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20/20 Foresight: Crafting Strategy in an Uncertain World Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578512662
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578512669
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,016,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this intriguing, clearly reasoned book, McKinsey consultant Courtney argues convincingly that managers can approach uncertainty systematically. Most managers, he says, either ignore potential problems or try to map out them out in painful detail. The better approach, Courtney contends, is to classify risk (e.g., a relatively clear future, a range of possibilities or true ambiguity) and hone a strategy based on a checklist he provides for each category. This appealing approach could become an integral part of the manager's toolkit.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Tackling uncertainty is tough, but Courtney brings his target down to earth with a solid thump. -- Entrepeneur, December 2001

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a nice reference work - a handbook for thinking about uncertainty. But it's not much more than that. It's nice to have under one cover a guidebook to most of the different tools that are available for dealing with uncertainty, including scenario planning, game theory, statistical forecasting/simulation, real options, etc. As such, it's a helpful guide for top corporate officers who never got MBA training (or who didn't pay attention in class). Also, it's a helpful, applied text to illustrate why all that quantitative stuff in the MBA curriculum is actually useful.
However, for companies that are up-to-snuff in having a basic capacity for strategic thinking (and it's hard to understand when a company these days is not up-to-snuff, given the expense of strategy consultants and the lack of expertise that their "green" consultants possess), the tools and approaches summarized in this book are (or should be) old hat. Contrary to what the introductory chapter implies, most of the tools from so-called "recent work" have actually been around for decades and have been taught as part of MBA and other master's degree program curricula for a long time. Serious game theory dates from the late 1970s, scenario planning became more widely known in the early to mid 1980s (a decade after developed by Royal Dutch Shell), real options analysis came into its own in the late 1980s, and forecasting/monte carlo simulation have been around for a long, long time. The book also implies that the purveyors of these tools claimed to possess " *the* solution to generating and evaluating strategies under uncertainty." Well, I don't think the creators of the tools did that...
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Courtney and his McKinsey associates decided to launch within their firm the Strategy Theory Initiative (STI), a multi-year research effort whose objective was to identify, develop, and disseminate what they learned about a "better approach" to the immensely challenging complicated design/implementation process. (While reading the Preface to this book, I was reminded of one version of a Hebrew aphorism, "Man plans and then God howls with laughter.") The material is carefully organized within seven chapters. In the first, Courtney shares what he and his research associates learned about crafting strategy in an uncertain world; in the next chapter, we are introduced to what are called "The Four Levels of Residual Uncertainty." (All by itself, this chapter is well worth far more than the cost of the book.) Then on to address five separate but related questions:
* Should we shape or adapt?
* Should we begin the process now or later?
* Should we focus or diversify?
* Which new tools and frameworks are needed?
* Which new strategic-planning and decision-making processes are needed?
Of course, Courtney fully realizes that the revelations of the STI research can only guide and inform appropriate answers to questions such as these. He agrees with Mike Hammer that searching for a "silver bullet" is a fool's errand, noting that "there [is] no easy one-size-fits-all solution that could be translated from theory into practice. Business strategists needed new theory [and, in italics] new practices if they wanted to make better strategy choices."
At the height of the Cold War, I recall someone noting that Russian historians could predict the past with absolute certainty. This book's title does not suggest that if you read this book, you can see the future.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Would highly recommend this book to anybody who is looking to find strategic tools that help resolve problems under uncertain contexts.
Most books out there (Porter's Competetive Advantage, Co-opetition, Competing for the future, Decision Analysis books, and many more) talk about one tool/methodology or one way of resolving the strategic problem. This book takes a different path in that all good tools are used together and it is hoped that by viewing the well defined structured problem using these tools would help you come to conclusions in differing levels of uncertainity (obviously the problem context has levels of uncertainity or risk).
Four levels of certainity are defined and tools that would help under those circumstances are clearly listed. For most of the tools - how to use those tools is upto you to figure out. However, having said that the Appendix section does lists further reading, that would help you get started in learning about _some_ of the tools used in the book. I found the tools lists to be very useful. After reading the book I knew _exactly_ what tools to use under my circumstances.
If you have spent time reading strategy (Mintzberg, Ghemawat, Hamel, Kaplan et al, Porter, Prahalad, Day, systems engineering approaches...), you'll find good use on how to put togther all those analysis methodologies into one framework and come to conslusions.
I wish the book actually walked through some cases and used the tools listed to arrive at conclusions. Cases in differing levels of uncertainity would have been very helpful (hence 4 stars).
Finally, this is my first McKinsey book (McKinsey brand leveraged book) among others that walk the talk (others being Valuation and the McKinsey Way/McKinsey Mind).
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