Enterprise is betting that its network of neighborhood branches will be a differentiator. With 5,500 locations, the company says 90 percent of the U.S. population is within 15 miles of one. Zipcar says about 10 million people live within a 10-minute walk of its cars.I went on to note that Enterprise's network of neighborhood branches might not be a competitive advantage, since one of the innovations in the car sharing model is by-passing the office and having close and easy access to the car. I also noted that fast-followers can run into difficulty adopting an innovation if it means changing their organizational model.
In other words, a company may have to abandon existing intangible assets in order to move forward. For example, the skills you have now may not be the skills you need tomorrow. The organizational set up you have now may not work tomorrow. The relational capital you have now may not be what you need to move into tomorrow's markets.
In the case of Enterprise, their car sharing business probably will need a different distribution model. That is not to say that the neighborhood branches might not continue servicing the traditional market (which of course assumes that the car sharing market does not subsume the current rental car market). Or that the neighborhood branches somehow become useful in supporting the car sharing market. But the intangible asset created by the network of neighborhood branches may not be useful in the new model.
There are two take-away's from this point:
1) the value of an intangible is contextual. In the case of the Enterprise branch network, it has value in the traditional rental car model. It may not have any value (or reduced value) in the car sharing model. Knowledge may be a "non-rival good," meaning that it can be utilized by more than person simultaneously. But the value of the knowledge to each of those individuals might be vastly different.
2) the utility of an intangible asset needs to be constantly assessed and the asset upgraded or abandoned as necessary. Intangible assets are not fixed in time and space. They are subject to the forces of creative destruction and need to be reassessed and refreshed on a regular basis.
Intangibles need to be treated as a flexible resource rather than an immutable treasure. Knowledge and other intangibles may be precious, but they are existing in a changeable environment as well.