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Clausewitz on Strategy: Inspiration and Insight from a Master Strategist (Business) Hardcover – 25 May 2001


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons; 1 edition (25 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471415138
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471415138
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.2 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 287,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Inside Flap

What can a nineteenth–century Prussian general teach a twenty–first–century executive or entrepreneur about business strategy? Everything! When alliances are made, broken, and reconstituted at dizzying speed; when experience is left helpless in the face of unprecedented events; and when rules, principles, and how–to prescriptions no longer apply–these, says Carl von Clausewitz, are the times during which the true strategist thrives. Certainly present in times of war, these conditions are virtually endemic to today′s economy. Clausewitz on Strategy speaks loudly and clearly to both reflective practitioners of business and emerging strategists about how to proceed during periods of instability, uncertainty, and rapid change. With a fresh translation and editing that carefully selects one–sixth of the original material, these highly focused selections from Clausewitz′s classic On War present a philosophy of strategy that fuses logical analysis, classical dialectics, historical understanding, psychological insight, and sociological comprehension into an encompassing exposition of strategic thought and behavior. Clausewitz expounds on the nature of strategic genius, strategy as an outgrowth of the clash of wills, tactics and strategy, offensive and defensive strategies, the elements and dynamics of strategy, the virtues of the commander, and more. His purpose is to prepare leaders for fundamental insights into the nature and characteristics of strategic interaction. Supplemented with a thoughtful critical essay by The Strategy Institute of The Boston Consulting Group, historical notes, and related excerpts from the writings of other notable thinkers, this challenging and rewarding volume is important reading for anyone interested in understanding the fundamentals of strategy in any field involving competition and uncertainty.

From the Back Cover

From Clausewitz on Strategy . . . On strategic genius "If the mind is to survive this constant battle with the unexpected, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that even in this moment of intense darkness retains some trace of the inner light that will lead it to the truth, and second, the courage to go where that faint light leads." On the role of strategic theory ". . . all principles, rules, and methods increasingly lack universality and absolute truth the moment they become a positive doctrine. They are there to present themselves for use. Judgment must always be free to determine whether or not they are suitable. Criticism must never use these results of theory as laws and standards, but only as a person acting in war should also do: as aids to judgment." On risk "It is not true that we should always choose the case with the least uncertainty. That would be a terrible mistake, as all of our theoretical deliberations show. There are instances in which the most daring course of action is the wisest choice." On leadership qualities "The further we go up the chain of command, the more necessary it becomes for boldness to go hand in hand with the superior mind . . ." On strategy "Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not make everything easy."

