Inside Business: Hey, you with the strategies - loosen up
Sunday 13 December 1998
But is strategy as important as all that? Is it not possible to see many so-called brilliant strategies as after-the-fact rationalisations?
Well, no and yes. After all, many of the most successful companies have got where they are by trial and error or accident in the first place.
But that has not prevented strategic planners inside and outside organisations from taking themselves extremely seriously and seeing the approaching millennium and its associated uncertainties, in particular, as a powerful boost to their activities.
A new book on the subject should give them pause for thought. Launched earlier this month at a meeting of the association of MBAs - a classic bunch of strategy wannabes if ever there was one - Strategy Safari (Prentice Hall) is, as its title suggests, a run-round of the various theories of this rarified area of management. With Henry Mintzberg, the Canadian guru, one of the three authors, it is a lot more fun than that description would indicate. He was on typical puckish form at the launch.
A sort of Woody Allen of the management world, Mr Mintzberg has always done a good line in pointing up the absurdities of his chosen specialism. So this time, he demonstrated how the fad of the "experience curve" associated with the likes of the Boston Consulting Group came to be usurped by the "knowledge spiral" (when we all fell for the Japanese approach to knowledge management) and how Michael Porter, perhaps the most famous strategist of them all, has seen his "chain" challenged by David Hurst's "organisational eco-cycle".
Strategy proponents will note that it is easy to scoff. But behind the droll cartoons and the pithy descriptions of what he and fellow authors call the "schools of strategy" there is a serious point. It is that in strategy, as in just about every area of management, no single way is right.
Accordingly, the sort of analysis advocated by Porter and others clearly has its place. But it is not the be all and end all. In introducing the "configuration school" Mintzberg and co are calling for an approach that takes in "all of the above".
The book quotes one management academic, Richard Rumelt, who recalls that in 1977 his MBA final exam on the Honda Motorcycle case asked whether the company should enter the global automobile business. "It was a 'giveaway' question," he said. "Anyone who said 'yes' flunked." To an MBA student the reasons were obvious: markets were saturated; efficient competitors existed in Japan, the United States and Europe; Honda had little or no experience in automobiles; and Honda had no auto distribution system. And yet in 1985 Rumelt's wife drove a Honda. The analysis did not allow for the energy of a company determined to succeed, says Mr Mintzberg.
Such an example always brings a laugh but organisations and their advisers continue to make such mistakes. It is almost as if they are so sure of themselves that they think they can secure the prize - of one simple solution - that has eluded everybody else.
And that is why academics from the same institution can, apparently in all seriousness, come up with such diametrically opposed notions as "bottom- up" and "top-down" change.
Presumably, perpetuating such absurdities is much more acceptable than having chief executives admit that they do not have a monopoly on making things happen or consultancies that advise their clients to send out their best and brightest with the instruction to observe.
That would take away the mystery and would never do.
- 1 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 3 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
- 4 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
- 5 British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Paris attacks: Do not call Charlie Hebdo killers 'terrorists', BBC says
UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
Asteroid narrowly scrapes past Earth: how to watch the closest space rock for decades as it flies by
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Prince Philip set to be knighted by Australia: Celebrate by reading his greatest gaffes
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
iJobs Money & Business
£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...
£25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...