Resource-Based View: Why Some Firms Are More Successful Than Others


Understanding why some firms consistently outperform their competitors requires a deeper look into the resources that drive their success. The resource-based view (RBV) offers a framework for analyzing how a firm’s unique bundle of resources, capabilities, and competencies can lead to a sustainable competitive advantage.

Resource Heterogeneity and Resource Immobility: The Cornerstones of RBV

The RBV rests on two critical assumptions about the nature of resources:

  • Resource Heterogeneity: This assumption recognizes that firms possess different bundles of resources, even those operating within the same industry or strategic group. These resources, defined broadly as any asset, capability, or competency a firm can utilize, contribute to a firm’s unique identity and strategic potential.

Example: Southwest Airlines (SWA) and Alaska Airlines (ASA), both low-cost, point-to-point airlines, demonstrate resource heterogeneity. SWA’s informal job descriptions and employee flexibility contribute to higher productivity and a lower cost structure compared to ASA.

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  • Resource Immobility: This assumption highlights the “stickiness” of resources, meaning they don’t easily transfer between firms. This stickiness allows resource differences to persist, leading to sustained competitive advantages for firms with valuable and rare resources.

Example: Despite attempts by Continental and Delta to imitate SWA’s low-cost model, they couldn’t replicate the unique resource bundle and capabilities that underpinned SWA’s success. SWA continues to outperform competitors over decades, demonstrating the power of resource immobility.

Why Resource Heterogeneity and Resource Immobility Matter

Together, these two assumptions explain why some firms achieve superior performance:

  • Unique Resource Bundles: Resource heterogeneity ensures that each firm possesses a unique combination of resources, creating the potential for differentiation and competitive advantage.
  • Sustained Advantage: Resource immobility prevents competitors from easily replicating valuable resources, allowing firms to maintain their advantage over time.

Beyond Perfect Competition: The RBV Advantage

The RBV diverges significantly from the perfect competition model where all firms have access to identical resources. The real-world business landscape is characterized by resource heterogeneity and immobility, making the RBV a more insightful framework for understanding competitive advantage.

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By focusing on internal resources and capabilities, the RBV provides valuable guidance for crafting strategies that leverage a firm’s unique strengths to achieve superior performance.


Q: What are some examples of resources that can contribute to competitive advantage?

A: Resources encompass tangible assets (factories, equipment), intangible assets (brands, patents), human capital (skills, knowledge), organizational capabilities (efficient processes, innovation culture), and even location advantages.

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Q: If resources are immobile, how can firms adapt to changing market conditions?

A: While some resources are sticky, firms can develop new resources, reconfigure existing ones, or acquire external resources through mergers or acquisitions. The challenge lies in strategically managing these resources to maintain a competitive edge in dynamic markets.

Q: How does the RBV help firms make strategic decisions?

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A: The RBV guides firms to identify, develop, and leverage their unique resources to create value for customers and establish a competitive advantage. It encourages firms to focus on building internal strengths that are difficult for competitors to imitate, ultimately leading to sustainable success.

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