Dusting off my personal library over the weekend, I had a revelation: there were more business strategy books on my shelves than any other subject. Not surprising since, statistically-speaking, there are more books authored on the why, what, and how of business strategy than any other topic. Why so much supply? Likely because there is a voracious demand for more as the business world continues to search for a silver bullet strategy for success. Is it just a mirage? Have all these insightful writings by leaders and gurus fallen short of solving the riddle of business strategy?
Sources of clarity or confusion?
There’s a creative path for the business reader Driven by the Art of Strategy and a dashboard reflecting The Art of Long View as one goes from Zero to One powered by Rocket Fuel with a paranormal vision of Seeing Around the Corners. One is cautioned to Go Slow to Grow Fast and even Working Backwards to arrive at the destination with Well-Timed Strategy. If you want to experience the forces of nature on the way, take a deep dive in Blue Ocean Strategy and peak Inside the Tornado.
There’s also an evolutionary path to strategy through Dealing with Darwin, or one can forego that simply by having Strategic Business Lessons from the Animal Kingdom. Don’t question the ringmaster in the circus of strategy Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance. Take the culinary advice on Eating Big Fish and how Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers, but remember that Leaders Eat Last.
Primal Leadership is needed because one is Surrounded by Idiots and also Surrounded by Psychopaths. Yet one also needs the Power of Many to build the Team of Teams.
There are more wars being fought in the world of business strategy than in the real world – Winning Now – Winning Later because Survival is Not Enough because Winning seems to be the only thing that matters. By understanding The Art of War, one is Certain to Win.
There is a forever season of strategy books Olympics beginning with The Game Plan. You’ll want to consider Your Next Five Moves to prepare for Game-Time Decision Making and Leap forward because we’re all in The Infinite Game and Playing to Win.
Business strategy books offer an anatomy lesson full of emotion: Heads You Win in The Dance of the Business Mind that comes Straight from the Gut while putting Skin in the Game. There is so much Bad Blood out there, one must Love as a Business Strategy while Leading from the Soul.
Some make strategy sound Insanely Simple while others contradict it with The Strategy Paradox because there is always a New-How in the business world that prompts one to First Break All the Rules and then follow the Rules for Radicals.
One should learn The Strategy Toolkit by consulting gurus with a Master Strategy Planner to help with Strategic Modeling. Reject cookie-cutter approaches to indulge in Creative Strategy Generation because it is None of Your Business even if you want to Build to Last.
The Lords of Strategy want you to practice The Fifth Discipline and take you from Good to Great.
Some want you to Stop Over Thinking while others encourage Thinking Fast and Slow and suggest you Blink your way to the Art of Thinking Clearly.
Then there are those one-word head-scratchers suggesting the reader be Different to get Traction, be Quiet but implement Radical Candor, co-create to become the Multipliers in the business ecosystem, and live in Obliquity because Only Paranoids Survive.
You know you’ve gone too far when Your Strategy Needs a Strategy.
Demystified and Distilled
As a student of strategy, I have benefited from reading many of the books mentioned above. They present extraordinary narratives and have proven to be relevant guides for my own thinking and for the colleagues and clients around me.
Much of what is written in these works is the authors’ firsthand leadership experience navigating at the helm of their businesses – advisors working to assist clients through challenging situations and academics sifting through benchmark research data.
However, all these experiences are rooted in history. What worked at that point of time for that business in that industry under that prevailing external environment can at best be related anecdotally; it will not necessarily help arbitrage, manipulate, and shape a current situation. Read these books like the guides that they are, but do not make them your North Stars.
So, how can we distill business strategy into its most useful components?
Any business – regardless of its industry sector, geography, and size – concurrently exists in three states, a trinity of its past, present, and the future it intends to create. Any strategy must weave through these three interconnected states to be successful:
• The present is most important; there is never any other time than now. All businesses need to be grounded and performing in the present to claim and capitalize on their maximum potential.
• The future comes next and needs to be created, but creation does not equal dreaming; expand the present to create realistic results in your future. Not all creations need to be big on Day 1; like evolution that had its origins in a single cell structure, even the smallest of ideas should be given consideration.
• The past is past; its history. Don’t dwell on the past as it is gone, but don’t destroy it either. Businesses should reanalyze past performance within the context of future goals, mining experience for applicable lessons.
Finally, strategy should be rooted in responsiveness and responsibility. Responsiveness without responsibility is ineffective and responsibility without responsiveness is inefficient. As management consultants, SLKone specializes in helping clients optimize both. If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more, please reach out at email@example.com.