Creating and Sustaining Competitive Advantage - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Creating and Sustaining Competitive Advantage

Course Number 1281

Associate Professor Eric J. Van den Steen
Winter; Q3,Q4; 3 credits
20 Sessions

Educational Objectives

This course will take a deep dive on competitive advantage ̶ and in the process explore its organizational and leadership ramifications. It will examine various sources of competitive advantage, their logic, their creation, and their sustainability. The course will pay particular attention to how organization and leadership can support or undermine specific sources of competitive advantage and what that implies for the general manager's role in formulating and executing strategy.

Course content

The course will start by exploring the structure of competitive advantage, i.e., how a firm's market position, its resources and capabilities, and the nature of competitive interaction combine to determine a company's ability to deliver attractive returns. We will address questions such as: How does the effect of competitive advantage depend on the nature of competition? How can an increase in market size sometimes hurt a company's ability to generate attractive returns? When does being a first mover give you a competitive advantage, and when might it be a disadvantage? How sustainable is competitive advantage that is rooted in economies of scale or in the learning curve? How can a company deter imitation?

As the course progresses, attention will gradually shift from the structure of competitive advantage towards the process of creating and sustaining advantage. Here, the course will emphasize how effective competitive advantage may depend critically on organization, leadership, and the process of strategy development. We will ask questions such as: When is it advantageous for a company to give up flexibility and commit to a strategy? When and how can a company credibly commit to a competitive position and to a strategy? What limits a manager's degrees of freedom when developing strategy? Why do new leaders often come up with new strategies? Should they? What is the role of personal convictions versus analysis in developing a strategy? How do all these considerations affect a company's choice of competitive advantage?

Career Focus

The course should be of interest to students who expect to be actively involved in developing, advising on, or assessing a company's strategy. The ideas of the course are valuable for leaders of both established firms and new ventures.