Businesses now find it easier to enter and exit markets, industries, and countries, and workers enjoy fewer restrictions on where they can work.
Meanwhile, digital technology has removed previous barriers to the free flow of information, eroding the information asymmetries that once favored sellers over buyers. Indeed, as described later in this report, today’s consumers have a growing wealth of knowledge and choice when buying goods and services and a loose attachment to brands. The shift in market power from makers of goods and services to the people who buy them continues to raise the pressure on firms to innovate and sell in new and creative ways.
Many of today’s companies continue to follow traditional scale-based notions of corporate strategy, pursuing mergers and acquisitions to achieve industry leadership, focusing tirelessly on cost reduction, and making every effort to squeeze value from the channel. As quickly as they accomplish these things, however, competitors enter with new efficiencies and ideas. Even the best firms struggle to stay ahead.
executives, seeking to defend their company’s position, acquire competitors both to reduce near-term pressure and to squeeze out more costs through greater economies of scale. However, if barriers to entry and barriers to movement continue to erode as a result of continued digital infrastructure advances and public policy shifts favoring greater liberalization, we expect that these defensive moves will only have short-term impacts until another wave of competitors emerge to challenge incumbents.
The profound increase in competitive intensity since the mid-1960s shows no sign of slowing and should provide considerable impetus for businesses to rethink traditional strategic, organizational, and operational approaches— away from the scalable efficiency that was the principal rational for the 20th century toward the scalable learning and performance better suited for today’s environment.
Traditional approaches to productivity improvement too often focus on manipulating inputs—the denominator, or cost, side of the productivity ratio. Since companies can only reduce costs so far before reaching zero, this is ultimately a diminishing returns game. The fixation on inputs, moreover, overlooks a bigger opportunity: the potential to sell more with the same amount of cost.