One of the most important strategy books of the decade

”The Strategy Paradox” is one of the most interesting books on strategy for about 10 years. I have worked with strategy and planning issues in a managerial role with large international companies and as a consultant. I plow through reams of books every year. Most of them disappointing with the occasional nugget hidden in an overflow of business speak muzak. Many have tales about how the CEO made an early commitment to what turned out to be a successful strategy. Rarely a word about the corpses, of failed commitments, in the ditches along the road.

In ”The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning” Mintzberg virtually demolished the concept of strategic planning, stating that strategic thought, does not necessarily occur in a planning process. He also stated that most CEO stories on how they and their company successfully achieved their strategies are flawed as they are written with hindsight and does not show how strategic thought developed.

Raynors book ain’t your standard recipe book on how to create instant strategies. For those who seek instant gratification on how to find the great strategy and how to commit and persevere, this is not the right book.

Edison is quoted as saying “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls, and looks like work.”. Unfortunately he is right. Raynors main point is how to cope with uncertainty and the multitude of possible outcomes. Instead of stubbornly committing to one set of strategies, win or lose, he suggests working more by handling a portfolio of strategic options.

After Shell’s success with scenario planning in the 70’s many have tried to emulate the method. Several failed as they picked the scenario that they liked best and did not bother about the rest. Raynor positions options theory as what to do when you have done the scenarios. Shell used scenarios to build general awareness among managers about multiple future directions. Raynor suggests building strategies around each scenario and treating them as options to “cash in”, as appropriate futures emerges.

I often think that “uncertainty” seems like a dirty word in our hero worship, macho, management culture. Strong commitment and focus on “execution” is what counts. Raynor suggests that the higher corporate management have to cope with uncertainty in time perspectives of 5-20 years. It is their job to make sure that the company is viable in that time frame.

Handling long time uncertainty does in no way clash with commitment in time frames shorter than 3-5 years. Raynor points out that if each level in the organization does their work, then divisions and operational units will have more flexibility in how to succeed with their commitments than if corporate HQ keep detailed control all the time.

Raynor attempts to move “uncertainty” from something abhorrent to being what corporate management actually should be working with. He gives a framework for how to position useful methods in doing this. His book is definitely one of my best reads for a long time.

My rating:
5 stars