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 10 May 2004
Format: Hardcover
Like many who are interested in strategy, I have attempted to read his classic book, On War. I found it to be hard going, and of limited benefit to my interest in business strategy. Clausewitz on Strategy is an extremely well-done book that takes the key points of On War, polishes them until they shine brightly, sets them amid many commentaries that elaborate on the same points, and uses a thoughtful introduction to connect the ideas to business strategy. The book's structure reminded me of a fine necklace, with the major gem stones set amidst complementary smaller gems. For me, this was the perfect approach, and I liked the book very much.
After having read the book, I must say that Clausewitz's ideas are still not terribly relevant to business strategy. As the introduction points out, the circumstances of war and battle are simply different than in business. Making a connection with the customer is more important than wiping out a competitor. Also, you may be cooperating with a competitor in one case, and competing in another.
The principles that carry over are that strategy must be developed in the context of what the organization's objectives are, and tactics must be pursued in ways that effectively take advantage of the strategy. In all circumstances, surprise is the element that we should expect, and quickly shift our focus to turn it to our advantage. Moral force is important in business as it is in war. Keeping attack and defense in your mind at the same time is also important. Many of the lessons about how attacks will usually fail are well taken, except for the potential of technology or new business models to make a difference. Clausewitz assumed a more static state of affairs with regard to technology and military innovation than actually occurs now.
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By Rolf Dobelli TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 14 Jun. 2004
Format: Hardcover
Though the editors freely admit that business and war are different, and that mapping one to the other is a mistake, this book seems to be based on exactly that idea. After September 11, 2001, business-as-war metaphors seem overblown. Many in business have stopped looking at competition as a death struggle. Instead, they treat it as a mutual effort to foster growth in their sectors so everyone then benefits from the resulting synergies. That said, this compilation, which condenses sections of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz's major work, On War, is well worth reading, though dense and sometimes difficult to follow. Clausewitz, a fascinating thinker, approaches his subject with wit and clarity. By his own description, his real contribution isn't his analysis, but the analytical method he applies to problems. We find his approach clearly relevant to anyone struggling against an intelligent and resourceful opponent, in business, politics or government, as well as to those pondering ways to go to war.
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By Rolf Dobelli TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 14 Jun. 2004
Format: Hardcover
Though the editors freely admit that business and war are different, and that mapping one to the other is a mistake, this book seems to be based on exactly that idea. After September 11, 2001, business-as-war metaphors seem overblown. Many in business have stopped looking at competition as a death struggle. Instead, they treat it as a mutual effort to foster growth in their sectors so everyone then benefits from the resulting synergies. That said, this compilation, which condenses sections of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz's major work, On War, is well worth reading, though dense and sometimes difficult to follow. Clausewitz, a fascinating thinker, approaches his subject with wit and clarity. By his own description, his real contribution isn't his analysis, but the analytical method he applies to problems. We find his approach clearly relevant to anyone struggling against an intelligent and resourceful opponent, in business, politics or government, as well as to those pondering ways to go to war.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 16 reviews
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
A Classic of Strategic Thought 19 Jun. 2001
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book was edited and with commentary by three scholars associated with The Strategy Institute of The Boston Consulting Group. It is the first of what I presume will be a series of volumes. (At least I hope there will be others, given the high quality of this one.) The core material is a fraction of what Carl von Clausewitz wrote prior to his death in 1830. His works were published posthumously in 1832. He did not complete his masterpiece, On War, before he died. What we have here is a condensation but not a dilution of his key ideas about strategies and tactics within a military context. Remarkably, these same ideas are also directly relevant to any other context within which effective strategic thinking is needed.
Following a brilliant Introduction by the authors (although technically, editors and commentators), the reader is provided with a Preface to the aforementioned Posthumous Edition written by Clausewitz's widow: Marie von Clausewitz, born Countess Bruhl, First Lady in Waiting to Her Royal Highness, Princess Wilhelm. I was fascinated to learn from Frau Clausewitz that her late husband "arranged his papers, sealed them in individual packages, gave each one a label, and bid a sad farewell to this activity he held so dear. [A military transfer required Clausewitz to set his writing aside.]...The packages that his hand had sealed were not opened until after his death. It is those posthumous works that are now published in the following volumes, just exactly as they were found, without a word added or deleted."
Following Frau Clausewitz's Preface, the authors arrange the material within five sections: The Genius of Strategy, The Theater of Strategy, Thinking Strategy, The Virtues of Strategy, and Beyond Strategy. Brief but insightful comments are provided to introduce each section. As indicated previously, the basic text is a condensation of those ideas most relevant to the given subject. Here are a few brief excerpts
