- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Currency; 1 edition (July 19, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780307886231
- ISBN-13: 978-0307886231
- ASIN: 0307886239
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 287 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 19, 2011
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Clears out the mumbo jumbo and muddled thinking underlying too many strategies and provides a clear way to create and implement a powerful action-oriented strategy for the real world
Developing and implementing a strategy is the central task of a leader, whether the CEO at a Fortune 100 company, an entrepreneur, a church pastor, the head of a school, or a government official. Richard Rumelt shows that there has been a growing and unfortunate tendency to equate Mom-and-apple-pie values, fluffy packages of buzzwords, motivational slogans, and financial goals with “strategy.” He debunks these elements of “bad strategy” and awakens an understanding of the power of a “good strategy.”
A good strategy is a specific and coherent response to—and approach for overcoming—the obstacles to progress. A good strategy works by harnessing and applying power where it will have the greatest effect in challenges as varied as putting a man on the moon, fighting a war, launching a new product, responding to changing market dynamics, starting a charter school, or setting up a government program. Rumelt’s
nine sources of power—ranging from using leverage to effectively focusing on growth—are eye-opening yet pragmatic tools that can be put to work on Monday morning.
Surprisingly, a good strategy is often unexpected because most organizations don’t have one. Instead, they have “visions,” mistake financial goals for strategy,
and pursue a “dog’s dinner” of conflicting policies and actions.
Rumelt argues that the heart of a good strategy is insight—into the true nature of the situation, into the hidden power in a situation, and into an appropriate response. He shows you how insight can be cultivated with a wide variety of tools for guiding your
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy uses fascinating examples from business, nonprofit, and military affairs to bring its original and pragmatic ideas to life. The detailed examples range from Apple to General Motors, from the two Iraq wars to Afghanistan, from a small local market to Wal-Mart, from Nvidia to Silicon Graphics, from the Getty Trust to the Los Angeles Unified School District, from Cisco Systems to Paccar, and from Global Crossing to the 2007–08 financial crisis.
Reflecting an astonishing grasp and integration of economics, finance, technology, history, and the brilliance and foibles of the human character, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy stems from Rumelt’s decades of digging beyond the superficial to address hard questions with honesty and integrity.
Amazon Exclusive: Walter Kiechel Reviews Good Strategy Bad Strategy
Walter Kiechel is the author of The Lords of Strategy. Until January 2003, Kiechel served as editorial director of HBP and senior vice president in charge of its publishing division, with responsibility for the Harvard Business Review; HBS Press, the company's book-publishing arm; the newsletter unit (which he helped start in 1996) as well as HBP’s video, reprints, and conference businesses
Considering the source, this is a shocking book. For over 40 years Richard Rumelt has made distinguished contributions to the field of strategy, in his theorizing, teaching, and consulting. Now comes the deponent to tell us that what purports to be strategy at most organizations, not just companies but not-for-profits and governments as well, hardly merits the name. Instead it represents what he calls "bad strategy"--a list of blue-sky goals, perhaps, or a fluff-and-buzzword infected "vision" everybody is supposed to share.
Refreshing stuff this, seeing the corporate emperor revealed not in his imagined suit of armor but rather in something resembling a diaphanous clown suit. Rumelt drives the point home with a simple explanation for why most organizations can't do "good strategy": the real McCoy requires making choices, feeding a few promising beasties while goring the oxen of others at the management table.
But the jeremiad, fun as it is--and it is fun, Rumelt has a good time punching holes in the afflatus of bad strategy--isn't my favorite part of the book. That would be the second section, with the slightly daunting title "Sources of Power." To be useful to a practitioner, a book on strategy needs not only a straightforward framework but also a certain craftiness, a set of ideas that prompt the reader to think "What a neat idea" or "How clever of them." Rumelt has the clear, elegant framework in what he calls the "kernel"--a diagnosis explaining the nature of the challenge, a guiding policy for dealing with it, coherent actions for carrying out the policy.
In "Sources of Power," though, he goes deeper than the merely crafty to identify potential levers of for strategic advantage--proximate objectives, design, and focus, among others--that transcend the purely economic. Repeatedly he demonstrates how to think down through the apparent challenge, with questions and then questions of those questions, to get at what can be the bedrock of a good strategy.
