The myth of first-mover advantage


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First-mover advantage is a myth. The worlds of science and business are filled with the names of people who were the first to discover a principle or invent a new process. They are celebrated as pioneers and great thinkers. Unfortunately, they were not always able to transform their brilliant ideas into a competitive advantage and monetize the financial rewards. And that’s what innovation is all about.

The problem with being first is that the process of invention and development is almost always difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Development is littered with problems and costly mistakes. The ones who come behind can, in many instances, benefit from the workarounds and solutions developed by these first-movers.

The development of a new product or innovative service is difficult and requires a certain expertise. Maximizing the financial benefits of that innovation, in many cases, requires a completely different set of skills. The invention itself is not innovation; but rather, it’s taking the new idea and creating a completely new competitive advantage (with associated financial benefits) that is the true innovation.

While the old adage may say that “the race is not always to the swift, but that’s the way to bet”, it doesn’t necessarily apply to innovation. While first-movers may be the swift, it’s more times than not, the “fast followers” of a new technology who obtain the decided edge. Recognizing the value of a superior product is the first step. Allowing some time for it to be proven is the second. And finally, capitalizing on its development and creating a unique product with such strong competitive advantages that competitors can’t match is the final step. In short, the advantage goes not to the first, but to the first who gets it right.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.


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