Nice guys finish last, according to George Stalk and Rob Lachenauer. In Hardball: Are You Playing to Play or Playing to Win? (HBS Press, $25), the two management consultants describe how to gain and maintain extreme competitive advantage by enticing competitors into retreat, changing fields of play, using shock-and-awe and other "hardball strategies."
One of the most interesting and applicable strategies deals with finding and exploiting anomalies-unusual but persistent phenomena, such as markets where your products sell much better than elsewhere. Don't write these off as coincidences, the authors urge, outlining a systematic way of identifying, analyzing and then coming up with ideas about the strategic opportunities such anomalies may contain. Overall, it's an unusually deep, fine-grained and useful piece of business analysis. One caveat: The authors repeatedly urge readers not to break laws against predatory pricing and other anti-competitive practices. You can, it seems, play too hard.
The Real Deal
Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, co-authors of the bestselling Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done , join forces again in Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right (Crown Business, $27.50) to present a program for helping entrepreneurs understand whether their businesses are positioned to make the profits they expect, and how to set the right future direction. They describe a complex model for doing so and give many examples, but what confronting reality mostly means is making sure you understand your market, industry, customers, competitors and other external elements before setting internal financial goals. Only after you grasp your current reality can you come up with a plan for changing it.
Mark Henricks is Entrepreneur's "Smart Moves" columnist.