When discussing The Genius of Strategy, Clausewitz observes that war is "a wondrous trinity when considered as a whole and in relation to its predominant tendencies, composed of the inherent violence of its fundamental nature, the hatred and enmity that must be considered as a blind natural instinct; of the interplay of probability and chance in war that give the mind room to act freely; and of the subordinate nature of a political instrument, making it subject to pure reason."
Clausewitz on Thinking Strategy: "Strategy is the use of the engagement to achieve the objectives of the war; therefore, it must give an aim to the whole military action that corresponds to the goal of war. Strategy, then, determines the plans for individual campaigns, and orders the engagements within them."
Clausewitz on The Virtues of Strategy: "Moral forces are among the most important topics of war. They are the spirit that permeates the entire aspect of war; they adhere more quickly and more readily to the will,, which sets into motion and guides the entire panoply of forces. At the same time, they merge at one with the will, because the will is itself a moral force. Unfortunately, they are not the sort of thing that can be codified in books, because they resist being grouped by number or class. They prefer to be seen or felt."
What the authors (i.e. editors and commentators) of this book have done is quite masterful. First, they devised strategies of their own to organize the material and then to select appropriate portions from more than one thousand pages of Clausewitz's writings. Next, they created an Introduction to that material, followed by a truly interesting Preface by Frau Clausewitz. Then they created brief comments to introduce each section. Finally, they selected what they call "Sources for Sidebars" to assist the reader's further study. I also commend them for resisting what must have been a strong temptation to formulate groups of "lessons" or "key points" to conclude chapters. They also resisted the temptation to add a "Summary" section in which they suggest what they view as the most important correlations between Clausewitz's ideas and the 21st century business world. The reader is thus responsible for drawing such correlations. Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to read Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Machiavelli's The Prince, Crainer's The Management Century, and Strategic Thinking for the Next Economy which is edited by Cusumano and Markides.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Clausewitz Made Accessible 14 May 2001
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Like many who are interested in strategy, I have attempted to read his classic book, On War. I found it to be hard going, and of limited benefit to my interest in business strategy. Clausewitz on Strategy is an extremely well-done book that takes the key points of On War, polishes them until they shine brightly, sets them amid many commentaries that elaborate on the same points, and uses a thoughtful introduction to connect the ideas to business strategy. The book's structure reminded me of a fine necklace, with the major gem stones set amidst complementary smaller gems. For me, this was the perfect approach, and I liked the book very much.
After having read the book, I must say that Clausewitz's ideas are still not terribly relevant to business strategy. As the introduction points out, the circumstances of war and battle are simply different than in business. Making a connection with the customer is more important than wiping out a competitor. Also, you may be cooperating with a competitor in one case, and competing in another.
The principles that carry over are that strategy must be developed in the context of what the organization's objectives are, and tactics must be pursued in ways that effectively take advantage of the strategy. In all circumstances, surprise is the element that we should expect, and quickly shift our focus to turn it to our advantage. Moral force is important in business as it is in war. Keeping attack and defense in your mind at the same time is also important. Many of the lessons about how attacks will usually fail are well taken, except for the potential of technology or new business models to make a difference. Clausewitz assumed a more static state of affairs with regard to technology and military innovation than actually occurs now.
I can even more heartily endorse this book for people who want to learn from what Clausewitz had to say about war. That subject is over 90 percent of the book's contents. I rate the book at over 5 stars for that purpose. You will probably be fascinated, as I was, by the opening section in which Clausewitz plays a role as a secret negotiator to cause the withdrawal of the Prussians from both French and Russian armies during Napoleon's invasion of Russia.
After you finish reading this book, think about Clausewitz's assumption that war is a constant state of affairs. Should we be assuming today that fierce business competition is the norm? Or should we be assuming that a race to innovate is the nature of the task? Or should both views be held? To the extent that innovation is the battlefield today in business, then perhaps we need to also consider those who think and write about how to be more effective and rapid innovators. Those lessons are different from the ones described here.
Look for ways to improve the value of what you do . . . always!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Superb Leadership Resource 18 Oct. 2004
By Patrick R. Bowman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It probably requires having some experience with business strategy before any of Clausewitz's advice can resonant with you. However, for those who have been involved in executive decision processes, Clausewitz's messages are remarkably fresh and insightful (almost two hundred years later). His advice is particularly fascinating in context with the current "Information Age."

