Thursday, December 21, 2006

Book review: Strategy Bites Back

I’ve already mentioned this book in a blog entry a couple of weeks ago in this blog so it should come as no surprise that I’m recommending Strategy Bites Back.

If you have an interest in business strategy then this is an interesting book to read.  And if you know nothing about business strategy but think you should then probably this is the best book you could buy.  The book will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning- also by Henry Mintzberg – many of the same themes emerge.

In fact this might be the most enjoyable book I’ve ever read on business strategy – and yes, I have read quite a few.  The book takes a light hearted, serious and intelligent look at strategy and some of the contradictions and absurdities firms and strategy makers wrap themselves in.  Early on the authors admit they are trying to add some humour and fun to what can be a boring and all too serious subject.  There reasoning is: strategy needs to be fun, it needs to be fun so we enjoy doing it, if you don’t enjoy it then you probably won’t make any use of your strategy.

Another nice thing about the book is that it is structured as a series of short essays – or bites and bytes as the authors call them.  Some bites are just a page long, others run to several pages but none of them get overly academic.  I found quite a few of the bites offering really useful insights, either supporting something I already suspected or giving me a new idea to think about.  Two of the later bites in particular stood out.

One, from Harvey Schachter finally lays to rest the debate about whether strategy comes from the top of an organization down (lots of big brains sitting in a board room directing company activity) or whether strategy comes from the bottom up (lots of individual decisions and initiatives made by people who actually do the work and later adopted as strategy).  Actually says Schachter companies do both.  Yes the big brains in the board room have a role to play but so do the little people at the coal-face.

The book contains no less than three pieces from Jeanne Liedtka and while her “Strategy as a little black dress” may have the best title of any strategy article (ever) its her third contribution, “Strategy as the art of seduction” that really caught my attention.  She argues that for a company strategy to be effective it has to appeal to everyone in the organization, the strategy has to make them want to change and implement the strategy.  Thus, the importance of the strategy is not so much whether it is a “good strategy” or not but rather whether it motivates people.  That is: does the strategy seduce you and make you want to be part of it?

Liedtka’s argument is also an argument for involving everyone in the organization in strategy formation – something I’ve been know to argue myself in this blog.  And if your going to involve everyone in formation and execution then naturally your going to want to make strategy fun, which neatly brings us back to were this book came in.