Strategy Is About Both Resources and Positioning

Anyone taking the time to delve into the literature of strategy quickly realizes that there are two fiercely opposed camps.

In the red corner we have the “positioning school” (TPS) and in the white we have the “resource-based view of the firm” (RBV). Michael Porter is credited with (or more often accused of) creating TPS in 1980—positing that a firm should think about positioning itself in its industry in a way that enables it to achieve competitive advantage.

The RBV view, first articulated by Berger Wernerfelt in 1984 and then by Jay Barney in 1986 and 1991, put forward a view of competitive advantage as based on accumulating competitive resources. The main (though not only) criticism it levels at TPS is that for positioning to work, market structures have to be stable—and they are not. RBV argues that in an increasingly unstable world, the possession of valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable resources is a more reliable key to competitive success.

To date, RBV has been winning the battle in the academic community, but its market share in the world of strategy practice is low, despite having been taught to three decades’ worth of MBA students.

Personally, I see this as just another example of how either/or is a false and unhelpful trade-off. Real strategies in the real world combine TPS and RBV. Positioning and resources aren’t opposites so much as two sides of the same coin.

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