Dean Chakravorti Examines "Finding Competitive Advantage in Adversity"

Published by Harvard Business Review

Jonathan Bush saw the opportunity to dramatically change how obstetrics practices function. He and his partner set out to build a medical business whose objective was to incorporate both traditional and holistic care options for mothers-to-be. Their aspirations were grand, and demand for their services rapidly grew. But when reliance on slow-paying insurers strapped the practice for cash, Bush’s vision got tangled in red tape.

In this failure, however, Bush envisioned what would ultimately become his truly innovative business idea: a health care IT service that spares its clients bureaucratic purgatory. That service, athenahealth, is now a $189 million business.

Unlike many managers whose instincts are to hunker down and play it safe during difficult times, entrepreneurs like Bush hear a call to action in the oft-repeated advice of Machiavelli: “Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis.” Even as the global economy lurches toward a new normal, long-term crises demand solutions in a variety of domains: geopolitics, the environment, health care, education, infrastructure, poverty and inequity juxtaposed with rapid growth, and broken business models in multiple industries. In fact, instead of the waves of expanding frontiers that defined the 20th century, constraint and restraint may define the 21st...