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In Conversation: Richard D’Aveni

Face-to-face, Richard D’Aveni is a big man, with incisively large opinions; keen to tackle the big ideas. We asked him about the genesis of Hypercompetition:

The book came about because of a very strange event. I went to Cape Cod in Massachusetts for a vacation, and a hurricane came along called Hurricane Bob. While I was there it knocked out all the electricity for about four days. When the electricity came back on CNN was running a programme on the fall of the Soviet Union. I had no idea that something like that could happen in a few days. It was one of the most important, economic, and political changes of our generation.

So I stepped back and said to myself, I’m teaching all of these students about long-term plans and consistent strategies, how do you really do that in a world where significant earth shattering changes appear overnight? How do you do that when, even if you had all the resources of the Central Intelligence Agency, you still couldn’t figure out that it was going to happen? I thought to myself, I must be a fraud, and decided to sit down and write a book that was about unsustainable advantages in an unpredictable world, rather than the traditional view of strategy.


So you described the world we’re now in?

Yes, that’s right. Except I think the world has become even crazier since 1994, it’s really hypercompetition on steroids today. It’s even more relevant today than it was when I first wrote it. The core idea was that advantages were becoming unsustainable because of globalization and technological disruption. Globalization is accelerating because of the rise of China and India, and the falling entry barriers around numerous other countries. Of course, technology hasn’t slowed down at all; it’s expanding. The Internet, which was once considered to be revolutionary, is now par for the course everywhere, still having the same radicalization effect on many, many markets. Just we don’t talk about it anymore, because it’s so endemic in every marketplace.


In such a disorderly, chaotic world, isn’t strategy and more wishful thinking than a constructive use of an executive style?

Yes, that’s the whole point of hypercompetition. What I argued was that long-term strategies, strategies about sequencing, lots of short-term advantages and exploring your way forward, the way Lewis and Clark found the Northwest Passage to the Pacific is what you have to do. You only know what direction you’re headed in when you go from hilltop to hilltop looking around for the next hilltop. You can’t chart the course all the way from beginning to end, the way you might have been able to 20 years ago when things were stable. You can’t know where you’re going to end up in this kind of world, and you have to be used to the uncertainty, you have to have tolerance for that kind of a world, but have the faith and the courage to be able to move forward from hilltop to hilltop and not get caught in the intellectual trap of thinking that you have to continue to leverage the same competence that you had one year ago or five years ago, because it won’t get you to where you’re going.


This is an excerpt from Strategy@Work, a Brightline and Thinkers50 collaboration bringing together the very best thinking and insights in the field of strategy and beyond.

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