In a final section on thinking like a strategist, we get a sense of what a delight it must be to sit in Rumelt's classroom, or with him on a consulting assignment, as he leads us through the best kind of Socratic dialogue to appreciate the kinds of blinders or mass psychology that can pose the final barriers to our forging clear-eyed strategy.
If you want to make strategy, or be an informed part of the ever-evolving conversation around the subject, you will need to read this book. My bet is that you'll enjoy the experience. --Walter Kiechel
"The most interesting business book of 2011." --Financial Times
“So much that’s said and written about strategy is – from my point of view – complete junk, that I get excited when I hear someone focusing on strategy in a coherent and useful way...A very good book.” --Forbes
“The year’s best and most original addition to the strategy bookshelf." --Strategy+Business
"The whole middle section, about sources of power, is valuable—particularly the explication of the limitations and nuances of competitive advantage.” --Inc
"Clearly written, thoughtful...This book is painful therapy but a necessary read nonetheless." --Washington Times
"Represents the latest thinking in strategy and is peppered with many current real world examples. Good Strategy/Bad Strategy has much to offer and has every chance of becoming a business classic.” --Management Today
"Drawing on a wealth of examples, Rumelt identifies the critical features that distinguish powerful strategies from wimpy ones—and offers a cache of advice on how to build a strategy that is actually worthy of the name. If you're certain your company is already poised to out-perform its rivals and out-run the future, don't buy this book. If, on the other hand, you have a sliver of doubt, pick it up pronto!” --Gary Hamel, co-author of Competing for the Future
“..Brilliant … a milestone in both the theory and practice of strategy... Vivid examples from the contemporary business world and global history that clearly show how to recognize the good, reject the bad, and make good strategy a living force in your organization.” --John Stopford, Chairman TLP International, Professor Emeritus, London Business School
“… Penetrating insights provide new and powerful ways for leaders to tackle the obstacles they face. The concepts of "the kernel" and "the proximate objective" are blockbusters. This is the new must-have book for everyone who leads an organization in business, government, or in-between.” --Robert A. Eckert, chairman and CEO of Mattel
“…. Richly illustrated and persuasively argued … the playbook for anybody in a leadership position who must think and act strategically. “ --Michael Useem, Professor of Management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and author of The Leadership Moment
“… Rumelt writes with great verve and pulls no punches as he pinpoints such strategy "sins" as fluff, blue sky objectives, and not facing the problem.” --James Roche, former Secretary of the Air Force and president of Electronic Sensors & Systems, Northrop Grumman.
“This is the first book on strategy I have read that I have found difficult to put down. --John Kay, London Business School
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“Like is an understatement. Rumelt’s kernel of Strategy is the most powerful, supple approach for creating clarity and coherence on strategy I’ve yet encountered.”
Art’s no novice. He’s been an effective executive and an effective consultant for decades. He works with clients on strategy. And, guess what? The book lived up to Art’s recommendation and then some.
The kernel of Strategy that Art referred to is a great reason to read the book, even if that’s all you get out of it. Here’s Rumelt’s description of the kernel.
“A good strategy has an essential logical structure that I call the kernel. The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and coherent action. The guiding policy specifies the approach to dealing with the obstacles called out in the diagnosis. It is like a signpost, marking the direction forward but not defining the details of the trip. Coherent actions are feasible coordinated policies, resource commitments, and actions designed to carry out the guiding policy”.
The kernel isn’t a magic formula. It’s a guide to the most important hard work you will do to create a strategy. If you’re a consultant, it’s a quick way to help you figure out if your client has a strategy or not. As Rumelt points out in the book, a lot of things masquerade as strategy. Plans and slogans and goals can look like strategy until you analyze them with a tool like the kernel.
What makes creating a great strategy hard is that it involves choices, and we don’t like choices. We also don’t like hard work, so we skip the hard parts and just do the parts that are fun.
In my experience, an awful lot of companies spend a day or so developing their strategy. They substitute discussion for diagnosis. Talk replaces analysis. Then they trot out some fine-sounding generalities instead of taking time to craft guiding principles. Biz-speak often replaces clear language here. There’s a lot of talk about what to do, but precious little about how to coordinate activities.
