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Break your industry’s bottlenecks


Harvard Business Review



Publishing details

Harvard Business Review 2015 July-August Vol 93:7/8 p 98-105

Authors / Editors

Ersek B;Weisenbach-Keller E;Mullins JW


Publication Year



If you want to create a really successful business, you have to do more than win your share of customers or control costs—you have to break the rules and overturn the received wisdom about how things work in your industry. For example, high-priced landing fees are just a cost of business in the airline industry, aren’t they? Ryanair didn’t think so, and it turned Europe’s unused World War II landing strips into very low cost airports. To be a cell phone service provider, you need to invest in towers, networks, billing systems, and more, right? India’s Airtel said no and leased virtually everything it needed from others. In sharply lowering its costs and improving its working capital model, Airtel was able to offer India’s impoverished consumers cell phone service at a dramatically reduced price. How can companies figure out which rules to break in their industries? By focusing on big structural problems endemic to their industries—not just problems they alone face. There are five common types of industry bottlenecks: (1) an outdated purchase or usage experience, (2) a superfluous major expense category, (3) high financial risks for customers, (4) disengaged employees, and (5) detrimental side effects of the product or service. This article lays out strategies used by real companies for busting those bottlenecks. In doing so, companies stand to significantly reduce their costs—or even eliminate entire cost categories—boost demand levels, and sometimes both.

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