2023: The Year of Living Cautiously

Rita McGrath
4 min readJan 18, 2024

It’s going to be a while before we truly make sense of 2023. A pervasive sense of uncertainty seemed to linger in the atmosphere. New projects got put on hold, once-exuberant tech companies laid people off and we’re still suffering the lingering aftereffects of the pandemic in ways large and small. Incredibly, to me, this year marked the 10th anniversary of the publication of my book, The End of Competitive Advantage. In it, I introduced the concept of Transient Advantage, the idea that competitive advantages that were once believed to be long-lasting are becoming shorter and shorter as barriers to entry come down and competition can come from literally anywhere. The book introduced a new playbook for strategy:

  • Going from the assumption that stability is the normal thing to the recognition that change is;
  • Building the practices of healthy disengagement when a program or project needs to end;
  • Putting the best resources against the best opportunities by deftly moving them around the organization;
  • Making innovation a proficiency, not a sideshow;
  • Promoting different kinds of leaders who are discovery-driven, create psychological safety, and get information directly from the ‘edges’; and somewhat presciently;
  • Dealing with a new kind of workforce — one that operates with a ‘tour of duty’ mindset and which doesn’t expect to spend their entire careers with one organization.

When you practice the principles of transient advantage effectively, you can create a pipeline of new advantages that allow you to catch the “waves” of opportunity as they gather, crest, and fall away. I believe it’s how we will compete in the future. Or at least how the winners will compete in the future!

In Case You Missed It

My regular “Thought Sparks” articles helped make sense of some of the more intriguing phenomena and happenings of 2023.

From April, one of the most damaging patterns in corporate innovation, the on-again, off-again pattern causes innovation programs to ebb and flow like some strange seasonal plant.

From August, how WeWork and its backers got carried away by an investment bubble and how that cost them almost $40 billion in value.

In June, the truly tragic implosion of the Titan submersible was an example of how dismissing low-level concerns can lead to…

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Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.