitions take place, it is hard to predict how quickly things could change for higher education. With radical environmental changes, the incumbents are rarely the victors. That does not mean they do not survive – they just end up with a lesser role to play – like candles compared to light bulbs. The higher education textbook market is under a great deal of pressure to change, and if we are not part of the change, forces of asymmetrical competition could replace us.