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The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions, and Results Hardcover – November 4, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing (November 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857885597
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857885590
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #479,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


What do you get if you cross a military historian with a management consultant? You get this fascinating book by Stephen Bungay. Bungay is a comfortable with management as he is with history and here cleverly draws on his knowledge of the latter to influence his thinking. This is a refreshing take on a well-covered area. A must-read for any would-be strategist. (DIRECTOR)

In our experience senior executives in large corporations find the approach described in this book to be a tremendously helpful way of getting to the core of issues, setting direction and aligning the organization behind it. The techniques may have been developed 150 years ago, but they could not be more relevant to business today. (Poul Bukh, managing partner, Core Strategy)

Stephen Bungay’s career as CEO, management consultant and historian enables him to bring a unique clarity to leadership and the art of making strategy happen. His study of the chastened Prussian military machine analyzing why it was defeated by Napoleon’s peasant army is illuminated with anecdotes from his career in business. It is this blend of evidence from the military to the business environment which makes this book so useful to the modern-day practitioner! (David Roblin, senior vice president, Pfizer Global R&D)

All too often, strategies fail to be implemented because they do not make tough choices between priorities and therefore leave people confused.The eminently pragmatic techniques described in this book area great way of sharpening up the thinking, the communication and the sense of accountability needed to get an organization moving. The ideas sound simple, but they are very powerful. (Martin Bean, vice chancellor, The Open University)

The Art of Action is a must for anyone in business who takes their leader ship responsibilities seriously. Stephen Bungay draws upon his deep understanding of business strategy and military history and describes principles in his book that will have a real impact for those who adopt them. The Art of Action is the strategic handbook for today built on the insights of yesterday. This will be compulsory reading for all of my unit heads. (Eliot Forster, CEO, Solace Pharmaceuticals)

We live in an age of strategic failure across the board—in international relations and economic affairs, on the battlefield as well as in the market place. Inventively and incisively, Stephen Bungay draws on Clausewitz's wisdom, military history, business literature, and common sense to develop the notion of 'directed opportunism' for breaking the ominous cycle of frustration. (Jonathan Stevenson, professor of Strategic Studies, U.S. Naval War College)

Organizational alignment remains one of the biggest challenges for leaders of large corporations. Many have fine strategies but 'the troops won't march in tune.' Stephen Bungay delves into military history to provide a stimulating insight into how to arm leaders with a powerful concept which gets strategy off the PowerPoint presentation and into action. It is a simple, but profound and entertaining read. (Patrick Forth, senior vice president, The Boston Consulting Group)

Leadership is an intangible value. What sets Stephen Bungay apart is that he draws upon his deep knowledge of historical military campaigns to highlight key leadership principles and then sets them in the context of modern business with an understanding of the particular challenges faced by each company he works for. The first part greatly entertains and captivates the audience and the second part really brings home the teachings we wish to impart. The results have been very good. (Tom Glocer, CEO, Thomson Reuters)

This is not just another book about strategy. The Art of Action does not only present a radical, counter-cultural solution to the impasse business is facing today but it is grounded in real strategic execution in a fascinating organization. It is the 'Reengineering the Corporation' of the 21st century. I intend to send a copy to all my clients (Aidan Walsh, partner, Ernst & Young)

About the Author

Stephen Bungay is a Director of the Ashridge Strategic Management Centre in London and teaches on several executive programmes at Ashridge Business School. Educated at Oxford and the University of Tubingen, he worked in the London and Munich offices of Boston Consulting Group for 17 years and also ran a division of an insurance company. He now works as an independent consultant, teacher and speaker. An acclaimed military historian, he has published two books, including a new edition of The Most Dangerous Enemy: An Illustrated History of the Battle of Britain (published in June 2010 by Aurum), and Alamein, and is a frequent contributor to television programmes, appearing on Channel 4, Channel 5, BBC2, BBC4, the History Channel, TV New Zealand and National Geographic.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 11 customer reviews
Seeing the pride in my Team's eyes makes it all worthwhile.
Matthew T. Kunz
Simply a great book that will save you tons of time from reading the hundreds of books this author has read and gleaned the gold from.
Russ Emrick
Rather than a bookish treatise this is a lively, well researched and thought provoking journey, hugely erudite and entertaining.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Russ Emrick VINE VOICE on April 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is remarkable. The author's breath of reading and research is amazing. Almost every important author or management book of the 20th century is referenced here - in refreshing and often critical candor. From fads like 'Blue Ocean Strategy' to serious works like 'Balance Scorecard' The Art of Action looks at a wide range of material and distills down what works for actually accomplishing something.

