Questions involving the latter are harder to answer, as they're usually not so straightforward. That's why, in a recent video posted to 99U, Adobe's Vice President of Community Scott Belsky proposed a new way to consider what you value most. Ask, "What am I willing to be bad at?"
Of course, you should also figure out what you want to be incredibility good at. But it's the companies that simultaneously consider both questions that are able to clearly identify their competitive advantage, Belsky said.
Plot It Out
You can visualize your own competitive advantage using a scatter plot drawing. Try it: on the x axis place three to five points that represent your values -- like customer service, price or variety in product offerings. The y axis is a scale of zero to 10, zero representing "bad" and 10 representing "excellent."
Next, for each value, put a point on the graph indicating how good or bad your company to be at delivering that value. Remember to consider your limited resources. There are only so many things you can truly be good at.
Then do the same thing again, but this time consider how the market as a whole performs when it comes to each of these items, and compare it to your company.
"If your lines match the industry lines, then you have not found your competitive advantage. But if there are some polar opposites between you and the market around you, then you have," Belsky said.
A Tried-and-True Method
Consider Southwest airlines, which entered the market in the early 1970s, a time when other airlines in the United States were performing relatively similarly in key areas such as service, price, food, number of routes and safety. By sacrificing quality in a few areas, Southwest determined it could establish its competitive advantage elsewhere.
The airline decided not to offer meals, and it provided a relatively limited number of routes throughout the country. However, it was able to offer extremely low rates in comparison to the rest of the market, and it emphasized above average customer service.
"These are thing things that you talk about. And you purposely don't talk about those other things that you're not trying to distinguish yourself by," Belsky said.
Once you're successful, it's inevitable that your competitors are going to try to chase you. That's why if you're going to continue to to be successful, you need to continually maintain at least one specific competitive advantage -- that is self awareness. This is the skill that will allow you to shift focus once again in order to stay ahead, Belsky said.