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As the title of this review correctly indicates, Richard Rumelt is convinced (and I agree) that a good strategy can provides both a timely head's up to imminent challenges and guidance when preparing to respond effectively to them. With surgical skill and (to my delight) a light touch, he explains what a good strategy is. In fact, he also explains what is and isn't a strategy, good or bad. Moreover, he cites dozens of real-world examples to illustrate which strategies succeed, which fail, and why. Both good and bad strategies are a result of a process so Rumelt correctly examines both good and bad processes, each of which involves a sequence of decisions. Thus a good strategy is the result of a process of correct decisions; a bad strategy is the result of a process of incorrect decisions.

One of Rumelt's valuable insights suggests that a decision is correct if (huge IF) it is appropriate to the given needs, interests, resources, and objectives. This is what Peter Drucker had in mind (in 1963) when observing, "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all." Many years later, Michael Porter made essentially the same point when suggesting that "the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do." Rumelt's purpose in the book is to awaken his reader "to the dramatic differences between good strategy and bad strategy and to give [his reader] a leg up toward crafting good strategies." Rumelt nails the "what," devoting most of his attention to the "how" and "why."

Here is a partial list of the real-world situations that Rumelt rigorously examines:

o How Steve Jobs saved Apple
o General Schwarzkopf's strategy in Desert Storm
o Discovering Wal-Mart's secret
o How blue-sky objectives miss the mark
o Pivot points at 7-Eleven and the Brandenburg Gate

Note: More about "pivot points' later

o Why Kennedy's goal of landing on the moon was a proximate and strategic objective
o [How] Hannibal defeats the Roman army in 216 B.C.
o What bricklaying teaches us about deepening advantage
o Deduction is enough only if you know everything worth knowing
o The worst industry structure imaginable

These and other mini-case studies reveal why strategy is, like a scientific hypothesis, "an educated prediction of how the world works. The ultimate worth of a strategy is determined by its success, not its acceptability to a council of philosophers or a board of editors. Good strategy work is necessarily empirical and pragmatic. Especially in business, whatever grand notions a person may have about the products or services the world might need, or about human behavior, or about how organizations should be managed, what does not actually `work' cannot long endure." Amen.

With regard to "pivot points," they magnify impact of an effort. "It is s natural or created imbalance in a situation, a place where a relatively small adjustment can unleash much larger pent-up forces." For example, in the business world, a strategic thinker "senses such imbalances in pent-up demand that has yet to be fulfilled or in a robust competence developed in one context that can be applied to good effect in another." In m y opinion, pivot points seem to be first cousins to Michael Kami's trigger points, Andy Grove's inflection points, and Malcolm Gladwell's tipping points. Obviously, a good strategy takes full advantage of every opportunity that pivot points offer.

Those who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out Walter Kiechel III's The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World.
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on 14 June 2011
I've been very impressed with this book and would be happy to recommend it to anybody who would like to define a real strategy.

By that I mean, as the book explains, not just churning out boilerplate wishful-thinking Vision Statements and Financial Projections, but a serious approach to creating a methodical and actionable strategy to overcome a seemingly infinite number of potential problems faced in business and every other sphere of life where strategic thought is required.

As a small business owner I have found this book to be invaluable for generating ideas and direction for my business efforts.

Another point that should be mentioned is to do with credibility. If you needed any further convincing that this book is a worthwhile read, buried a third of the way into the book is the fact that the author is a former NASA engineer, as well as a long-time researcher of strategy. He has interviewed many top level strategists, including the likes of Steve Jobs. The information shared is, by all accounts, very well founded.

Highly recommended.
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on 29 January 2012
I've always enjoyed Richard Rumelt's articles and his book is a very readable example packed account of good and not so good strategic thinking.

It lies in the half way house between academic theory and personal anecdote beloved of successful entrepreneurs who encourage you to "do it their way". Rumelt disects the jargon and cliche driven approaches you find in other works. It's a steal.
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on 25 June 2011
I'm not exaggerating when I say that reading this book made me think more clearly.

