Imitability


If a firm is making profits from core competences, the question is, why can’t other firms imitate it and build similar competences. This takes us to one property of competences: imitability—the extent to which a competence can be duplicated by competitors.  A firm would rather have competences that are difficult to duplicate or substitute. The question is, how? If the knowledge that underpins the competences is tacit in that it is not coded but rather embedded in organizational routines and cumulatively learned over time, potential imitators have three problems. In the first place, it is difficult to know just what it is that one wants to imitate in the second place, even if a firm knew exactly what it is that it wants to imitate, the firm may not know how to go about it since competence is learned cumulatively over the years and embedded in individuals or routine of firms. In the third place, since competences take time to build, imitators may find them themselves always lagging as they spend time imitating while the original owners of the competences move on to higher levels of the competences to newer ones.

If a competitor cannot build competences, the next question is, why not buy them? One answer is that competences may not be tradable or easily moved from one firm to another. Two reasons have been advanced for why. First, because of the tacit nature of the underlying knowledge, it may be difficult to tell just what it is that one wants to trade and who has the property rights for what parts of the underlying knowledge. What is it that we will buy from Honda that allows us to build zippy engines for cars, motorcycles, lawnmovers, and marine vehicles? Who has the rights for what part of the technological knowledge that underlies this competence? Second, the underlying knowledge may be sticky in that it is too costly to transfer. Because of the tacit nature of the data, one may need to observe the seller over long periods in order to learn. This may be too complex and expensive.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

 

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The Product Life Cycle


Customer demands are constantly changing. There are many reasons for this, ranging from fashions to new regulations. Sometimes there are obvious patterns to demand. Another pattern comes from the product’s life cycle. Demand for just about every product follows a life cycle with five stages:

  1. Introduction. A new product appears and demand is low while people learn about it, try it and see if they like it—for example, palmtop computers and automated checkouts at supermarkets.
  2. Growth. New customers buy the product and demand rises quickly—for example, telephone banking and mobile phones.
  3. Maturity. Demand stabilizes when most people know about the product and are buying it in steady numbers—for example, color television sets and insurance.
  4. Decline. Sales fall as customers start buying new, alternative products—for example, tobacco and milk deliveries.
  5. Withdrawal. Demand declines to the point where it is no longer worth making the product—for example, black and white television sets and telegrams.

The length of the life cycle varies quite widely. Each edition of The Guardian completes its life cycle in a few hours; clothing fashions last months or even weeks; the life cycle of washing machines is several years; some basic commodities like Nescafe has stayed in the mature stage for decades.

Unfortunately, there are no reliable guidelines for the length of a cycle. Some products have an unexpectedly short life and disappear very quickly. Some products, like full cream milk stayed at the mature stage for years and then started to decline. Even similar products can have different life cycles – with Ford replacing small car models after 12 years and Honda replacing them after seven years. Some products appear to decline and then grow again—such as passenger train services which grew by 7 per cent in 1998 and cinemas where attendances fell from 1.64 billion in 1964 to 54 million in 1984, and then rose to 140 million in 1997.

One thing we can say is that product life cycles are generally getting shorter. Alvin Toffler says, ‘Fast-shifting preferences, flowing out of and interacting with high-speed technological change, not only lead to frequent changes in the popularity of products and brands, but also shorten the life-cycle of products.’

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.