I really like Umair Haque's HBR post on The New Paradigm of Advantage because it provides a framework for thinking about the new sources of strategic advantage for a product, a business unit or a company. From his post:
"Over the last few months, I've discussed in depth the tectonic shifts rocking the macro and micro economy. Let's put it all together. Here's what the 21st century demands from firms of all stripes: a paradigm shift in the nature of advantage.
The past of advantage was extractive and protective. The future of advantage, on the other hand, is allocative and creative. I made a little Prezi to illustrate it, below. Let's go through each category in turn.
The future of advantage:
Allocative. Google's advantage was built on allocating attention to content and ads better than its rivals. Google's real secret? Relevance, media's measure of how efficiently attention is allocated. Match.com is building an allocative advantage in, well, matching people with partners. Allocative advantage asks: are we able to match people with what makes them durably, tangibly better off — and can we do it 10x or 100x better than our rivals?
Apple's advantage is, of course, radically creative: built on creating insanely great stuff that turns entire industries upside down. Next month, the iPad promises to do what the iPhone and iPod did before it. The power's in the creativity, not just the technology: Apple's thinking different yet again. Creative advantage asks: is our strategic imagination 10x or 100x richer, faster, and deeper than our rivals?
And the past:
Extractive. Over two decades, Microsoft has honed its extractive edge, coming up with cleverer and cleverer ways to extract profits from customers and suppliers. But Microsoft's just a flea on Wall St's elephant — who mastered extractive advantage by finding ways to, ultimately, extract trillions from you, me, and our grandkids. Extractive advantage asks: how can we transfer value from stakeholders to us, 10x or 100x better than our rivals?
Think Microsoft's the master of 20th century advantage? Think again. Monsanto's Round-up Ready strategy protects genetically modified crops with proprietary herbicide that crops need to flourish. The result? A protective advantage: Monsanto's made sure that farmers are locked in to Monsanto as tightly as possible. Protective advantage asks: are buyers and suppliers locked in to dealing with us, 10x or 100x more tightly than to rivals?
These dimensions are mutually exclusive. When a company pursues an extractive or protective advantage, it cannot hone an allocative or creative advantage. The opportunity cost of protecting yesterday is creating tomorrow. The opportunity cost of extracting resources is allocating them in better ways.To extract or protect is to forgo finding better ways of allocating or creating.