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The Trouble with Strategy by Kim Warren

The full title of this book by Kim Warren is

The Trouble with Strategy: The brutal reality of why business strategy doesn’t work and what to do about it“.

In my review posted to Amazon.co.uk, I gave this book Five Stars. This means I think it is Excellent and Very Highly Recommended to anyone with a keen interest on business strategy.

Here is my book review.

The current approach to strategy is very sick but there is hope.

This is a hard hitting assessment of the world of strategy and it reveals that it is very sick, heading for intensive care even though many practitioners are in denial.

Academics are criticised for their failure to develop a convincing science of strategy. Too often academic researchers have asked the wrong question in their research and used the wrong methods. It’s no wonder that the answers are superficial and contradictory, even if they sound good and can create gurus.

Consultants and senior management, for differing reasons, are locked into looking for and using the next magic bullet that can solve issues quickly and easily. He alleges that new consultants are given three weeks of training in strategy before they are let loose and that’s when they come from unrelated disciplines.

Strategy education is very poor, partly because of the weak theories, partly because there is a lack of practical experience in strategy by the educators, partly because it’s difficult to teach the real world comprehensive view and partly because there is collusion between students and business schools to lighten the load.

It’s ironic that a discipline that preaches the importance of being different if you want to achieve some particular measure of success, is undone by the latest ideas that knock down the old ideas or call existing ideas by different names to create the perception of difference.

This isn’t how a profession should work. Instead it should build on the existing proven ideas with a standard terminology, testing and adding as more hypotheses are not disproven by research to build up an accepted body of knowledge. Indeed steps should be taken to turn strategy into a proper professional practice, just like engineering, accountancy and the law.

This is an important book and should be read by:

1) Academics involved in teaching and researching strategy
2) Consultants who are involved in strategy
3) Senior managers in large companies who are responsible for strategic planning and management or who have the responsibility to hire strategy consultants.

If that describes you, then you might not like the criticism in the book but I suspect it will ring true.

As I was reading it, part of me was thinking “I hope my potential small business clients aren’t reading this book.”

It presents a very poor picture of strategic thinking and I worry that it may cause business owners and senior managers to reject the ideas of setting a long term direction or analysing customers and competitors or considering how important internal resources, capabilities and processes can be improved. That would be a big mistake when there is too much of a tendency to live from day to day, fighting the most urgent fires but ignoring the longer term, vital issues.

There is much that a strategy discipline could contribute to the development of healthy, profitable companies, both large and small. This is a clarion call and I hope it is heeded.

I’d also like to congratulate the author for not pushing his own particular ideas about strategy. Before I started, I’d expected Kim Warren to criticise the established methods and to sell the idea of strategy dynamics throughout the book. The first time it is mentioned is in the appendix and that’s to avoid the accusation that the book presents the problems without many solutions.

As for the future, I think the book, “Your Strategy Needs A Strategy” by Martin Reeves et al makes excellent progress for creating an overall framework for linking the disparate ideas about how to engage in strategy work. That and this book are highly recommended.

It is available to buy from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


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