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Competing on the Edge : Strategy as Structured Chaos Hardcover – May 20, 1998
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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
"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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(PS... The book itself is kind of dry, but perhaps that's just because I was *required* to read it rather than reading for pleasure. Now that the semester is a distant memory, perhaps I'll go back and give it another try!)
I still feel it was a decent book, and I liked the concepts of time pacing and group improvisation. But, how does one determine how to find an balance on the edge. I mean after the first couple chapters we got the point. The examples mentioned were all anonymous like this review should be, so we could not study what those companies actually did on our own either. For the level of detail provided it could have been a case study instead of a book.
I suggest you buy the book and read the only the first few chapters and skim the rest of it or get the cliff notes.
If you think fancy long range planning makes sense, just go ask the American auto manufacturers what went wrong. We've known that oil is getting in short supply, that its source of supply is in an unstable part of the world and that something drastic will have to be done. So what do they do - build more factories to build pickups and SUV's.
Where are the fuel efficient diesel engines? (My daughters Volkswagon diesel from 20 years ago got 42 miles per gallon.) Where are the hybrids? (Oh, they are manufactured in Japan.)
The computer industry learned to think in terms of rapid change a long time ago. (Those companies like DEC. Honeywell, RCA, GE and many, many more are defunct or out of business.) You would think that a book like this one would concentrate on the computer business. To some extent it does, but it also talks about companies like 3M, Nike, the San Francisco Symphony, the airline industry. It also talks about companies like Sears.
This book cannot give you specific advice about what the future holds, but you can make some guesses - energy costs are going to go up, global warming is going to cause water levels to rise (a bunch), overseas competition is going to go up, we may see a major religious war. How will your company react?
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. One aspect of the book that managers, especially, should appreciate-for Brown and Eisenhardt strategic management does not mean strategy formulation alone; it also includes implementation
The book is eminently readable, with a scattering of side-bar boxes containing specific information on concepts raised in the text. The examples employed are nothing short of innovative--when is the last time you saw a management book that used the ecology of a prairie, caribou hunting and the Tour de France to illustrate points about strategy?
Competing on the Edge is an excellent way to acquaint practicing managers as well as students in MBA programs with the latest concepts for managing organizations in situations where rapid change is the norm. It will certainly be required reading for my graduate course on Strategic Analysis for High Technology Industries.