Competing on the Edge : Strategy as Structured Chaos. Shona L. Brown, Kathleen M. Eisenhardt. Harvard Business Review Press.

Competing on the Edge : Strategy as Structured Chaos Book Cover Competing on the Edge : Strategy as Structured Chaos
Shona L. Brown, Kathleen M. Eisenhardt
Harvard Business Review Press
May 20, 1998

Intense, high velocity change is relentlessly reshaping the face of business in fledgling high-tech ventures and Fortune 500 giants, from Santiago to Stockholm, and steel and silicon alike. Everywhere, and in every industry, markets are emerging, closing, shrinking, splitting, colliding, and growing – and traditional approaches to business strategy are no longer adequate. In their revolutionary new book, Brown and Eisenhardt contend that to thrive in these volatile conditions, standard survival strategies must be tossed aside in favor of an entirely new paradigm: competing on the edge.

Competing on the edge is an unpredictable, uncontrollable, often even inefficient strategy, yet a singularly effective one in an era driven by change. By linking the practical concerns of business managers to some of the most exciting ideas from science concerning complexity and evolution, the authors have created a bold new strategy that harnesses the dynamic nature of change to create a continuous flow of competitive advantages. To compete on the edge is to chart a course along the edge of chaos, where the delicate compromise is struck between anarchy and order. It requires maneuvering on the edge of time, where current business is the primary focus, and actions are shaped by past legacies and future opportunities. By adroitly competing on these edges, managers can avoid reacting to change, and instead set their own rhythmic pace for change that others must follow, thereby shaping the competitive landscape – and their own destiny.

Drawing from their own in-depth research with twelve global businesses and interviews with more than one hundred managers, the authors use real-world examples to showcase competing-on-the-edge strategies in action. These lessons are linked to fundamental scientific principles from complexity theory, the nature of speed, and time-paced evolution. In one of the first books to translate leading-edge complexity concepts from science into management practice, the authors explain how these ideas play out in real firms, and the surprisingly practical value they hold for the business arena. Business and science converge in Competing on the Edge, and the result is a ground-breaking book that will take managers to sophisticated new levels in their understanding and practice of strategy.

At its heart, competing on the edge meets the strategic challenge of change by constantly reshaping a firm’s competitive advantage, even as the marketplace unpredictably and rapidly shifts. The best firms, argue Brown and Eisenhardt, employ a competing-on-the-edge strategy to change routinely, relentlessly, and rhythmically over time. Written for managers (or would-be managers) who understand that their primary challenge is not to survive change but to embrace it, the lessons and insight in Competing on the Edge offer an unprecedented opportunity to seize the change initiative, set the pace of competition, and ultimately dominate an industry. Inspired by the theories of science yet grounded in the practical realities of business, the detailed examples, rigorous research, and serious thinking that inform every aspect of this thought-provoking new book coalesce into a surprising strategy that works – when the name of the game is change.

Shona L. Brown is a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Kathleen M. Eisenhardt is a professor at Stanford University.