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Competing on the Edge : Strategy as Structured Chaos Hardcover – May 20, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1St Edition edition (May 20, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875847544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875847542
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What do the Atlanta Braves, Microsoft, 3M, Nike, and Intel all have in common? According to Shona Brown and Kathleen Eisenhardt, authors of Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos, each of these organizations are predictably unpredictable. They're leaders not because of their ability to predict the course of their markets; rather, these companies have learned to embrace the notion of change. They're successful because they've learned to find that edge between structure and chaos that allows them to be innovative and creative, while maintaining just enough discipline to focus on executing a plan.

The authors contend that competing on the edge is not an efficient or predictable way to do business. Instead, it's learning how to adapt and lead in a business environment that's in a constant state of flux. "The underlying insight behind competing on the edge is that strategy is the result of a firm's organizing to change constantly and letting a semicoherent strategic direction emerge from that organization. In other words, it is about combining the two parts of strategy by simultaneously addressing where you want to go and how you are going to get there."

Brown and Eisenhardt offer dozens of examples of companies that are successfully and not so successfully finding that balance between anarchy and order. If, on the one hand, you feel like your company is bogged down by rules and bureaucracy or if,on the other, it seems like no one in your company knows exactly what they're doing, you'll find that Competing on the Edge is a valuable handbook for change. The book is clearly written, full of insight, and belongs on every manager's bookshelf. Highly recommended. --Harry C. Edwards

Review

"An innovative management book." -- InfoWorld, October 10, 1998

"If you want to learn something new about meeting the challenges of rapid change, read...Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos by Shona L. Brown, a McKinsey & Co. consultant, and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, a Stanford business-school professor. Chapter six, "Setting the Pace," is worth the price of admission all by itself. In that chapter, the authors describe how Intel uses "time pacing" to enter new markets and to create new products, services, and businesses according to the calendar rather than in response to competitive events." -- Inc. Magazine, June 1998

"The authors make a compelling argument for a proactive approach to change and offer a practical vision of the road to take when embarking on such a mission." -- Choice, October 1998

This well-written volume about managing in an environment of constant change takes as its context complexity theory--the decade-old scientific perspective often associated with the Santa Fe Institute and concepts such as artificial life. The authors--Shona L. Brown, a consultant with McKinsey & Co., and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, a Stanford University professor--emphasize examples of successful management that are as complex and unexpected as the theory itself. The authors distill 10 rules of strategy, organization and leadership for competing on the edge and then compare them with traditional rules of management. For those who can live with fundamental ambiguity, the examples make clear how powerful and successful this unorthodox approach can be. -- Upside, Stephen E. DeLong

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Timothy W. Ruefli on April 18, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Andersen Consulting recently completed a study of the worldwide electronics systems industry. One of the key results reported in this study was that those companies that followed traditional approaches to strategy, collaboration, organization, and business processes (as currently taught in most MBA programs and espoused by some consultants), had decreased chances for success compared to those firms whose managers followed innovative approaches to strategic thinking and action. While some details of the innovative approaches were provided in the report, there was no unifying framework to aid managers and researchers in putting the findings in context-nor was there any basis for generalizing the findings to other industries. Competing on the Edge provides such a framework as well as the basis for extension to a wide variety of industries.
This book should be required reading for anyone who manages, does business with, invests in, or regulates--or plans to do so--firms in fast-moving environments.
The authors identify three key concepts to managing change on a continuous basis: managing on the edge of chaos, managing on the edge of time and time pacing. Each of these concepts is illustrated via the identification and explication of a series of "traps" that, should the managers fall in, result in their companies becoming non-competitors in their industries. The traps are, in turn, detailed by references to a set of disguised studies that form the underpinning for concepts, and brought to life by reference to reinterpreted information about a variety of organizations that have appeared in the business and popular press.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Turgay BUGDACIGIL on May 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Shona L.Brown and Kathleen M.Eisenhardt's book is dynamic and major break from traditional static approaches. "Competing on the edge contrasts with other approaches to strategy that assume clear industry boundaries, predictable competition, or a knowable future...The underlying insight behind competing on the edge is that strategy is the result of a firm's organizing to change constantly and letting a semicoherent strategic direction emerge from that organization...A semicoherent strategic direction is fundamentally different from what is traditionally called strategy" (p.7). Here, they ask, "What is unique and even provocative about it?":
* It is unpredictable. Competing on the edge is about surprise.
* It is uncontrolled. It is not about command and precision planning by senior executives.
* It is inefficient. Competing on the edge is not necessarily efficient in the short term.
* It is proactive. Competing on the edge is not about passively watching for the occasional discontinuity or waiting for other firms to move before taking action.
* It is continuous. It is about a rhythm of moves over time; not a set of disjointed actions.
* It is diverse. Competing on the edge is about making a variety of moves with varying scale and risk.
In this context, they write that "the premise of this book is that change is pervasive. The implcation is that the key strategic challenge facing managers in many contemporary businesses is managing this change. The challenge is to react quickly, anticipate when possible, and lead change where appropriate. A manager's dilemma is how to do this, not just once or every now and then, but consistently.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 4, 1998
Format: Hardcover
How does Microsoft stay a dominant player? Why is Nike so darned cool? How were the Grateful Dead such a successful, innovative band? This book tries to answer these and other fascinating questions by cramming them into a clunky, poorly thought-out theory called "controlled chaos," which utilizes supposedly innovative timeline, creative and management practices. With tiresome, repetitive prose, the authors hammer away at points obvious to all in the computer industry (such as: trial and error are effective strategies only if you are prepared to fail occasionally) while supporting their arguments with hugely succesful cases-in-point such as Microsoft, Intel and Nike (ignoring the fact that all of these companies are notorious competition-killers who use any and all means to acquire or destroy any potential threat). The book reads like a bad thesis, and the authors can hardly seem to go four pages without reminding you how innovative and avante-garde their theo! ries are. I was under pressure from a CEO to make this into a book-on-tape for him so he could yatter away knowledgably at a cocktail party about "controlled chaos," and it was a chore to slog through this dreary, unimaginative book. The modern executive could learn more from two pages of Sun Tzu than from ten volumes of such self-promoting and empty drivel.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book is not about magic bullets. No slogans or easy fixes for managers in business. This is a book about the realities of business.
There are books out there that discuss complexity theory well but management poorly, and there are also books that discuss management well but complexity theory poorly. This book is an exception in the field because it does a very nice job of discussing both. It is the blend of these two topics that makes it a nice read and a change of pace from other management reading.
The book combines some very useful insights with examples that resonate with business people. It tries to explain how some disparate companies in different industries share some characteristics, and how those characteristics define their competitive success.
I do have to warn, though, it is not an altogether light read. Although it has light moments, such as decriptions of cool companies, the guts can be dense. The core of the book is based on extensive and serious academic research, and that is evident. This is a serious book for people who want to think about management problems where the solutions are not simple or obvious.
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