Competition. Gaining competitive advantages as the new player.

Lessons for railroaders in fighting against trucks for freight market share. i

Weaker player can often win.

By innovation that changes the rules, the smaller force can more than ofen win.

The lesson is from a close reading of the competition phenomenon in a book authored by  Malcolm Gladwell in 2013.  Titled: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

Suppose you were to total up all the wars over the past two hundred years that occurred between very large and very small countries. Let’s say that one side has to be at least ten times larger in population and armed might than the other.

How often do you think the bigger side wins?

Most of us, I think, would put that number at close to 100 percent for the big guys. A tenfold difference is a lot.

But he found that the larger force only won about two-thirds to three quarters of the time.

A political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft did the calculation a few years ago. His big versus little sample came up with was 71.5 percent of the time the big guys won.

Still– about a third of the time, the weaker country won.

INCREASING THE ODDS

Arreguín-Toft then asked the question slightly differently. What happens in wars between the strong and the weak when the weak side … refuses to fight the way the bigger side wants to fight.

Perhaps like the American revolutionary generals, they used a lot of unconventional or tactics. (Read more about that in the book First Salute).

CHANGE TACTICS, and the weaker party’s winning percentage climbed from less than a third to about two thirds (63.6 percent for those who want more precision).

Railroads in North America in the past won in select markets by changing their tactics against more numerous highway network and numbers of trucks.

Longer, heavier axle loading and double stacked container train TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION converted the Chicago-LA 2,000 mile long origin/destination 70% truck market share for high value truck load commodities to a 70% rail share over about a decade.

Want proof?  Check my calculations by reviewing ICC footnotes in railroad merger cases back in 1992 period.

The western railroads worked selectively to change its intermodal business model between 1984 1990.  It worked. The change was largely technology driven.  some culture change too.

Meanwhile, the European rail industry so far has not followed this model change.  Three decades after the North Americans took on the bigger truckers by changing the rules, the Europeans and South African railroads have not yet learned the lesson.

Smaller market size railroads can win more than half of the time.  But it takes innovative leaders to do it.

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