The author describes what strategy IS, and describes how to distinguish good from bad. It's the kind of stuff that's obvious - but only AFTER you've had it pointed it out to you.

He goes into a clear breakdown of what makes bad strategy (wishful thinking, not understanding the problem, etc.) and good strategy (knowing what the problem is, actionable etc.). The tips on how to detect bad strategy are worth reading. One of them is to watch out for "fluff" --- I love this definition of cloud computing from an EU report: "an elastic execution environment of resources involving multiple stakeholders and providing a metered service at multiple granularities for a specified level of quality-of-service". (In case you wondered what your EU taxes were being spent on).

It's easy reading and quite short, you can probably read most of it on a 2 hour flight, and it's worth the time; really recommended.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 31 July 2011
I downloaded the kindle sample, as usual with these books to see if I thought I could bear it enough to actually read it. But what I found was a book so interesting that I actually went straight ahead and bought the whole thing within minutes, and then continued to read it. The real world examples of what was going wrong make such a difference to this book, and they are examples you will have heard about like a recent war.

Totally refreshing book on the subject, and one to read either if you are new to writing strategies, or have hit a rut with writing so many that they all just feel churned out and ineffective. This book should actually be forced onto many senior civil servants to make them think about what they have done.
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on 6 February 2012
Wouldn't it be worthwhile to sit down for an extended session with a top business thinker while he discusses the fine points of corporate strategy with you? You can, at least in an editorial sense, when you read Richard Rumelt's work on business strategy. The prestigious McKinsey Quarterly calls Rumelt "strategy's strategist," and The Economist includes him on its list of the 25 most influential people in business management today. Who does he think he is, a rocket scientist? Well, yes, he also worked as an engineer on the US Voyager mission to Jupiter. Distilling a lifetime of experience, and delving into history and the classics to illustrate strategy's importance, Rumelt shares ways to discern good strategy from bad and tells you how to implement the good. getAbstract recommends his fascinating, informative, enjoyable, erudite book and considers it necessary reading for executives and managers on the topic of strategy.
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on 2 November 2013
I'm not actually quite sure why I bought this, because I'm not really into management-type books; but I'm glad I did and I'm glad I read it. The first thing to say is it isn't a usual management book, insofar as it doesn't read like a huge sales pitch for a big piece of secret information that you'll eventually get to. Instead it gives one simple piece of advice and then a bunch of concrete examples as to why it worked or didn't work.

What's also good is that the examples are real companies, both large and small, and the author doesn't try and impress with his success rate.

My only complaint is the final chapter seems a bit superfluous and more like a history of the financial crash rather than a book on strategy. And then it stops.

But definitely worth a read.
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on 20 September 2013
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy is an approach to Strategy that is clear about what strategy is and isn't - personally I found it to be extremely useful (I'm the CEO of a 300 person company).

It is both very well and very interestingly written. I found it be a real page turner. There are a number of ways that Richard Rumelt achieves this:
1. He is extremely knowledgeable about the subject area and he's a real brain box able to think through very complex things.
2. He uses real examples with names and context. As a long time HBR reader I find this really refreshing to have non-straw man examples.
3. It's very tight (probably with a high-class editor) there is very little fluff.
4. I found myself wishing I'd applied his ideas and popped my many bad ones over the years.
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on 13 July 2015
I have just finisghed a degree in Business and have been a businessman for over 30 years.

This bok is excellent and you don't need a Degree to understand it...

Explaiins so many examples of bad busines mergers, poor investment decisions and rank stupidity through Stategic Planning.

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on 7 January 2015
This has some strong points to make and its core messages of independent thought and strategy as hypothesis are genuinely interesting and valuable insights. However they are put across largely through case studies of "bad strategy," most of which are very lengthy and technical and warrant skimming, and though it makes sense to draw from his own extensive experience it can often read like he is just stressing that he is right and everybody else is wrong. Some of his "storytelling" is truly cringing. This is largely focussed on manufacturing, which the blurb did not make clear, and the focus of its case studies make it hard to apply the thought to anything other than the large scale companies he talks of. Valuable insights but be prepared to skim
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