By Michael E. Porter
Harvard Business School Press, 2008
On Competition is the most recent book by Michael Porter, the renowned strategy professor of Harvard Business School. The book is a collection of Porter’s essays from over two decades of scholarship bridging theory and practice to help business students and executives understand and embrace the central ingredients for progress and prosperity in a market economy competition and strategy. His goal is to challenge the student of business at any level of his or her career to discover the art of delivering superior value.
The book is organized into five parts: competition and strategy/core concepts; the competitiveness of different locations; competitive solutions to social problems; strategy, philanthropy, and social responsibility; and strategy and leadership. Among the general management literature of the past quarter-century, the five sections represent the essential issues facing managers. It is important not to overlook Porter’s introduction, which articulates the thesis and focus of his life’s work defining competition, strategy, and value. Porter writes:
Competition is one of society’s most powerful forces for making things better in many fields of human endeavor…Competition is pervasive, whether it involves companies contesting markets, countries coping with globalization, or social organizations responding to societal needs. Every organization needs a strategy in order to deliver superior value to its customers.
Among the 15 essays/chapters are some of his most famous. For example, no student of any business program in the world could possibly complete their capstone strategic management class without studying Porter’s “Five Forces.” Featuring a new approach to his original 1979 model, “The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy (2008),” reintroduces the groundbreaking framework on industry profitability. Porter’s 1990 essay, “The Competitive Advantage of Nations,” discusses how nations can provide value to competing firms looking to expand into new locations. Porter’s “Seven Surprises for New CEOs” (coauthored with Jay W. Lorsch and Nitin Nohria) from 2004 offers a productive and humbling prescription for leaders at the top to manage effectively, competitively, and, most importantly, for the long term.
On Competition is indispensable reading for anyone responsible for providing value to an organization. In order to provide value, Porter argues, you must compete and to compete, you must have a strategy. He reminds us that most companies (and nations) do not have a strategy they merely get by. This complacency in the new century, he asserts, is unacceptable and unsustainable. Porter simplifies our lives by bringing theory and practice together in helpful models that offer the manager both a tool kit and a philosophy for providing long-term value.