“Seeing Around Corners” by Rita McGrath was recommended to me as a book that competitive intelligence (CI) professionals should read, so I did just that this summer. And I have to agree because this book is all about inflection points and when everything changes irrevocably, as Andy Grove at Intel said, “A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change.”
Rita notes that “this can create both new, entrepreneurial opportunities and result in potentially devastating consequences for those still working under old models and assumptions”. So how you anticipate and prepare for this is definitely something for us in CI.
The book contains some great case descriptions from very recent times, featuring the likes of Adobe, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Netflix.
Besides being a mainstream book about being prepared for the future, there are two main things I take away from this book:
The chapter on ‘Snow melts from the edges’ is probably most useful for futurists. It’s inspired by a quote from Intel’s Andy Grove, who said, “When spring comes, snow melts first from the periphery, because that is where it is most exposed.”
Rita urges companies to “create mechanisms that direct information flows from the corner office to the street corner”. With this she means that leaders should not isolate themselves, but create methodological ways for decision makers to be exposed to what is changing in the external environment. Spot on market and competitive intelligence in other words!
While I agree 100% with this conclusion in the book, it is frustrating that there is no real description of how to do this. And the words ‘competitive intelligence’ or ‘market intelligence’ are not mentioned once.
The chapter on Early Warning starts off really well with the quote by Patrick Murren at Futures Strategy Group, “there are far more possible catastrophes than will actually happen” which helps to put things in perspective.
The point of the chapter is evident for CI – if you recognize weak signals early, it will give you more time to act and take advantage of them.
But the discussion on lagging, current and leading indicators is worth keeping in mind. And how leading indicators (assumptions of the future) are often qualitative, rather than quantitative. These are often told as stories rather than in detailed powerpoints. Again, I would have liked to have read more about how to develop leading indicators that help you discover inflection points.
All in all, there may not be a lot of new concepts in ‘Seeing Around Corners’ if you are in CI, but it's an easy read with great examples. Perhaps the book can be used to convince management of the need for CI which is of course how you can look ahead and see around corners.