Why your core competency is your achilles heel

Approximately sixty percent of the world’s railway use the standard gauge of 1435mm. Why? Because it is the US standard railroad gauge. Why?

Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads. Why?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.(Kolkata tram and all our modern metro lines are also of the same gauge) Why?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing. Why?

Because the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts. Why?

Because, Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. Why?

That was the ideal distance for their war chariots to be comfortably pulled by 2 horses side by side. 

So, the backside of the Roman horses decides the size of the modern railway track.

It was the same when the first automobiles were manufactured. Pull out any old picture of the earliest cars and you will see a design that looks like horse-less carriages. That was exactly what those automobiles were. 

When the innovation is brilliant or the ecosystem throws a major change, many companies still use data from the past and extrapolate the existing data to stretch their core competency to a viable, survivable future. Such a strategy is very limiting.

Ever since Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad put forth the idea of “core competencies” in a 1990 Harvard Business Review article, “The Core Competence of the Corporation,” organizations have taken this insight as permission to stay in their area of strength and comfort and only make small changes towards the future. 

The Eastman Kodak Company was an iconic industry leader. For decades, it was synonymous with photography. But it got stuck in its core competence of traditional film products and missed the rise of digital photography and printing. 

As we stand on the brink of a future that can be vastly different from what it was a few months ago, it is important to ask ourselves as leaders, Is our core competency killing our business?

To truly embrace future transformations, we need to let go of the core competencies that block current growth.

The impact of the Corona Virus can be speculated as a not so major event in the last century compared to the world wars but it is without a doubt a watershed moment in the history of healthcare. 

For the first time, healthcare will not be about curing diseases. The one place that shows accelerated trends in disruption is the use of biometrics and biosensors to predict how susceptible a person can be to future ailments. Tomorrow like our footsteps and heartbeat, many other stats can be predicted right on our wrist band. For the first time healthcare has the opportunity to actually work on the adage prevention is better than cure. 

Imagine if the pharmaceutical companies instead of helping humanity prevent diseases, only mass produced drugs that show increase in demand? It will be an insult to the true capacity of the biometric innovation and a nightmare to humanity.

On the other hand, imagine a leader’s vision from the future. In their book Lead from the future, authors Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz introduce a new way of thinking and managing that they call “future-back,” which allows any manager to become a practical visionary.

To achieve and sustain breakthrough growth leaders need to anticipate and shape markets of the future. One important step in this process is to determine how your existing paradigms and competencies can threaten or stifle the full development of a completely new future.

Now think, which one of your core competencies is your achilles heel?

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