3 Simple Steps for Mental Health Professionals to Develop a Competitive Advantage

Sprinter Crossing the Finish LineBusinesses invest huge amounts of money to enable and sustain a competitive advantage. A sustainable advantage results when a product is unique, difficult to imitate and valuable.

In 1991, Jay Barney established four criteria that determine an organisation’s competitive capabilities in the marketplace. These criteria apply to the firm’s resources:

  1. Are they valuable?
  2. Are they rare?
  3. Are they imitable?
  4. Are they substitutable?

Do you think the same principles apply to the health profession in developing a sustainable competitive advantage? We know in every profession, there are some people that do things better or more efficiently than others. How does one develop this attribute in health care? One must strive to better oneself and do things that have positive outcomes as judged by peers, patients and their families.

I suggest that there are three main components for psychiatrists to differentiate themselves to achieve a competitive advantage. These are higher order elements, which form the foundation for all other activities that follow, such as teaching, communication, management skills etc. The competitive advantage is derived from the development of tacit knowledge (Michael Polanyi); knowledge that is intuitive and not clearly communicated. Like the psychiatrist who sees a patient and recognises that “there is something different going on”. This explanation cannot be explicitly articulated, nonetheless will lead to outside-the-box thinking. Or the team leader who spots the dynamics and may intervene without explicitly articulating the dysfunction.

The three components of competitive advantage for psychiatrists are:

1. Listening
“He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.” – William Osler

The wealth of knowledge that comes from patient experiences beats any textbook hands down. Patients can give you a longitudinal history that can show you how an illness evolves. I realised early on that listening to patients can make you a better psychiatrist; every symptom they tell you matters. Described symptoms can lead a psychiatrist into unique realms and discoveries that can enhance psychiatry. So the next time, take that extra bit of time to listen.

2. Curiosity
Whilst knowledge is important and can be found in textbooks and journals, how can one go further? Curiosity is the answer. Being curious makes work fun and when work is fun and enjoyable it increases productivity and learning. Learning happens on the go, as one is open to experiences and ideas. It helps one think outside the box and look for clues that others may have overlooked.

3. Knowledge Integration
Integration is the ability to integrate complex elements of a case to produce a strategic management plan. It is not about a diagnosis based on DSM IV, but a bio-psycho-socio-cultural formulation that integrates individual elements of the person and the understanding of causal relationships between variables to produce a succinct management plan. This was discussed in a previous post.

The above three areas could be seen as the key components of a psychiatrist’s competitive advantage. I wonder if you agree or disagree?

Barney, J. (1991) Firm Resources and Sustained Competitive Advantage. Journal of Management. 17, 99-120.

This article is written by Dr Sanil Rege. Sanil is a Melbourne Consultant Psychiatrist and co-founder of psychscene.com. He is pursuing an MBA at the Melbourne Business School (MBS). You can find him on Google+

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