Escape Velocity: A book review by Bob Morris

Escape Velocity: Free Your Company’s Future from the Pull of the Past
Geoffrey A. Moore
Harper Business/A HarperCollins Imprint (2011)

How to free your organization from “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom”

One especially significant result of that organizational vulnerability is that it precludes exposure to what Moore characterizes as “secular market change.” That is, a “not to be repeated” expansion of the market that occurs whenever a new category or a new class of customers is brought on board. That expansion “stands in contrast to cyclical growth, which refers to the ongoing returns from an established market, one in which the customers and the category remain the same and power shuttles here and there among various vendors and their latest offers. The key point here is, you can make a mistake with cyclical growth and still have plenty of chances to get yourself back in the game. That is not the case, however, with secular change.” Missing out on the opportunities it offers “is a disaster.”The quotation in the title of this review is from Leading Change in which James O’Toole brilliantly explains why most of the resistance to change initiatives is cultural in nature. Over the years, Geoffrey Moore has written several books in which he explains how business leaders need to cross the chasm created by disruptive technologies, how to survive inside a tornado of constant change, and how to deal with a process of natural selection that eliminates many (most?) companies that defend the status quo (or at least their status quo) rather than escaping from its appealing but lethal limitations and insufficiencies. In his latest book, Moore suggests that there is some “hidden force” that is working against most companies’ efforts: “the pull of the past, most concretely embodied in [a company’s] prior year’s operating plan.”

Those who have read one or more of Moore’s previous books already know that he is a visionary pragmatist with exceptional analytical and writing skills. I think that Escape Velocity will prove to be his most important book thus far, given the timing of its appearance during an extended period of economic turbulence and organizational disruption. I agree with him that leaders must ask the right questions (please see Pages 10-11) and then obtain the correct answers to them. In order to free themselves and their organization from – and then remain free of — the “pull of the past,” they must formulate and then execute an escape-velocity strategy. How? Focus on three separate but interdependent initiatives:

1. Innovate sufficiently to achieve competitive separation in the domain of invention.

2. Institutionalize what achieves the separation so it can be scaled and sustain in the domain of deployment.

3. Drive the transition from invention to deployment to a tipping point “such that the world will go forward as newly aligned and not fall back into its old ways.”

Throughout his lively and eloquent narrative, Moore explains how to create, apply, and sustain four types of power and devotes a separate chapter to each: Category (i.e. reengineering portfolio management), Company (i.e. making asymmetrical bets), Market (i.e. capitalizing on markets in transition), Offer (i.e. breaking the ties that bind), and Execution (i.e. engineering the escape). It should be noted that, in the Introduction, Moore duly notes that under certain conditions, an established player’s standard operating procedure (e.g. operational gains from mature markets), “does not result, in and of itself, in bad economic results.” However, a key point, the “players” (be they new or established) do not sink “into a fixed legacy position.” Each adopted one or more of the 13 different models or frameworks that, Moore points out, are “nestled inside one or another level in the Hierarchy of Powers” he thoroughly examines in Chapters 2-6 and then reviews in the final chapter.

In my opinion, this is one of the most important business books published in recent years and its relevance will increase exponentially for years to come. Bravo!

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1 Comment

  1. Rick S on November 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been following Geoffrey Moore since Crossing the Chasm and I agree, this is one of his most important books since his original. We need more lighthouses like Geoffrey Moore to get us through these troubled times.


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