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Seeing Around Corners — a book review

by Mark P. McDonald  |  September 9, 2019  |  Comments Off on Seeing Around Corners — a book review

Digital transformation and its demands have stressed traditional strategic thinking and tools such as industry analysis, competitive differentiation, etc.  While new digital techniques like design thinking provide support, there is a need for new ways of thinking about digital strategy.  That is where this book comes into play.

Seeing Around Corners represents a new approach to strategy formulation and management in a digital world.   Recognizing and acting on inflection points is the central reason why leaders need to see around the corners of their business, the industry and customers.  McGrath defines an inflection point as single point in time when everything changes irrevocably.  Disruption is an outcome of an inflection point, but this book goes beyond this omnipresent issue to understand what it takes to see change coming before others.

Rita McGrath offers a discovery driven growth playbook in the form of a structured approach to guide executives in understanding how important it is to be able to see and lead in this dynamic environment.  The book is a unique blend of high impact strategic thinking, business school style lessons with actionable and practical tools and things you can do.  Too many books are either one (rubber hits the sky) or the other (low level tools) that are not fit for enterprise and strategic challenges.

This book is practical, with many points based and attributed to proven business leaders.  For example, the observation from Andy Grove that change happens first on the fringes of the customer market and business model.  If you are looking for an inflection point, don’t look at the core, look at the edge.

A competitive arena, as opposed to an industry, is used as a primary lens through which to understand the world and therefore what the effects of a potential inflection point might be.  Think of an arena as a definition of the setting where customer need connects with company solution to create value.  An arena can be seen as super sized and strategic use cases that enable an organization to concentrate on what is really going on.  It provides a tool with sufficient scope for meaningful change without falling into strategic paralysis.  This is one idea that make the book worth the read.

Overall, a recommended read for leaders and organizations facing change where traditional strategy or digital transformation tools do not seem right.


Specific tools related to most chapters, give executives and leaders a specific idea on and examples of the different challenges associated with seeing and acting on inflection points.

The book contains multiple tools all built around the theme of seeing and leading through inflection points.  An Arena, discovery driven growth methodology and ways to assess if your company is getting recognition for its innovation are examples.

Case study presentations and illustrations are central to each chapter.  The case studies are thorough and complete but more importantly they are tied to the theme in the chapter.  The cases enable you to learn from real world experiences and illustrations of the concepts in the book.


This is not a book that is easy to skim. The book is a blend of new ideas, theory, tools and examples which makes for a rich experience and lots of material for study.  This can also create some distraction in reading as the book moves among these different types of content.   The topic demands your attention, and if you give it, the book will deliver on your investment.

The case studies are comprehensive, requiring you at times to read the full chapter before you see how the case study fits into the chapter focus.

Chapter Titles:

  1. The snow melts from the edges,
  2. Early warnings
  3. On the lookout for weak signals defining your area
  4. Customers, not hostages
  5. What must be true — creating a plane to learn fast
  6. Galvanizing the organization
  7. How innovation profession you defangs organizational antibodies
  8. How leaders can and must learn to see around corners
  9. Seeing around corners in your own life


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Category: book-review  digitalization  

Mark McDonald
VP Analyst
12 years at Gartner
33 years IT Industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program. Read Full Bio

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