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Featured Articles: Business Book Review – The End Of Competitive Advantage

Business Book Review – The End Of Competitive Advantage


I devour business books. I read them. I listen to them in audio form. I highlight them and make notes in the margin. It is a borderline obsession. Why? Because even the best land surveyors are usually horrible business people. (The same principle applies to civil engineers.)Running a successful surveying and mapping business (or organization) is challenging. It is deeply complex with many facets. Several business books have fundamentally changed my approach to the business of land surveying – and even the way I think about the world around me. I will briefly review a business book I just finished listening to in this article. Its title is “The End of Competitive Advantage”.

About The Book

The book is written by Rita Gunter McCrath. s an American strategic management scholar and professor of management at the Columbia Business School. She is known for her work on strategy, innovation, and entrepreneurship, including developing discovery-driven planning. McGrath is also the founder of the innovation platform Valize. The book is published by Harvard Business Review Press. The physical copy of the book I purchased is just over 200 pages. It is black and white, with a few charts and tables, but not pictures. It features assessments that you can use to evaluate your own business.

Table Of Contents

The book has seven (7) chapters. In the first chapter, the book’s key concept is stated and explained. Chapter 2 explains how organizations need to reconfigure continuously. Chapter 3 talks about how to exit a line of business healthily. Chapter 4 talks about improving the allocation of resources within a business. Chapter 5 talks about how to build innovation capabilities in your organization. Chapter 6 explains the mindset leaders need in a world of transient advantages. Chapter 7 discusses the impact of a world of transient advantages on individual careers.

The First Chapter

The book’s first chapter is the most important – and it provided me with the most value. It opens with the story of Kodak film company and its eventual bankruptcy. After this story, it explains the fundamental concept of the book:

“The fundamental problem is that deeply ingrained structures and systems designed to extract maximum value from a competitive advantage become a liability when the environment requires instead the capacity to surf through waves of short-lived opportunities. You need to do things differently to compete in these more volatile and uncertain environments.”

Chapter 1 also contains two (2) essential diagrams. The first diagram is a comparison between 2 different views of competition. The first view of competition is primarily between players in the same industry. The second view of competition is primarily between a much wider group of companies in broad “arenas.” The second diagram shows the different phases in a wave of transient advantage.

The chapter concludes with a set of questions you can use to evaluate your business based on the key concepts in the book.

Other Highlights Of The Book

This book is like many other business books. It is written in a way that benefits larger organizations more than small ones. Despite this, I found valuable nuggets or insights in every chapter. For the typical surveying and mapping organization, I’d most strongly recommend a careful read of these chapters:

Chapter 1. This chapter holds the critical concept of the entire book. The information in this single chapter is worth the purchase price.

Chapter 2: Very few small businesses operate in a static marketplace. This chapter helps you think about ways to enable your business to be more flexible.

Chapter 5: Most surveying businesses are different from Google or Apple. However, the most successful ones embrace technology and think about how to innovate for their clients. This chapter helps you think about how you can become better at innovation within your organization.

Chapter 6: Banks are conservative and stodgy. Software start-ups are fast and reckless. Surveying businesses needs to be somewhere in between those two (2) extremes. This chapter helps leaders of surveying businesses identify where their mindset about competition may need to adapt to a more quickly changing competitive environment.


“The End of Competitive Advantage” would not be in my list of the top three (3) most important business books for land surveyors, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book was well written by Rita. She is intelligent, and thoughtful, and attempts to base her conclusions on careful research and study. She also fills her book with valuable examples, both good and bad. If you believe running a surveying business will continue to change over the next decades rapidly, add this book to your reading list.