There’s no such thing as a set-it-and-forget-it strategy

Harvard Professor Michael Porter is the author of 20 best-selling books including Competitive Advantage, one of the most important and revered business books of all time.

A six-time winner of the annual McKinsey Award for the best Harvard Business Review article. Professor Porter is the most cited author in the fields of business and economics.

This man is a certified genius, and his path-finding books were the standard texts on business strategy for more than a decade.

In November 2012, Monitor Group, the consulting firm Porter co-founded, was unable to pay its bills and filed for bankruptcy. Ironically, Monitor’s claim to fame was that it could help companies implement Porter’s theory of “sustainable competitive advantage” and enjoy long-term profits. 

This was Michael Porter, the sovereign of business strategy. How could it possibly go so wrong?

Hundreds of articles and several books have documented the shocking demise of this celebrated consultancy. The core problem was that Porter’s classic idea of sustainable competitive advantage prescribes a stationary mindset.

According to this much-trusted model, once you’ve found a sustainable advantage, your job is done. Theoretically, you sit back and enjoy consistent profits because you’ve put the research and strategy into your Porter framework.

But business is dynamic, and the speed of change is accelerating. Forces of competition are constantly fluctuating. Competitors become more or less powerful, new entrants into the market change the rules, and technological shifts can alter the business landscape like a wild cyclone. 

There’s no such thing as a set-it-and-forget-it strategy anymore. Once you’ve established some small advantage, the momentum depends on what you do with it. You need to act before your relevance collapses. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark Schaefer