However what made this book so significant is the practical advice and implementable ideas. This isn't another ivory tower theory from on high book, but a practical solution that every manager or leader can get results from.

That said it isn't a handbook. More 'how to' should have been included. Illustrations are small. Footnotes are numerous (and without chapter heads). There are no summaries, no easy to read or follow instructions. They exist but thy are not as useful as the author intended. You have to do the work of reading, digesting the material, and thinking through a practical application for your business.

But oh how worthwhile you'll find that process. Of the dozens of books I read annually The Art of Action is one I'll keep at hand, re-read, and use.

Like in war when a business strategy encounters the real world 3 gaps appear (gaps in terms of expected results and reality: outcomes, actions, plans). They are:

1. The knowledge gap - the difference between what we would like to know and what we actually know.

2. The Alignment Gap - the difference between what we want people to do and what they actually do.

3. The Effects Gap - the difference between what we expect our actions to achieve and what they actually achieve.

The Art of Action is about filling those gaps.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Matthew T. Kunz on August 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Without a doubt, I think this is the best book on Organizational Effectiveness I've ever read and applied. You've got to apply it to understand what I mean. I currently am responsible for the success of five different organizations consisting of the business, political, sports, and non-profit arenas. For some reason, I had to manage all 5 at once. As I tried to get my arms around everything, the tendency to control everything myself only made me realize how little I could actually control. I had to trust others to help, but I didn't know how I could do that within the framework of five very different organizations, each with their own objectives and personalities.

The Art of Action is the answer. I've always believed that the human spirit when guided correctly can achieve great things. I've also believed that you need to trust others to come up with solutions to problems when they are closer to the problem than you are. It's centralized planning vs decentralized planning. When people understand the context of the team's situation, they understand why it is important to achieve a certain objective. The Art of Action gets people motivated.

When I've applied these principles, I've been amazed at the immediate results. My team members took ownership of their responsibilities and came up with amazing ideas to solve their problems. Immediately, I found myself in "Management" mode, making sure that they had all the tools at their disposal to reach their own objectives within my intent. Sometimes I had to recruit more people, make a connection that can help, or provide a budget, but I was amazed at the results as my role became one of a servant leader, helping them in any way so that they became successful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mariano Apuya Jr on February 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Art of Action" is a great book. I can't say that there's ever been a business book based of maneuver warfare. I don't exactly know the precise time when the maneuver warfare craze hit the United States Military (US Marines were first, synthesized by USAF Col. John Boyd), but it happened long enough ago that the once polemic idea is now accepted corpus of military strategy. "Prussian envy" was a phrase coined to describe this type of thinking, with impressive sounding words like Auftragstaktik or Coup d'oeil.

There are many types of strategic formulation, you analyze your yourself and your industry and pounce on opportunities; you can ask the different functions and find out what driving the your business as in "driving forces"; you can look at your processes and improve them; etc. What I take away from this book is that the implementation phase of strategic process can in itself generate strategies in a kind of iterative way. Which by the way is how textbooks describe them.

In these times we live in, management is in love with networks. Networks are not even mentioned in "Art of Action" but if you do work on a network, then "Art of Action" is the way you would thrive in such a world.

Tidbits I found profound in this book are: Competencies are built on top of another; don't make a decision on things you don't know.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ERMD on May 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Plenty of people claim to be able to blend military history and commercial consultancy but Stephen Bungay is the real deal. If you aren't lucky enough to get to one of his lectures and courses, then The Art of Action is nearly is good as being there. This is focused, expert and inspiring. Get rid of everything in your library by people who don't know quite enough about military history or business. This is the only book you will need by the man who knows both.
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