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on May 10, 2012
"The Strategist" is an outstanding book that simplifies strategy to its essence and provides a simple yet powerful framework. Highly recommended. Detailed thoughts below:

-I first came across Professor Cynthia Montgomery's work in 2005 when I read "Competing on Resources", an influential Harvard Business Review article that married internally focused resource-based view of a firm with Michael Porter's Five-Forces externally focused framework.

-More recently, I heard more about her work from a friend who recently graduated from Harvard's Enterpreneur, Owner, President (EOP) program.

-The best thing about the book is that it distills strategy into a framework that is simple to understand but very rigorous nevertheless. According to the book, a good strategy entails the following:

1. DRIVEN FROM THE VERY TOP, and cannot be left to strategic planning departments or consultants. It is the fundamental job of the CEO to develop and implement strategy. Note the focus on implementation: Without effective implementation, strategy is nothing. As she says: "Many people believe that a strategist's primary job is thinking. It isn't. The number-one job is putting together an agenda and putting in place the organization to carry it out."

2. A COMPELLING PURPOSE, which tells you where a company will play, how it will play, and what it will accomplish. Without this, employees, customers, and investors alike remain confused about a company's mission, and work off of assumptions. As she asks, "If your company disappeared today, would the world be different tomorrow?" This is illustrated with a variety of examples from companies such as Four Seasons, Nike, and Google. What I like about this is that she is not dogmatic about the format or the length of the purpose; rather, she wants to make sure that the elements above are covered. (A good related article is "Can You Say What Your Strategy Is", a Harvard Business Review piece co-authored by David Collis, who was Professor Montgomery's collaborator on the aforementioned "Competing on Resources" article. [...])

3. A SYSTEM OF VALUE CREATION, comprised of mutually reinforcing parts - a system of resources and activities that work together and reinforce each other ("coordinated, internally consistent, and interlocking"). She presents the "Strategy Wheel" framework to develop this value creation system. What I liked about this was that the framework is not dogmatic and can be adapted to one's industry or firm quite easily. (A good related reading is "Good Strategy, Bad Strategy" by Richard Rumelt, which also focuses on a series of coordinated actions that must be implemented for an effective strategy. http://www.amazon.com/Good-Strategy-Bad-Difference-Matters/dp/0307886239)

-The book contains compelling case studies of Masco, a manufacturer of bathroom fixtures, that tried to get into furniture manufacturing (go figure) and Gucci's near-death experience and subsequent resurrection. These case studies are then tied back to the LEADER DRIVEN-COMPELLING PURPOSE-VALUE CREATION SYSTEM framework.

-As a bonus: at less than 200 pages, this book is an easy read.

I would highly recommend it.
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on November 29, 2012
I bought the audio version of this (from iTunes) after seeing an article Montgomery wrote in Inc magazine. I was expecting an insightful look of how to be a master strategist. Instead, what I got was essentially case studies of 3 businesses (Masco, Ikea, and Gucci). There were some valuable tips mixed in and the book is well written and skillfully presented, but most of the insights are the kind one would get in most business books (focus on value, make decisions based on data); good stuff and reminders and maybe there isn't much more to say. I was just expecting more so was disappointed. If you're new to business management type books, I think you'll be happy with it.

After finishing this, I was still interested to know more about strategy, and am happy to pass on I found an excellent book in Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters. The author can be slightly arrogant at times, but when he points out the generalized popular misunderstandings around strategy, it kind of makes sense.
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Most of what I know (or at least think I know) about strategy I learned from only a few people: Sun Tzu, Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, Lawrence Hrebiniak, Henry Mintzberg, and Walter Kiechel. Almost immediately, Cynthia Montgomery informs her reader that she offers a "revisionist view of strategy," based on her experiences while teaching for five years in what she identifies as Harvard's Entrepreneur, Owner, President (EOP) program. (That isn't its real name but you can easily find out, if interested, by contacting cynthiamontgomerydotcom.) One of the objectives of this program is to prepare participants to "become a strategist "whose time at the helm could have a profound effect on the fortunes of [their] organization." By the time I finished reading the book, I had learned at least as much about strategy from Montgomery as I had from anyone else.

If I understand Montgomery's concept of a strategist (and I may not), it suggests - at least to me -- some similarity with a maritime pilot who comes aboard what is usually a huge ship and guides it safely to open water. Consider this brief excerpt: "The strategist is the one who must shepherd this ongoing process [of refining while implementing plan of action], who must stand watch, identify and weigh, decide and move, time and time again. The strategist is the one who must decline certain opportunities and pursue others...it is the strategist who bears the responsibility for setting a firm's course and making the choices day after day that continuously refine that course. Whereas the maritime pilot leaves the ship after guiding it for a time, the strategist remains on course. "That is why strategy and leadership must be reunited at the highest level of an organization. All leaders - not just those who are here tonight - must accept and own strategy at the heart of their responsibilities."

Each reader needs to consider carefully before responding to this key question: "Are you or do you aspire to become a strategist according to these terms and conditions?" If the answer is "no," then there is a responsibility to do anything and everything possible to help the strategist in the given organization. If the answer is "yes," Montgomery has written this book specifically for you. She cities several dozen real-world situations in which real people are struggles with real issues and, sometimes, amidst a real crisis. However the circumstances may be between and among those situations, there are recurrent themes and values that include:

o Regardless of their size or nature, all organizations need a great strategy that gives them a "difference that matters."
o Ensure that your organization's vision as well as its mission (i.e. higher purpose) reveal, indeed affirm its ultimate destination.
o Most small-to-mid-size companies focus on a narrow range of customers with idiosyncratic needs and build value creation systems that meet those needs.
o You cannot be everything to everyone. Know who you are and, as Oscar Wilde suggests, "be yourself. Everyone else is taken."

