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Clausewitz on Strategy: Inspiration and Insight from a Master Strategist Hardcover – 25 May 2001
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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."
"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 . . ."
"Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not make everything easy."
Top customer reviews
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!
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