StalkFast Company this month has a cover story on George Stalk and Hardball - the controversial book advocating competition. The Fast Company writer, Jennifer Reingold, did a nice job with the story, and Fast Company provides a platform for what will likely be a spirited debate. One of the reasons why I remain a fan of Fast Company is because of their willingness to take on topics like this. Jennifer frames the debate with the following which describes how the Boston Consulting Group fearing a political storm over the book altered some chapter titles:

"Some people have interpreted Hardball as a business version of America's "go it alone" political strategy in the world, or as a total rejection of the idea that a company's culture and people are an important part of its edge. Although neither is true, BCG, fearing a political storm, altered some of Hardball's chapter titles to make them sound less aggressive. But the changes didn't do much to soothe those who think business should be a kinder, gentler pursuit and that Stalk's testosterone-fueled emphasis on crushing your competitor is a Stone Age throwback. "[Stalk and Lachenauer] are on a brutal, macho trip," wrote one reviewer for the Financial Times.

Tom Peters was one of those who found the book not to his liking. He rips the book in his blog concluding it was not worth the paper it was printed upon. I don't know if it is jealousy or insecurity that causes him to lash out like this. It is unfortunate because rather than engaging in another one of his exclamation pointed rants, he should be presenting a well reasoned case for why he believes George to be wrong. Even better would be a civilized debate which George attempted with this letter sent to Tom Peters:

Dear Tom,

I'm disappointed you don't like my new book. I'm more disappointed you used it to say unkind things about The Boston Consulting Group. Hardball represents BCG no more than In Search of Excellence represented McKinsey. Some of my colleagues are warm to the ideas, some aren't. But I am allowed and even encouraged to publish because they recognize BCG's need to develop new thinking that will help our clients.

Do you really believe our book is not about ‘people’, ‘customers’ and ‘innovation’ or was that just a stunt by to draw attention to yourself? Our point is that competitive strategy is fundamental. You, and others, are dead wrong in saying that (1) Extraordinary People, (2) Innovative Products (3) Extraordinary Customer Experiences and (4) Rock-solid Infrastructure succeed without it. We’re saying that’s all wasted without excellent, ‘hardball’ strategy. We disagree that with your pillars, any ‘damn strategy’ works.

We, and this does include many of my us at BCG, believe that companies are ethically obligated to compete. The better they compete, the more they serve people (employees), satisfy customers and excel at innovation. We detail the strategies so they can be judged on their merits by anyone who reads the book. Our language, if that’s what’s hanging you up, is secondary to the truth or falsity of what we observed, learned and applied in real-life corporate competition.

There is a nice thought expressed on your blog about Hardball by one T. J. Jayakumar, who says, "The 180 degree opposite of every profound truth is also true. And which truth counts? Depends." Competition as we have defined it is the 180 degree opposite of your school of thinking and the lexicon you would cite as the only proper language of management.

Which truth counts? In a world of global markets and formidable competitors, we think ours has a place. Your old colleague Ken Ohmae did too when he wrote The Mind of the Strategist and described the "three C's: " company, consumer and competitor.” You have done a great job describing the special linkage that must exist between the first two. But we think the other dynamic is just as important – maybe more so. We want to remind our readers of its importance.

Strategy vs. "excellence": it's an old debate, isn't it? But given the kinds of challenges corporate executives face today, maybe it's time to renew it rather than hide from it.


George Stalk

Tom Peters has yet to respond to George's letter. Please feel free to enter the conversation here with your comments pro or con. I will post all comments.



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"who think business should be a kinder, gentler pursuit and that Stalk's testosterone-fueled emphasis on crushing your competitor is a Stone Age throwback."

Huh? When did competition become bad?

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