Before reading this book, I misunderstood to what its title refers. I assumed that Cynthia Montgomery would offer her ideas about how to think strategically and/or why a company needs a CSO (chief strategy officer) and/or how one type of business thinker (metaphorically, someone who thinks that strategies are "hammers" that drive tactics, viewed as nails). Well, what she offers is relevant to what I expected but exceeds my expectations. In essence, she defines organizational greatness in terms of a Great Leader fused with a Great Strategy. They are a single, living entity. One has no meaning or value without the other. Bionic in nature. Either become one or follow one. This is what Helen Keller may have had in mind when asserting, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."
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on October 20, 2012
Cynthia has a writing style that is very interesting, she presents her main concepts using real world stories with enough details for the reader to get involved and understand the point. What she addresses is closer to what a strategist like Bruce Henderson would discuss than Michael Porter. She is distilling the essence of being a strategist. Other authors like Michael Porter is closer to Joel Dean ( a microeconomist) , for he is more like a specialized theoretical microeconomics professor that detailed the ideas/concepts related to the behavior of firms in the economic arena.
Her book will help inspire professionals, business leaders to sharpen his/her ideas to develop his own strategies for their companies. For leaders trying to find their way out of a complex situation, it will bring a lot of value and clarity of thought.
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on June 2, 2012
This is my first review. I attended HBS OPM course. Cynthia lead us on a deep, profound understanding of strategy in business and, for me, in life. This book supports and challenges you in creating uniqueness in business and life like no other book I have ever read. Go on, make a real difference - this book is your roadmap.
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on February 3, 2013
I look for a number of things in a business book, something genuinely new, excellent phrasing of tested material presented in a way that challenges my thinking and my ability to turn ideas into action and good entertainment. I didn't find The Strategist to be genuinely revolutionary but it scores well enough on all the other criteria that I would recommend it highly.

The point that will probably stay with me the longest is that many books and articles talk about and debate the importance of Strategy Vs. Execution whereas in truth there is often a blur between where one ends and the other begins. Certainly a point which I will give further thought to. I also liked the link between strategy and leadership earlier in the book. Can you separate the two?

Overall the book covers a lot of Michael Porter's theories and does this well - a key learning would be that it is not just understanding the competitive forces in your industry but how you react to them that is the essence of strategy creation. Deeply understanding your industry and responding appropriately sets businesses apart.
Importance of core purpose is dealt with well and good questions are posed around if your company ceased to exist what would be the impact on the world. Would people miss you? How would they replace you, and how long would it take? I see purpose as being at the heart of strategy so got a lot out of this coverage.

I enjoyed the case study approach to the material, some of the companies covered have been written about extensively, others not so much and these are the ones I got most out of.

Overall it is a good read which does have a slightly different perspective which it benefits from and the material is covered well, I'd suggest most leaders and managers would benefit from reading The Strategist.
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on February 5, 2013
I am working as a strategic consultant, advising the CEO of a well-known firm on new business strategy. I've read most of the top books on the subject over the past 20 years, but this is still a "must read". The Strategist gets straight to the point about why developing the optimal business strategy for a particular company is critically essential, but never easy or obvious. There are many excellent insights in The Strategist, bringing all of what you've learned so far into perspective.
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on September 7, 2012
This is a book is a solid investment for the time it takes to read. Like all good work on strategy, you'll often say to yourself "of course" or "that's not news" because good strategic thought is good solid thinking. I think the great value that this book offers the reader is the rapid dissemination of the author's content and then an immediate method to systematically apply it. That is, she offers a 200 page guide for someone to immediately put into practice. You'll quickly be able to align your company's purpose with the disciplines' focused evaluation as to whether each is either in support of that purpose, or not. And then ultimately, whether that core purpose/core value proposition is right, or not. It would be hard to believe that the senior team of any organization would find the book, or its method, to be a waste of time - either in the creation stage of an enterprise or probably most broadly applicable, against a going concern. You'll probably want it in printed form, on your shelf, as it will serve as a resource to be revisited.
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on April 26, 2016
Got a few good nuggets out of the book. Overall it is readable and has some pointers such as defining company's purpose, strategy wheel, focus, etc. for the role of a strategist. The book covers too much of Apple and Steve Jobs as a key learning which one can get a better story from the Steve Job book than this skimmed version. Besides, even if Steve Jobs is a brilliant strategist, not sure if anyone would want to emulate his practices unless one equipped with his mindset and view of the world and people.
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on March 28, 2014
The Strategist, by business school professor Cynthia Montgomery is based on a course the author teaches at Harvard. Montgomery's executive education class is very well regarded, but I'm afraid I can't say the same for this book. I see it as more of a high level view of the approach a senior executive should take in viewing his or her organization. That is, who's the competition?; what's the company's purpose?; what business are you in?; and who are your key customers? While he book discusses these items, and provides some entertaining case studies, I didn't find anything novel or particularly useful to take away. In fact, as I got to the end of the book's 148 pages, I was surprised at how little I had underlined and how few margin comments I noted.

I was left wondering who this book would best appeal to. It's very short on explaining any type of useful strategy framework beyond the items noted previously, so I don't think the book would be useful to someone wanting to learn what constitutes the elements of a well formed strategy. The book also contains a handful of case studies that the author discusses in her executive class. While I found a couple of these somewhat instructive, all-in-all most were presented at too high a level to get a good understanding of the decision making processes that formed the strategy presented. So from that standpoint, I don't think a seasoned strategist would get much out of this content either.

Based on the title, I was hoping for a much more in-depth narrative on the mindset, thinking patterns, synthesis and analysis that a first rate strategist practices in the course of managing their organization. This book fell short on that.
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