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Understanding Michael Porter by Joan Magretta

The full title of this book by Joan Magretta is

Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy“.

In my review on Amazon.co.uk, I gave the book a rating of Four Stars. This means it is Good and Well Worth Reading.

Here is my book review.

An easy to understand introduction to the main strategy guru

Michael Porter shook up the world of strategy and big business with two books – Competitive Strategy in 1980 and Competitive Advantage in 1985.

Since then, he has become the established view and to often, other experts have tried to make their names by misrepresenting his work and arguing against these misrepresentations.

What’s covered in the book will be taught in every business school and it certainly was in my MBA studies although, by then, I’d read the original books. He fought back against his critics with a famous article in the Harvard Business Review called “What is Strategy” and also updated his five forces commentary in another article.

This book summarises his main ideas in a very easy to read format that avoids much of the detail that made the original books a chore for all but the most interested or dedicated. Of course, it’s the missing detail that makes the two underlying books essential for strategy addicts like me.

This book helps to answer the big question of why consistent profit performance varies across industries and within industries.

His five forces model explains how some industries find their profits competed away by companies they buy from or sell to, by substitute products that achieve the same goals, by new entrants who appear at the first sign of excess profits or by competitive rivalry that forces down prices and forces up costs to serve.

His work on competitive advantage through the value chain analyses how firms can achieve cost advantages or differentiation so that profitability between companies within an industry varies from the strongest to the weakest.

These are explained in the book along with the latest ideas on differentiation and positioning that come from the “What Is Strategy” article. It also includes a 20 plus page interview between the author and Michael Porter.

There is no substitute for going back to his original works that still stand up remarkably well except for outdated examples. However those books are demanding to read and this makes the ideas much more approachable.

It’s an excellent summary for an MBA student or a senior manager in a good sized business who gets involved in strategic planning sessions. It’s also a good refresher for anyone who has formally studied strategy.

If you’re serious about strategy, this book isn’t enough. You need both Competitive Strategy and Competitive Advantage. The details are important.

I’m less ready to endorse this book for entrepreneurs and small business owners. If that’s you, then I think you need both a wider context and a deeper understanding of what’s involved in finding a niche and differentiating the business from competitors.

One option is to go and hire an expert but I’d like to be able to point you towards a book first so that you can properly engage in any debate. At the moment, I can’t think of one which is frustrating.

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


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