The resource-based view, also referred to as RBV, is very popular with academics. The intellectual foundations for the RBV approach are many, but the work by Prahalad and Hamel on core competencies 1 and the work by Barney 2 on the link between resources and sustained competitive advantage established a strong foundation. The basic idea of RBV is that some organizations are more competitive because they have access to unique resources or special capabilities and competencies. Resources can be tangible or intangible and include raw materials, land, brand, knowledge and expertise of people, reputation with customers and suppliers, plants, equipment, patents, trademarks, copyrights, and funds. A capability or competence is the ability of a firm to turn its resources into customer value and profits. Capabilities or competencies can be manufacturing prowess, order fulfillment and delivery, customer service, marketing, finance and accounting, management expertise and leadership, and in essence any proficiency or prowess in the supply chain and value chain.
Porter’s five force model, and the accompanying industry analysis, tends to focus on locating a firm in an attractive industry and then taking steps to achieve competitive advantage over rival firms. In contrast, the RBV approach suggests focusing on competitive arenas where the firm has unique resources and competencies. For example, if you own property with rich productive topsoil, if your workers are diligent, and if your daughter is an excellent agronomist, you will probably be a successful farmer. The key to being successful in the context of RBV is that the resources and competencies are hard to imitate and help to establish a strong basis for competitive advantage. In essence, the status of the internal resources and competencies will assist in pursuing a particular strategic direction. Amazon has a core competency in selling online and it simply kept pursing that competency by selling construction tools, electronics, audio books, eBooks, and developing partnerships with brick and mortar vendors. Most of Google’s successful ventures are related to its core competency of search. Joan’s foray into the jewelry box business discussed earlier was linked to her excellent craftsman skills. Joan had a core competency in jewelry box design and fine woodworking.
Core competencies are the very critical skills that define an organization. For Google, it is their search capability, for Amazon it is their ability to sell online, and for Joan it is her prowess at jewelry box design and her knowledge of the marketplace. In the case of Joan, her knowledge and skills can probably be imitated and replicated in a shorter time frame than the competencies developed by Amazon and Google. But of course, Joan’s jewelry box business is more agile and can change direction much faster than Amazon and Google. Eventually, all capabilities and competencies (even Amazon and Google’s) can be imitated, replicated, and improved. Even scarce resources and monopolies can succumb to the onslaught of new technology, time, and market forces. There are substitutes for oil, diamonds, and operating systems.
The RBV is a powerful idea for understanding strategic direction, but it has several deficiencies. First of all, it is very broad in scope and hard to implement as part of a concrete business plan. Delineating the unique capabilities, competencies, and resources and then using this information in strategic planning are time-consuming. In addition, there is little guidance on how to build competencies. Indeed, some theorists believe that core competencies cannot be built but simply emerge. For additional discussion on RBV, see Henry 3 and Grant. 4 Later on, we will discuss how this approach can be effectively integrated with SWOT analysis and, in The Ten-Ten Planning Process: Crafting a Business Story; we will discuss how this approach can be integrated with the Ten–Ten planning process.