The New Calculus of Competition

In his latest HBR blog entry, Umair Haque criticizes the volume of “Lowest Common Denominator” (LCD) design that confuses cost-efficiency for innovation. With approximately 20,000 new products on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show one has to wonder who would want all of these gadgets. When “new and improved” means finding a country that has a lower cost of labor or worse, a lower cost ingredient (e.g. high fructose corn syrup), companies fail to create lasting competitive advantage because this LCD design is easily copied.

Instead of lowering the denominator, companies should work to increase the numerator by making products that are more meaningful, significant and enduring. Haque suggests this line of inquiry to create lasting value:

  1. Does your latest, greatest snoozer of a product (service, business, experience) actually make people happier? (Really? Can you prove it?)
  2. Does it make people lastingly happier? (Really? For how long? Or is it just a supersize meal in disguise — happy today, with a hidden downside looming tomorrow?)
  3. Does it make people lastingly happier, in a sustainable way? (As in, does it ignite happiness without literally costing the world? To go a step further, does it even benefit nature and the future?)
  4. Does it make people lastingly happier, in a sustainable way, while being of enduring benefit to society? (Read: all the above, plus a healthy dose of what economists term “social usefulness”, or residual value, that accrues and multiplies, over time, to towns, cities, communities, countries, polities.)
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