I've been asked why I'm introducing my new book, Outsmart!: How To Do What Your Competitors Can't, during a time of economic challenge.

Can companies even think about growth now?

Frankly, this is a time when really smart companies

can

grow.

But growing during a

recession requires either finding new opportunities -- markets, products or services -- or poaching your competitors' customers. If you're ambitious, you have no choice but to outsmart the competition.

I wrote my first book,

Reengineering the Corporation

during a recession. It quickly sold a couple of million copies because companies knew they had to become dramatically more productive in order to compete in tough times.

Reengineering

was about changing the nature of work, looking at work from a process perspective, not just as a task in a department or business function. Although some managers mistakenly thought reengineering just meant downsizing, those who understood real process change became dramatically more competitive.

There is still a lot of reengineering to do, especially now when the Internet enables companies to operate in new ways. But today, companies need more than just process change -- they must rethink whole business models. That means looking at the global economy and what technology enables as opportunities for change, not as threats. Now is the time to rethink both what you deliver and how you deliver to customers.

So when

Pearson

(PSO) - Get Report

, my publisher, asked me to write a series of short business books, I jumped at the chance to find what's really new in business. I looked at more than a thousand companies that had grown at double or triple digit rates over two or more years, and selected those that I believed were operating in some fundamentally new way. I then went deeper to understand the source of those companies' ideas and how the ideas were uniquely implemented.

In

Outsmart!

, you will experience some extraordinary companies, most of which you will not recognize. There's the story of Panos Panay, who never made it as a guitarist but excelled as a talent agent. Panos spotted a $13 billion market and created

Sonicbids

, where promoters -- 10,000 of them at last count -- can list events for which they need musicians, and 120,000 musician-members can look over the list and make their contacts. Sonicbids also helps members prepare electronic press kits for easy and rapid emailing to promoters.

You will also find the story of

Partsearch

that describes how Glenn Laumeister put together a catalog of the eight million parts and accessories that make up today's consumer electronics. Do you know what to do if you lose your TV remote? Partsearch has created order out of industry chaos to help solve your problem.

Then there's the story of

Smith & Wesson

(SWHC)

, the venerable 155-year-old gun manufacturer, resurrected from the dead by a highly skilled executive. Mike Golden saw the value of the Smith & Wesson brand and returned the company to good operating basics. Its growth took off.

These are just a few of the

Outsmart!

stories. They demonstrate that, although there is no single business formula for growth and success, there are some qualities that these companies share:

An inclination to action -- akin to the Nike "just do it" mantra. Managers don't spend lots of time debating or planning what needs to be done. They act mostly on intuition, doing what the business needs, when it is needed. No one I interviewed for the book said, "We didn't have the money in the budget." These companies find the necessary resources.

A fine sense of ambition. They all want to grow dramatically, not incrementally, and they find ways to do it, even as they grow.

A culture of innovation. Everyone participates in the creation of new ideas, perfecting products, services and methods of delivery. Culture, rather than official rules and regulations, controls behavior.

The

Outsmart!

companies share several other qualities, but I am particularly struck by how, in all of them, everyone takes part in the creation and implementation of strategy. Although all of these companies have strong leaders, ideas and decisions don't just come from the top. Everyone participates in the game -- even customers.

Jim Champy is chairman of consulting for Perot Systems Corporation and head of strategy for the company.