Most of those companies spend most of their time on what they’re going to do, after skipping the hard parts of diagnosis and guiding principles. Art says that, since reading Rumelt, he spends more time on the strategy process. He spends half of the time on diagnosis, another 40 percent on what Rumelt calls the guiding philosophy, and 10 percent on coherent actions. It’s much harder to do it that way than it is to go off to an offsite and whip up some generalities that sound good but don’t have much impact on day-to-day work life.
Here’s what it comes down to. The kernel is the way you develop a good strategy. The kernel is also the way that you identify bad strategy, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. Now that I’ve read this book, I won’t think about doing strategy the same way ever again. Rumelt has helped me know some danger signals to watch for. And he’s given me a language for guiding the process of creating and evaluating a strategy.
The kernel is reason enough to buy and read this book, but there are lots of other goodies here, too. There’s analysis of many business situations that I found both absorbing and compelling.
There’s one other thing you can take away from this book. Even when you do the work to create and execute a good strategy, you can still not succeed. You can make bad choices, even with a good process. Luck still plays a role. Unforeseen events play a role. The competition plays a role.
This book was written in 2006. Rumelt makes several predictions about how some things will play out in the years ahead. He gets some of them right, some of them wrong, and some of them a mix of both. That’s a good thing because it demonstrates what’s true in real life. There are times when you can do everything wrong and have things turn out right. And there are times when you can do everything right and still go down in flames.
One of my favorite quotes about life is from the American writer and horseplayer, Damon Runyon. It goes like this: “The race may not always be to the swift, nor victory to the strong, but that’s the way you bet.” Developing a good strategy is the hard work of figuring out how to bet.
In A Nutshell
Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt gives you a roadmap that will help you develop better strategy. Ironically, that will make your work harder. Thankfully, it will also increase your odds of success.
On the positive side, the book is worth its purchase price for the clarity Rumelt offers on how to create good strategy. He uses the `kernel' method emphasizing the need to identify the structure of a current business challenge, choosing a `guiding policy' for dealing with the challenge, and lastly designing a series of actions or resource allocations in order to implement the `guiding policy'. With his solid advice and focus on action items as the underlying mechanism for effective business strategy, it begs the question in today's market, `how can so many of today's corporations issue strategies that are `fluff' and no action. Rumelt hits the nail on the head with the majority of the examples he uses, one of which, after peeling away the layers of a corporate bank's `strategy' the core message is a bank exists to be a bank. Rumelt uses the bank example to show what strategy is not. Strategy is not a goal setting, is not a budget and is not a laundry list of lofty desirable outcomes. Good strategy is specific and action-oriented.
In the same vein, another positive point for the `Good Strategy Bad Strategy' content is that Rumelt identifies the core element to initiating a good strategy: "discovering the critical factors in a situation" and creating a set of actions to deal with the situation. The emphasis on taking action is a key component of the book. It is often missing in the cultural jargon and `fluff' that other strategic books espouse. In this book, strategy is not disguised as a company's mission and/or values. Additionally, Rumelt highlights that a coherent strategy does not consist of companies with too many objectives; as this ultimately results in a loss of focus.
On the other side of the coin, after Chapter 6 the reader will need to have patience to work through the concepts and examples Rumelt presents. It would be most beneficial if the reader is already well-versed in management strategy and/or has years of on the job experience in order to best apply and thoroughly understand his examples on proximate objectives, chain-link systems and inertia and entropy. The examples come more from his personal consulting experiences and the demonstrative stories are not as direct and to the point as the examples in his first few chapters. The overarching concepts are relevant to strategy, but again unless the reader is well-versed in management strategy the application or replication of these concepts may prove difficult.
Overall, `Good Strategy Bad Strategy' is a recommended read for those interested in business strategy. The no-nonsense approach is refreshing and there are definite `pearls' of strategic wisdom in the book. There are a myriad of examples from history and business cases in which Rumelt's strategic advice draws upon. However, the reader should keep in mind that the later sections of the book are lackluster compared to the first few chapters. With that said, the book should still be given a chance and is worth its investment. All in all, the book is a `mixed bag', but take a chance and see for yourself.