Value Migration: A book review by Bob Morris

Value Migration: How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition
Adrian J. Slywotsky
Harvard Business Press (1995)

Note: I recently re-read this book before beginning to formulate questions for an interview of Skywotsky. With all due respect to current business bestsellers, none offers more and better insights of immediate and substantial value.

Mastering an “Acquired Skill”

According to Slywotsky, there are three phases of what he calls “value migration”: In “inflow,” the initial phase, a company starts to absorb value from other parts of its industry because its business design proves superior in satisfying customers’ priorities; the second phase, “stability,” is characterized by business designs that are well matched to customer priorities and by overall competitive equilibrium; in “outflow,” the third phase, value starts to move away from an organization’s traditional activities toward business designs that more effectively meet evolving customer priorities. Slywotsky explains that Part I of this book describes the basic rules of Value Migration” and the workings of what he refers to as “the new game of business.” As when playing chess, winning at this game requires an understanding of the individual pieces (i.e. when to deploy them and how to capture them). One must master basic moves and simple techniques such as openings, traps to avoid, end-game moves, etc.

It is also important to understand the the importance of controlling (as in chess) “the four central ones.” In business as in chess, one must become familiar with certain “basic patterns” which will ultimately determine success or failure. These “patterns” are examined in Part II. There are seven: Multidirectional Migration (from steel to materials), Migration to a Non-Profit Industry (airlines), Blockbuster Migration (pharmaceuticals), Multicategory Migration (coffee), From Integration to Specialization (computing), From Conventional Selling to Low-Cost Distribution, ands finally, From Conventional Selling to High-End Solutions. Slywotsky shifts his attention in Part III to explaining how to play the Value Migration “game” well on a day-to-day basis. He identifies certain specific initiatives to take which help to (a) avoid value loss and (b) preempt the next cycle of value growth. “The final chapter of the book focuses on the increasingly high-stakes nature of the decisions that determine future value growth.”

There are more than a dozen charts which effectively illustrate Slywotsky’s key points. For example, Figure 15-1 presents “The Grand Masters of Value Growth” and identifies them, their key moves, and the value each created (in terms of billions of dollars) from 1980 until 1994. All of these visionary leaders (Welch, Walton, Vagelos, Gates, Petersen, Grove, Malone, Platt, Noorda, Iverson, and Kelleher) focused on making the right moves and thereby created enormous value for their respective companies. “Business chess is a game that is as demanding as [football and basketball], but in very different ways. It is not physical stamina, but stamina of thought. It is not transactional concentration, but constant shuttling between a focus on the current move and imagining the next several moves out. It is an unrelenting exercise of matching patterns on the current game board to the countless patterns in your mind.”

Slywotsky concludes the final chapter with a suggestion that this question be asked: What five moves will capture most of the given industry’s value growth? “Give yourself a couple of months to analyze and assimilate the grand masters’ key moves. Then come back and determine the five (or fewer) critical moves for your company.” In this exceptionally thought-provoking book, Slywotsky indicates why he would be an indispensable guide throughout that difficult but necessary process.

His new book, Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It, will be published by Crown Business (Octiber 2011).


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