Strategic Management Review > Vol 4 > Issue 1

Why Has It Been So Hard to Define Competitive Advantage?

Jay B. Barney, Lassonde Chair of Social Entrepreneurship, Department of Entrepreneurship and Strategy, University of Utah, USA, , Tyson B. Mackey, David D. Reh School of Business, Clarkson University, USA, , Alison Mackey, David D. Reh School of Business, Clarkson University, USA,
Suggested Citation
Jay B. Barney, Tyson B. Mackey and Alison Mackey (2023), "Why Has It Been So Hard to Define Competitive Advantage?", Strategic Management Review: Vol. 4: No. 1, pp 1-13.

Publication Date: 15 May 2023
© 2023 now Publishers, Inc.
Competitive strategy,  Micro-foundations of strategy
Competitive advantagesuperior firm performanceindustryfirmtheory of the firm


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In this article:
The History of the Concept of Competitive Advantage 
Different Definitions of Competitive Advantage Generate Different Results 
The Path Forward for Strategic Management 
So, Why Is It So Difficult to Define these Concepts? 


Why is it so hard to define competitive advantage? Should this difficulty lead us to discard the concept in strategic management scholarship? While Lieberman (2021) advocates largely abandoning competitive advantage in lieu of developing empirical measures of superior firm performance, we argue that these efforts will face the same challenges that efforts to develop a definition of competitive advantage have faced. Instead, this paper calls on strategy scholars to reconsider certain concepts imported from economics (e.g., industry, firm, and firm performance) as they may not be consistent with strategic management's emphasis on why some economic agents outperform others. Adopting alternative conceptions of these components of the competitive process may make it easier to resolve the definitional issues raised by Lieberman (2021).