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If all Heartland had done was adopt the same technologies in the same way as its competitors, it could never have maintained the differentiated service required to sustain its pricing premium. Instead, staying on top turned out to require a complete transformation of the asset-lean model that had been such a big part of the company’s advantage for nearly a decade. In other words, the company changed just about everything that had been at the core of its profitability…in order to preserve its profitability.

Consequently, when customers are no longer willing to pay for your latest innovation or lower-cost competitors are snapping at your heels, the too-frequent response is to compete by abandoning challenging markets or dropping prices while trying to preserve profitability by cutting cost and shedding assets. Although we might believe, or at least want to believe, that investing for tomorrow is the right thing to do, the seemingly incontrovertible facts of marginal cost analysis and DCF models compel us to ignore the better angels of our nature.

Revenue before cost does not mean keeping cost under control does not matter; it means increasing revenue is more important. There are no other rules does not mean you can blindly follow the rules; it means you must apply all your creativity and insight to follow them in the face of all manner of other changes. It is a trap that has claimed some of the most famous or well-regarded researchers in the field. 15 It is difficult to disagree with this advice—but that is precisely the problem. Who would ever want to hide from the truth, look for a market insight that was too small, have a confused and diffuse strategy, or be sclerotic, undisciplined, and unfocused?

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