• Cathy Chang

Developing Your Own Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Work is a very big part of our life. Throughout our life, at times we will go through challenges in finding the work we truly enjoy as well as keeping that work we love to do every day. Ever since the pandemic hit the world, so many people suddenly lost their jobs as organizations wanted to secure their financial health for their unpredictable future.

According to a research study by Oxford Martin School, 50% of our current workforce will be automated in the next 20 years. Some business leaders in Silicon Valley say that this ratio will be even higher in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco region. This research also mentioned that today’s learners will have 10 to 14 jobs by the age of 38. What does this mean? In my perspective this means our workforce will be more competitive than we have ever experienced before.


In this competitive workforce environment how can we ensure that we can continue to be employed? In order to secure our job/work it is important to develop our sustainable competitive advantage which distinguishes us from other competitors. Resource base theory, originally developed by Professor Jay Barney at UCLA in 1990s, explains how organizations assess their resources to ensure their sustainable competitive advantage.


The basic notion of resource base theory is that organizations that own strategic resources have important competitive advantages over organizations that do not. The four important characteristics in this resource base theory that help us identify our strategic resources are that they are valuable, rare, inimitable (hard to copy), and non-substitutable (hard to be replaced).


After I was introduced to this theory, I realized that one of the most important resources in organizations is talent. I would to like to share my perspectives on strategic resources from a talent point of view as job seekers/employees are considered to be the talent of organizations. In order to differentiate ourselves from other competitors in this competitive workforce it is very important to assess how prepared we are from a talent perspective.


I often conduct this resource base theory workshop to help students have an opportunity to assess who they are as well as how prepared they are to be considered as a strategic resource to their future employer or their current employer. Before assessing our professional readiness from a strategic resource perspective, it is first important to ask ourselves who we are. This fundamental question is so vital for us to find our work we truly love and to continue this work as our true passion.


A few of important fundamental questions we must ask ourselves include what success means to us, what kind of life style we want to have, and what matters most to us. Answering these fundamental questions helps us better understand how we want to proceed with our life as well as our profession. I think that it is helpful to ask these fundamental questions first before we examine our professional readiness from a strategic resource point of view. We often get distracted by so many things in life and lose our life purpose and core values which hinder our direction for our long-term career.


As we understand more about who we are, we can more effectively assess our professional readiness to be a strategic resource to an organization where we pursue our profession. Developing a sustainable competitive advantage is so vital to be more competitive than other top talent competitors. When we define the profession that we want to pursue as our true passion, it is important to obtain the knowledge, skill sets, experiences, abilities and qualities that will make us valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable. Identifying what makes us valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable is an important process and is worth spending time for in order to develop our professional milestones which will help us effectively achieve the necessary steps, timelines and goals to develop our sustainable competitive advantage.


I recall reading a book on Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple that described how Jobs used to ask his employees what their worth was whenever he was in an elevator with them. Some employees were very intimidated by his question. I think that the question Jobs asked is very important to all of us. Do we know our worth? How can we know our worth if we do not know who we truly are and how valuable we are to organizations that we work for?


I would like to share a quote from John Wooden who was a successful basketball coach at UCLA and led his teams to 12 national championships. He said “Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable.” If you have not assessed yourself yet, I think that it is very important to allocate some time to understand who you are and to examine how prepared you are to be considered as a strategic resource to your current employer or your future employer today.

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