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Book Review: The Limits of Strategy

By Julie King |

Title:The Limits of Strategy
Author:Ernest von Simson
Publisher:iUniverse, Inc.

"Potentially destructive change is a constant in business."

So begins The Limits of Strategy, a book that offers insight into what traits enabled some large companies to survive and even thrive during times of massive change, while others faltered and failed.

The author, Ernest von Simson, has an impressive background in the technology sector, most notably as the co-founder of Research Board, an international think-tank that investigates what developments are coming in the computing world and how their funders should adapt in response.

A dense, fascinating look at the history of critical moments for key players in the computing industry, von Simson's book takes a microscopic look at how key companies, founders and CEOs made decisions that would lead either to their success or their decline and eventual failure.

The point being that there are limits to how much strategy can help us during times of disruptive technological change.

The challenge, von Simson writes, is that "... almost any strategy an incumbent CEO can devise will be useless in the face of truly disruptive technology, because it begins a new game that demands a completely different business model and, equally, a different management discipline. That's where strategy meets its limit and leadership dominates."

The book explores several recurring themes, such as:

  • Vision is not always enough;
  • The things that made a company great can also be a barrier to change; and
  • Having "first mover" status does not necessarily protect a company from failure.

The Limits of Strategy is not a book to pick up and skim for ideas. Rather, it is a deftly researched and presented history of how the computing world's giants reacted during critical times. The time needed to read it carefully is sure to be a worthwhile investment for any businessperson asking how to best adapt to the current wave of technology-driven change in business. 

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