Competitive Advantage

Competitive advantage is a relative measure of how successfully an agent can compete, on the average, to achieve its goals.

Why this is important

Understanding and controlling competitive advantage driven behavior is the key to solving the social side of the global environmental sustainability problem. The policy of maximizing one’s competitive advantage lies at the core of why all competitive agents, including people, behave the way they do.

The top strategy of any independent replicating agent is to maximize the net present value of its competitive advantage. This holds for all genetic and memetic life forms, such as plants, animals, people, and corporations. Those agents who are able to gain the most competitive advantage will, over time, come to dominant their niche.

Application example

Let's do this in two stages so we can apply the concept of competitive advantage to the sustainability probem. First we see how the Cycle of Evolution works. Then we apply the cycle to the problem.

The Cycle of Evolution

Cycle of EvolutionUnderstanding competitive advantage begins with understanding the three steps of the evolutionary algorithm. These steps form the Cycle of Evolution, as shown.

Evolution is the process of continuous improvement of the fitness of a species. Fitness is how well a species can adapt to an ecological niche. The higher the fitness, the more of the species in the niche, up to the point of diminishing returns.

The process has three steps. Replication causes the genetic material of one generation to be replicated into the next generation. During this event random variation, also called mutation, occurs. This causes different organisms to have different levels of fitness. Those that survive the battle of survival of the fittest, also known as selection, can reproduce to parent the next generation. The cycle then starts all over again.

According to the Competitive Exclusion Principle, over a long period of time the end result is there is one, and only one, dominant life form in each niche. It dominates due to superior competitive advantage. That advantage was created by the Cycle of Evolution.

Applying the Cycle to the Problem

In the sustainabiliy problem, as soon as we start looking for root causes we should look for the dominant social agents, since their behavior determines the general behavior of the system. The dominant social agent in the global human system is the New Dominant Life Form. This is the modern large for-profit corporation. It achieved its dominance by self-evolving in the mutation step of the Cycle of Evolution. Every time it got a law changed to its favor, it mutated. Every time it got society to adopt something advantegous to corporations, such as putting the stock market index on the front page of newspapers, it mutated. What's amazing is it did this without the replication step. This is because corporations are an artificial life form. They are memetic. Memetic life forms can change without the messy, slow, and expensive step of replication. This explains why Richard Dawkings wrote in his chapter on Memes: the New Replicators: 1

I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting around in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind.

Now we know why large for-profit corporations are so dominant. They are memetic and have evolved faster that their creator, Homo sapiens, has been able to rein them in.

This provides a powerful clue on how to resolve the root cause of the social improper coupling subproblem. We need to look hard at the mutation step of the Cycle of Evolution, figure out how to prevent Corporatis profitis from using that step to its own advantage, and then perform radical surgery by mutating the New Dominant Life Form into a Trusted Super Servant Life Form.


(1) This is the last chapter in The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, first published in 1976.

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Taking Competitive Advantage to the Logical Extreme

If the Cycle of Evolution is allowed to run long enough, it produces the most powerful agents conceivable.

Consider how poweful the large for-profit corporation life form is now. Then imagine how powerful it will be in another hundred years.

Hold that image. Now add to it where puny Homo sapiens will be in that scenario. Will it still be possible for Homo sapiens to rise up and turn then tables then?

Of course not. That's why we must act now.

And when we act, we must strike at the root.