Differentiate or die. To beat the competition, companies develop clear reasons why a customer should pick them over other alternatives. Zappos massively differentiated itself from other e-commerce companies by offering free shipping both ways and 24/7 customer service via a locally staffed 1-800 number.
Similarly, in a world where “a million people can do your job,” chart a career path that sets you apart from other professionals. You don’t need to be better than all professionals. You just need to be better in a local, professional niche.
Three dynamic, changing puzzle pieces comprise your position in the market and, when paired with a plan, determine the course you should head in:
Assets: What you have going for you now. Your soft assets (like knowledge, skills, connections) and hard assets (like cash in the bank).
Aspirations & Values: Where you might like to go in the future.
Market Realities: What people will actually pay you for.
One without the other doesn’t work. Skills that can’t earn money won’t get you very far; following your bliss but not being very good at your bliss won’t be too blissful after long; and being a slave to the market regardless of your likes and passions isn’t sustainable over the long- run.
One way to upgrade your competitive position is by upgrading your assets—i.e., investing in yourself. You can also become more competitive by changing the environment you play in. Some American basketball players not good enough to play in the NBA play successfully in Europe—their skills don’t change, but the market does. Picking a market niche where you’re better than the competition is key to entrepreneurial strategy.
Define the three elements of a competitive advantage.
Understand how to fit the three pieces together.
Identify a market niche for your competitive advantage.
Understand the importance of investing in yourself to upgrade your assets.
Add topic questions to discuss during class and take notes in the Notes column.
Add a topic
Is competition good or bad? Does it have to be a zero-sum game?
What are some of your favorite companies? What are their competitive advantages? What are the equivalents of those advantages for individual professionals?
Are there famous individuals you admire? What were their aspirations?
What are some of today’s “big waves” — industries, places, people, and companies with momentum?
There are no rows in this table
Dream Job. Students will determine the competitive advantage of a person with a “dream job”: their assets, their aspirations, and their market realities.
Competitive Advantage Consultants. Students will be divided into small groups. One student will be chosen, and the group will discuss that person’s competitive advantage.
This I Believe. Students will work individually to create their own values statement through an activity based on the NPR series
, a story-telling series where ordinary and famous people discuss their beliefs in eloquent and brief stories.
First Impressions. In an early class, have students write down how they would like to be perceived by others. In a later class, once they’ve forgotten the initial exercise, pair up students and have them talk to each other. Switch the partners every few minutes. At the end of the exercise, each student is given a sheet with positive personality adjectives to choose from to describe their peers. This exercise will demonstrate that students may not realize how they appear to others and how, similarly, their assets may be more valuable to others than they think.
Career Interviews. An individual or group project, students will interview someone in a relevant industry about their career. The students then prepare a paper or presentation sharing their takeaways and how they can apply those lessons to their career.
Career Surrogates. Students will identify three people doing the sort of work they want to do. How did they get to where they are today? What is their competitive advantage? Look at their LinkedIn profiles. Subscribe to their blogs and tweets. Make a point to track their professional evolution and to take inspiration and insight from their journeys.
Time Audit. Students will review their calendars, journals, and old emails to get a sense for how they spent their last six Saturdays. What do they do when they have nothing urgent to do? Have them reflect on what their free time may say about their true interests and aspirations.
Perceived Strengths. Students will meet with three trusted connections and ask them what they see as their greatest strengths? Ask them, if they had to come to you for help or advice on one topic, what would it be?