Sustainable Differentiator – Staying Relevant and Competitive

For more than 15 years the European futurist Gerd Leonhard has been writing about the impact of technology on humans. He has challenged businesses to look into the future and spend more time strategising with an open mind about the impending changes to the technology landscape and how best to adapt. Leonhard’s approach has always been a proactive, positive endeavour with a problem-solving process that sets organisations up in a prepared way and ready for adaptation.

Related to this but with a different approach; “The Future of Work” is one of the hottest topics being “Googled” these days. Of course, the work is closely linked to the business and its evolution. We are all told on frequent occasions that AI is coming, and we should get ready for a dramatic change to what we do for a living and whether our businesses are going to be relevant. In “Future Fit” Andrea Clarke talks about the era of rapid change, the requirement for an “adaptable mindset”.

Not long ago, I felt that people were already switching off to the negativity. There is only so much doom & gloom that people can stand. The reality is we are not approaching the end of the world as we know it, but more morphing into a new world. This new world will allow companies, owners and employees to develop new skills, strategies, careers and markets.

It's not often discussed where outplaced employees go once the skills they have are no longer needed. However, retraining is a way of life, and new opportunities are opening up for most areas of the business and life skills world.

The famed Harvard Professor, Michael Porter, now 72 and still influential, put forward many models and theories based on economics, business strategy and social causes. In 1985 he put forward the theory and models around Competitive Advantage.

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Porter’s theory around competitive advantage was based on a choice between being cost leader; cost focused, differentiator and differentiation focused. Choosing one of these four options and developing and executing a strategy that embraced it would lead to differentiation.

More recently (1993) Treacy & Wiersema published “The Discipline of Market Leaders” which proposed that differentiation comes from Customer Intimacy, Product Leadership & Operational Excellence.

For the business world, both the Porter and the Treacy & Wiersema models were both controversial and comfort.

However, the pace of change has increased so much that embracing a simple model from Porter or Treacy is not enough. On top of this consideration around technology disruption and skills, enhancement gives added complexity.


When mapping out a foundation on which to scale a sustainable business, you need to give adequate attention to the differentiators but also the emerging technologies and the required key skills.

Getting it right on the first go will be difficult. Getting it right for the mid and long term is almost impossible. However, factoring in need to consider sustainable differentiators will give your business plans a much higher chance of staying relevant.

Successful small business owners have valuable insight into the market, their products and the key clients. This success will endure as long as the differentiator is sustainable. Before embarking on your next effort to grow your business, take some time to clarify and verify your sustainable differentiators.


Gerd Leonhard

“Future Fit” Andrea Clarke 2019

Porter Generic Strategies - Wikipedia

Value-Based Management