Good Strategy Bad Strategy – Book Review

Strategy is one of those business buzzwords that everyone throws around and barely means anything anymore. Asking someone to define what strategy *is* will probably be met with a blank stare, a stammer, and a lot of “you know?” Of course, crafting a business strategy is crucial. Even below the top level, defining and implementing strategy for individual projects is necessary. Doing it correctly is the difference between failure and success.

Richard Rumelt wrote the book on strategy – what is it, how to come up with one, and how to implement it afterwards. “Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference And Why It Matters” breaks down what a strategy is, what it is meant to accomplish, how it will accomplish that, and how to make sure your strategy is effective.

The method is explained clearly and concisely. You start with a “kernel,” where you identify where the business is at in the current moment, including the challenges it’s facing. You then need to decide the approach you’re going to take to face this challenge and overcome it. Once you have this “guiding approach,” you can begin to plan the details of how you will address the challenge. Those details are action items and resource allocations – the brass tacks of the “how ,” that will implement the guiding approach.

strategy rumelt
YouTube freeze frame illustrating the Good Strategy

Rumelt insists that bad strategy isn’t just a lack of a good one, but something of its own right that has particular characteristics and underlying principles. It has four elements – most of us are familiar with these, if only just from watching the news. Bad strategy features “fluff” – buzzword laden statements that ultimately say nothing. It does not identify challenges. Bad strategy mistakes goals for actual strategy. And it is always conceived of as a means to an end, instead of path forward. In short, the next time you see a barely understandable paragraph that seems to boil down to “we are a bank and we will continue to be bank and do bank related activities,” you will know exactly what is going on behind the scenes. And the common denominator across these four characteristics is the lack of courage to face the challenges that are threatening your growth and success.

Rumelt gets pretty detailed in this book. Some of the book is highly technical, and might seem dense or hard to understand to a beginner manager. Richard can occasionally meander from straightforward informative writing to stories and theory. There can even be times you may wonder how he got to where he is, and where he’s headed. Even with that, this is a fantastic book for anyone managing a project, a team, or a business. It will have you making the hard decisions, instead of shying away from them – and making those decisions the right way. Whatever your role in your business, this book will help you be more effective and productive –  and a better leader.

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