Exploiting the Same Option Over and Over Again

Trapped in the Past

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Historical Case

Alexander “Big Alex” McDonald

How Many People Actually Got Rich at Klondike?

Alexander “Big Alex” McDonald amassed a fortune of somewhere between $7 million and $27 million during the Klondike gold rush. He did so by investing the proceeds of his claims into acquiring more land, owning interests in 75 mines by 1898. His investment in Klondike continued, even when the fundamentals changed and most gold deposits had been discovered. He died in 1909 with assets worth only $30,000.

“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand.”

— Alexander Graham Bell

Business Case

Digging Deeper? Declining R&D Productivity in the Pharmaceutical Industry

For the pharmaceutical industry, the search for the next blockbuster drug has become increasingly difficult as promising new molecular entities have become harder to identify and R&D costs have skyrocketed. Some companies have responded to this increasingly risky environment by reapplying methods that have worked well in the past, including focusing their efforts on disease categories where they have had previous success. However, R&D productivity continues to drop, with the cost of developing a drug hitting $1.2 billion in the early 2000s. One may wonder whether the concentration in therapeutic areas that have proven fruitful in the past is the right response to the apparent exhaustion of the search space.

There Is a Need to Explore Continuously in an Uncertain Environment


Warning Signs to Heed

  • Rising dynamism and uncertainty in core businesses and markets
  • Increasing vigor of maverick companies at an industry’s periphery
  • External ideas—from partners or acquisitions—being killed by internal resistance or inertia
  • A refocus on past or current successes as a reaction to competitive or market pressure


Beacons to Navigate By

  • Sustained or increased diversity of activities and capabilities, including through competing units
  • Definition of stopping rules, such as limits on how much focus the company can put into particular businesses or models
  • Maintenance of dynamism and diversity through acquisition of promising talent, capabilities, and technologies