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on 10 June 1998
Books applying complex adaptive systems concepts to management and organizations have tended, in the past, to be overly academic and/or conceptual, full of wonderful ideas, but limited actionable advice. "Competing at the Edge" avoids these limitations and provides concrete advice, based on what seems to be an excellent understanding of how complexity concepts can be translated into new management strategies. The edge of chaos, the edge of time, time pacing, improvisation and other ideas are supported by extensive case study analysis. Having done significant research into this area for my own book applying complexity concepts to more tactical, project level management, this book by Brown and Eisenhardt is my favorite.
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on 18 April 1998
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. 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.
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on 6 January 2001
I found this book almost compelling! Why? Ever worked in a company where noone really knows what they're doing? Things happen at random? Maybe you worked in a company where you had to fill in a form to eat lunch outside your office? This book draws the line: It tells you how much structure is needed to operate in highly turbulent markets. Ok, so it doesn't really tell you e-x-a-c-t-l-y how to do this, but that is the neat thing; you should have some pretty good ideas after reading the book.
For instance, how should the different departments in your company collaborate in order to utilize synergy effects? Should you stick to your past or start from scratch? Do you want to react to events or plan ahead? What it all comes down to is how much you want to improvise - and plan.
The authors give you clues to all of these and other questions. The weaker area of the book is where they tell you how to "Set the pace" of the market. It seems like they missed out on the point here somewhere.
The essence of some the chapters: Improvise - chaos or structure, coadaption - collaborate on everything or anything, regenerate - stick to the past or explore the future, experiment - plan for the future or react to the present, let the strategy grow.
Remember, the book only give you guidelines. But it certainly should open up your eyes. If you're managing a company which is in the ever changing and fast developing markets, this is a book for you.
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on 4 August 1998
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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on 15 December 1998
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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on 4 May 1998
I found Competing on the edge to be most helpful due to the prescriptive approach used.
1. Business concepts such as degree of improvisation and degree of cross-business collaboration are presented as continuums
2. The reader is invited to assess their company in the context of each continuum
3. Real companies illustrate the different approaches to the business concept, one at each extreme and one balanced between the extremes.
4. The benefits of being able to achieve this balance are presented and most importantly, the processes used to achieve this balance are described.
In industries characterized by rapidly changing environments, companies which are able to adapt and adopt these best practices could gain an edge over their competitors which would be very difficult to identify.
I think managers in high technology industries would benefit from the time invested in reading this book. I also think management teams with the courage to assess themselves in a coldly realistic way and make changes based upon their assessment would benefit most.
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on 21 June 1999
As noted by another review, this book reeks of rhetoric. Having read a number of excellent 'academic' articles by the authors, this book was a disappointment. Brown and Eisenhardt's previous insightful and thought provoking comments have been unnecessarily simplified and turned into academic junk food; simple to consume but lacking in nutritional value.
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on 28 March 1999
This book posits an approach to reinventing and planning that overcomes passive reacting to change with a pro-active style. With originality and insight, the book shows how to employ concepts from complexity theory to the world of management practice. Each chapter illustrates a solution to a management issue.
Readers will appreciate the lively use of language and good graphics that make the ideas that are presented both interesting and accessible. Reviewed by Gerry Stern, founder, Stern & Associates, author of Stern's Sourcefinder The Master Directory to HR and Business Management Information & Resources, Stern's CyberSpace SourceFinder, and the Compensation and Benefits SourceFinder.
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on 6 October 1998
A great book if you have not read anything else - If you have however you may find that this reads like a garbled bunch of other peoples ideas that have been warmed over - For example Moores "Death of Competition" and Kauffmans "At home in the Universe" from which they seem to have liberally sampled are far superior original works with real substance. Like many books it over-simplifies and glosses over major issues. At best a superficial book even if it has a great title. How it could be used as a text book is a scary thought. If you only read a few books a year, use you time more effectively with Competing for the future or the Innovators Dilemma.
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on 19 February 1999
Some of the most expensive toilet paper I ever bought for my dog. Politicians are this self promoting. Patent medicine salesmen have an equal grasp of science. Do yourself a favor, get Open Boundaries.
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