Clausewitz's message is simple, but you have to be ready for it to appreciate it. Information will never be complete. Some information will be totally wrong. If you wait for perfect information/intelligence, you will lose (and your competitor will win). In the fog of war, you must find that "faint light" and have the courage to go toward it. Don't wait for the fog to clear, and don't wait for the light to get brighter. It will be too late if you do.

Too often in the Information Age, companies and their executives mistakenly believe that it is possible to get complete and accurate information before making a decision. However, despite vaste improvements in technology, information will never be complete, perfect, or even 100% accurate. Clausewitz understood this almost two centuries ago. He points to what true leaders must have. They must have the ability to detect the most relevant patterns among incomplete and sometimes erroneous information. They must be able to identify the goal (the faint beacon of light). Finally, they must have the courage to focus and align an organization's limited resources to accomplishing this goal. In business speak, business leaders must have a vision and must be willing to take risks to achieve that vision.

This message is hard for some people to take. I guess many are looking for a "how to" book that anyone can use. Clausewitz talks about "genius," and his concept of genius implies that not everyone is up to the challenges of leadship. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it is true. More than anything, this book affirmed beliefs I formed after years of observation, trial, and error.

Some may mistakenly believe that perfect information may not have been possible in Clausewitz's time, but it certainly is today. As a business analysis professional, I can attest that "complete" information is still not a reality. No amount of data mining, neural networks, or statistics can replace the qualities of leadership Clausewitz so clearly and eloquently expresses.

Information certainly has the potential to help make better business decisions, but faith is still required to act. Many of the information tools available today are not used, because our business leaders lack the faith to implement them (they're still waiting for complete information). A great companion to this book (in relation to information and decision making) is Against the Gods by Peter Bernstein.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3 great points 16 Oct. 2007
By Susan G. Dunn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
(1) If you still don't understand the difference between war and business [or war and anything else], read this book.
(2) If you have a boss who doesn't understand that "a" strategy must always be revised and the test of a great employee is one who always has a Plan B, send him/her a copy.
(3) That book learning isn't the same thing as experience - "Yet this is nothing but wretched book learning." p. 91.
(4)FRICTION! "Friction is what makes the seemingly easy so difficult.", p. 89, a concept before it's time, one you should know well. p. 89 "Rather, the general [and the rest of us trying to do anything] must have knowledge of friction in order to overcome it, where possible, and in order not to expect a level of precision in his operations that simply cannot be achieved owing to this very friction." p.87
(5) the great love affair between Clausewitz and his wife
(6) Negativity capacity - "being at ease when in bafflement or doubt and not seeking escapes at any cost." p. 86 (don't panic when it starts falling apart)
(7) The many times von C mentions "heart" as well as "mind."
(8) and that this great soldier started fighting at 13, died of cholera.

Strategy is one of my top stengths on the StrengthsFinder(r), so to me it is innate. However, that does not mean my FIRST strategy is my only one, or the one that eventually works. In war, love, coaching, or trying to motivate a recalcitrant teenager.

And how's this for an interesting point: "The weaker the defender's morale, the more brazen the attack must be." p. 121

I ordered this book by mistake - well, as von Clausewitz says, if you wish to enter that theater of strategy you "must abandon all hope of finding the certainties and control to which they are accustomed in other pursuits and consider the surrender of such hopes as a rite of passage in strategy."

Many good things happen to the intelligent, experienced, philosophical and seasoned strategist by accident.

Good read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Highly Recommended! 21 Jan. 2003
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Though the editors freely admit that business and war are different, and that mapping one to the other is a mistake, this book seems to be based on exactly that idea. After September 11, 2001, business-as-war metaphors seem overblown. Many in business have stopped looking at competition as a death struggle. Instead, they treat it as a mutual effort to foster growth in their sectors so everyone then benefits from the resulting synergies. That said, this compilation, which condenses sections of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz's major work, On War, is well worth reading, though dense and sometimes difficult to follow. Clausewitz, a fascinating thinker, approaches his subject with wit and clarity. By his own description, his real contribution isn't his analysis, but the analytical method he applies to problems. We from getAbstract find his approach clearly relevant to anyone struggling against an intelligent and resourceful opponent, in business, politics or government, as well as to those pondering ways to go to war.
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