Avoid Plateaus to Keep Your Competitive Edge

Companies that settle into a comfortable plateau are vulnerable and may become obsolete.

Knowledge calcifies. People begin to believe the status quo is the only logical way to do business. When presented with ideas for change, they mostly see obstacles.

When you are stable and stationary, you are a sitting duck, easy to copy and vulnerable to commoditization. You quickly lose your edge.

To achieve quantum leaps in capability, your company must be able to move to the next phase of learning and innovation — the next S-curve — the moment you’ve achieved each level of success, rather than allowing yourself to plateau. For this to happen you must create a culture of fast and continuous learning.

Here are a few of the benefits:

You will create more differentiated product and service offerings. Competitors will be less able to copy you. You’ll be protected from commoditization, and you will enjoy higher margins.

Because you can adapt fluidly to changes in your business environment — such as changes in customer behavior, technology and regulations — your offerings will be less likely to become obsolete, outdated or irrelevant (BlackBerry, Blockbuster, Kodak and Nokia all led their industries for years and have each become irrelevant or shrunk to a small fraction of their former size).

You will find and realize new avenues for growth. When entering a new market or offering a new product, skills and knowledge are often a bottleneck to growth. In a fast-learning organization, however, employees across every function break through these barriers fast. As a result, you will increase your odds of success and will ramp up revenues faster.

You will be better able to attract top talent because people who are smart, creative and courageous want to work for companies that try new things and have a robust outlook for growth.

Your work will be more fun and rewarding. You’ll certainly avoid boredom!

You will shape your own destiny as a company and as individuals within that company.

Trial and error 

Most great strategies are not arrived at through analysis, market research and PowerPoint presentations.

They are arrived at through trial and error. They evolve as the result of constant experimentation, getting out there and seeing what customers are really willing to pay for a product and how strong their loyalty really is (read more on how to gain extraordinary customer insight here).

No amount of analysis can substitute for constant testing and learning in the real world.

This article originally appeared on the Setili Consulting blog and was republished with permission.

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Amanda Setili is managing partner of the strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates, whose clients include Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and Walmart. She previously held positions with Global Food Exchange, McKinsey & Company, Asia Connect in Malaysia, and Kimberly-Clark.

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