There is a time in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
In such a full sea we are now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
In order to speak coherently about competitive advantage, I must stand on the shoulders of a giant. Michael Porter’s definitive work on the subject remains the bible on this topic, so much so that competitive advantage and sustainable competitive advantage are now a permanent part of the world’s business lexicon. In this chapter (and those remaining), I hope to provide some insights into broad trends in information technology (i.e. the world according to Leyva). I also hope to show how they might impact a firm’s ability to gain and sustain a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, I often find it difficult to speak without a white board, so I will enlist the assistance of a number of my favorite graphics. Bare with me, I promise to do my best to keep you from snoring.
Goddamnit! I don’t curse. I just use some words as adjectives.
—Dwight D. Eisenhower
Before moving on to serious matters, I must address an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I sent the first chapter of this book to my inner circle of friends and colleagues. Many responded with enthusiasm (probably out of kindness). The one consistent criticism, or item of commentary, that they all voiced was the political incorrectness, or inappropriateness, of the profanity I use in this text. I asked them if I had made my point, and there was universal agreement that I had. I asked if I had made them laugh. Again they conceded that I had. I asked if it sounded like me. They responded with more laughs and confirmations. Then I told them to fuck off. (Just kidding.)
So, what does this have to do with competitive advantage? Plenty. I believe that, apart from brilliant and clever strategies, competitive advantage can only be sustained, going forward, by having an honest conversation with the marketplace. This point is made most eloquently by a group of individuals who wrote a wonderfully human book called the Cluetrain Manifesto . Check it out at www.cluetrain.com, or better yet, go to Amazon and buy a copy for yourself, your friends, your kids, and for any other human being that you care deeply about. (No shit.) Here’s a quote from the book:
We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers.
We are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it.
Okay, Carlos, let me get this straight. In order to attain competitive advantage, you have to be willing to say Neo-Nazi motherfucker in print? No, not exactly. But you must be willing to have an honest conversation. I wanted to write this book for my friends and colleagues in the technology trenches. I wanted to tell these stories in my own voice. I wanted it to sound like the stories I tell when shooting the shit and drinking a few beers at the local dive. Yes, I also wanted to be taken seriously professionally, but not at the expense of sounding phony.
An individual who hired me in a consulting capacity, as Chief Architect (in charge) at Big Automation Company, recently reminded me of a comment that I had made to him regarding his persistent offers of a permanent gig. I told him that if I took a permanent gig, I would be less inclined to tell him, “Fuck you, asshole. You’re full of shit.” And I have, from time to time, behind closed doors.
The point is that I am not knowingly going to help you do something that I believe to be absurd, or just flat wrong—not for all the tea in China. I am not going to lie to you or otherwise misuse your trust for personal gain. That is part of my value proposition. That is part of what I bring to the table. If you want someone to kiss your ass, then don’t enlist my help, or that of my company. If you are looking for an extremely capable individual, who has (not often enough) the occasional flash of brilliant insight, then I am probably one of the better candidates that you are ever going find. However, I must warn you, I will probably use the word “fuck” (usually not at inappropriate times, however), as well as all of its wonderful derivatives.