3 ways to find your edge in a hypercompetitive environment

By Wyatt Urmey

When markets are hypercompetitive, one of your biggest priorities should be to create an edge. This edge will serve as your company’s personal source of advantage.

But what does “hypercompetitive” mean? Hypercompetition comes about when there is an excess supply of strong competitors and a low amount of intensity of barriers to entry. This all leads to competitive pricing and causes market participants to look harder for that elusive edge. If that sounds like your business environment today, read on to discover your recipe for future advantage.

There are essentially three ways to create competitive advantage. We can see them in action both in business and highly competitive sports, such as competitive cycling. The USA Cycling Women’s Pursuit team offers a concrete example of how to build an edge using all three sources, as well as offers a glimpse of possible outcomes and results from deployment.

Members of the team were building their competitive edge when IBM initially uncovered their training efforts. This was well before they were able to win both the World Championships and then the UCI Track Championship just a few weeks ago. In fact, while some of us were ogling one of the Felt Carbon Fiber track bikes at Mobile World Congress, their team was busy schooling the competition at drag racing fixies.

Pursuit races are won in seconds or less, so it’s hard to build or prove a reliable advantage until after a long period of use. Rather, it’s the drive to create that advantage that makes USA Cycling a good subject for observation as they used new technologies, such as the IoT, mobile technology and in-depth analytics to hammer out a potential edge.

1. Build a great high-performance team

The first thing to note about building advantage is that technology is only as good as the people who use it. For USA Cycling, the team has created a great lineup of new talent, including Kelly Catlin, Chloé Dygert and Jennifer Valente, combined with seasoned race veterans, such as Sarah Hammer. This extends to the coaching as well: Neal Henderson, coach for USA Cycling Women’s Pursuit, will spoke of this innovation at InterConnect 2017. Mobile has played an important role in finding and recruiting talent for teams, as skills are now always in motion and in a hypercompetitive market. The first company to reach the best talent wins.

2. Take risks, and take them more often (or how to stop worrying and love failure)

Taking risks is cited as a vital component of strategy, but in an environment of hypercompetition, we should take them more often. By taking those risks, it means we may not always attain the results we seek. Applying new technology is always a risk, and in the short term, it can even hurt results or slow progress when compared to business as usual. For instance, USA Today reported on the high-tech clothing the US speedskaters used a few years ago, but despite the fact that they deployed a great new technology, the team didn’t get the desired results.

The trick here is not to abandon innovation for business as usual. Failure is the anvil upon which great innovations and advantages are forged. Thomas Edison famously created 10,000 failed prototypes of his electric bulb before he ultimately succeeded.

3. Integrate existing technologies

Surprising innovation doesn’t necessarily need new technology, but it can be a great combination of new and existing technology. The example that surprises me the most is that the wheel was invented around 3,500 BC and luggage was invented over 100 years ago, but it took us until the past 30 years or so to consider adding wheels to luggage. Now, wheeled luggage is the only way to go.

There are still opportunities to combine technologies to create a competitive advantage. This is both reassuring and difficult since so many technologies now exist. In the past, it was a task to integrate a single technology, but today, it’s essential to bring together a basket of technologies in a way that produces a unique advantage.

Again, the USA Cycling example offers us all a lesson, as they combined existing technologies of analytics, the IoT and heads-up displays on helmets to really change the nature of training to an exercise of data analysis rather than gut feel. With their continued success, it will be great to see how far they can take this advantage as a team and how long before others adopt a similar strategy.