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Seeing Around Corners

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Seeing Around Corners

How to Spot Inflection Points in Business Before They Happen


15 min read
11 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

When the next big change rocks your industry, will your business survive? Learn to prepare and prosper.

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  • Analytical
  • Overview
  • Concrete Examples


Today, business success may require learning to survive and thrive through seismic changes as you embrace technological revolutions, regulatory shifts and changing customer demographics. Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath outlines the fundamentals of “arena-based analysis,” strategic planning and organizational realignment that executives need to understand in order to promote innovation and adaptability. With some repetition, perhaps born of trying to address multiple academic and leadership audiences, McGrath shows how being alert, empowering employees to experiment and opening nonhierarchical internal lines of communication can help companies anticipate “inflection points” and prosper from them.


An “inflection point” creates a seismic change in the fundamental aspects of a business’s context; it develops through four distinct phases.

Big changes in a competitive business environment don’t happen all at once. They arise from a host of shifts in technology, regulation, demographics and the political landscape. Changes challenge industry assumptions, shake up the competitive landscape and create new opportunities.

When an inflection point first appears on the horizon, it goes through massive hype. Opinion leaders tout it as important, and investors go into a feeding frenzy. Second comes the “dismissive” stage: a shakeout followed by trash talk about how it was never going to work. This may be a good time to start paying attention, exploring and investing in the possibilities.

During the third, less public “emergent” stage, a more focused, practical approach to the inflection point appears. Examine a broad portfolio of the ways you might participate. The fourth stage of development, “maturity,” occurs when the importance of the inflection point becomes clear to everyone. By this stage, be positioned to capitalize...

About the Author

Rita McGrath, PhD, is a Columbia Business School professor, a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review and author of the bestseller The End of Competitive Advantage. Thinkers50 has ranked her in every list of the top 10 thinkers since 2011, with the #2 slot overall in 2021. She has also received their #1 achievement award for strategy.

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