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When senior managers and executives discuss strategy, the results are often unhelpful or unenlightening. This is bad enough in a single company, but in a merger or formal partnership it can quickly result in energy sapping discussions which lead nowhere.
One of the main reasons is that there are so many deeply held views of what strategy is.
If you are a senior manager and have ever faced such a situation, then this book should be at the top of your list.
Authoritative but entertaining, it overviews and critiques the ten schools of strategic thinking which are common in the business world today. Read once through quickly, it will open your eyes to the key thoughts and terminology which characterise each school - in turn explaining why otherwise flexible colleagues can become intransigent over the meaning of a single word.
A more careful rereading will enable you to gain an overview of how different kinds of strategy relate to each other, when one school is preferable to another, and the pitfalls of following any one school slavishly.
At a further level, this book carefully refers by page number to the key texts in each of the schools. It therefore becomes an extended bibliographic study guide to a much deeper immersion in underlying theory.
Mintzberg and his co-authors have worked very hard to keep this text lucid and relatively short. It is nonetheless detailed and rewarding. If you are not sure about this book, there is a summary paper in the FT's Mastering Strategy, which should help to make up your mind.
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on 26 August 2011
I bought this books as I had read Henry Mintzberg's book Managers not MBAs" and liked his style a lot. In this book the authors try to present an overview and critique all the different schools of Strategy classified into 10 different schools. I did not find the book too insightful - for example I did not find the distinction between the so called design school and positioning school so clear and the critiques of different schools of strategic thinking seemed to be a bit superficial and not rigorous enough (which is perhaps an unfair comment as the authors have tried to cover a lot of ground in a relatively small book). And stylistically, I found it less engaging than Mintzberg's other book that i mentioned above, but this could also be due to the subjects that are covered which are very different. So I did not find the book up to my expectations and so the 3 stars, but this could be due to the fact that I bought it with the wrong expectation, and others could have a very different experience.
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This book summarises ten different schools of strategic thought but the separations are deceptive and the approaches themselves are set up as straw men to be knocked down.

It's therefore a challenging read if you're already knowledgable about strategy and you have your own views about the different approaches. While some of it made me angry with what were almost parodies, some barbs hit home.

For all the focus on strategy in the last 40 years, we still have much to learn. Once problem is the desire to sell the latest idea as a replacement for what's gone before rather than an improvement which adds to accepted wisdom.

I can see that this is a good read for students who are studying strategy and need to be able to learn and then criticise the ideas and concepts. It's also a shot across the bows to academics who need to be synthesising the best approaches rather than creating more. It's not a guide for a senior manager or business owner who wants to learn how to think strategically. In highlighting the different approaches, it's likely to discourage their efforts. I think that would be a shame because I believe there is a lot to be gained from learning how to think about the future and how you can shape or adapt to what's likely to happen.

It was an interesting read but I've never felt the urge to go back to it.

About my book reviews - I aim to be a tough reviewer because the main cost of a book is not the money to buy it but the time needed to read it and absorb the key messages. 3 stars is worthwhile.

Paul Simister, business coach
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This is the most valuable book ever written on strategic management. Be sure to read and apply its lessons well!
I have worked in the field of strategic management since before it was called that, both as a practitioner and as a consultant. One of my favorite complaints about books in the field is that they emphasize one facet of developing and implementing stratgies and ignore the others. This book is the outstanding exception to that problemmatic standard of tunnel vision. There's no stalled thinking here about strategic management.
If you are like me, you would like to get better results from strategic management. Solving one part of the task and ignoring the others leads to failure just as surely as ignoring strategic managment does. Imbalance in perspective can be equally dangerous. As the authors point out, " . . . The greatest failings of strategic management have occurred when managers took one point of view too seriously."
Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel start out by pointing out that there are five different kinds of strategy definitions (as plan, pattern, perspective, position, and ploy). When you read books about strategy, keep these in mind.
They begin with the tale of the six blind men and the elephant. Each can grasp one element of the elephant, but cannot grasp the whole. That's the situation the authors are warning you against.
They define this work as "a field review not a literature review" so you don't find every book's details. Whew! That's a relief. On the other hand, they are clearly familiar with the literature and cite it where appropriate. The book is designed for managers, consultants, professors and students. The style is also designed to be easily accessible. And these goals are well achieved in my view.
Although recognizing that the human mind boggles past 7 items (which seems to be the limit of what short-term memory can retain), they found 10 themes in the field. The first three emphasize traditional left-brained thinking of the sort that dominates in business schools: Design, Planning, and Positioning. The next six are other aspects of strategic management that are more right-brained: Entrepreneurial, Cognitive, Learning, Power, Cultural, and Environmental. The final one is focused on transformation, the school of Configuration. Each one receives its own chapter and its weaknesses are displayed.
In chapter 12, the reader is encouraged to synthesize the 10 themes into integrated use. There is a table (12.1) that neatly summarizes each theme, a figure (12.2) that shows how they are mutually related, and a remarkably useful figure (12.3) that effectively shows how they can be integrated from perspective and in sequencing.
You may be wondering what all of the fuss is about. Basically, strategic management is one of those fields that has yet to emerge with an integrated perspective on the firm. In fact, the problem is poorly perceived because most people are unaware of the areas they are ignoring. In fact, I always create syntheses of these areas in my writing and am often criticized for dealing with subjectively perceived nonissues that the readers do not see the importance of. Strategic myopia seems to be a common problem, not just among the scholars.
I feel very indebted to the authors for developing such a wonderful overview that I can recommend to others (including my clients). I also appreciate their clarifying that the important question now for strategic management is creating a useful synthesis. My personal view is that this must be done by creating one simple, effective mindset that encompasses all ten perspectives, without requiring anyone to learn each one directly.
I strongly urge you to read and apply the lessons in this seminal work on strategic management. I also hope you will find your own novel integrations of these perspectives and share them.
Good luck in expanding your perceptions of strategic management and its potential to help you and your organization succeed!
After you have finished this book, ask yourself which of the perspectives are missing from or underrepresented today in your organization. Then begin to think of ways to add those perspectives.
If you would like to learn more about strategy, you should also read Mintzburg's outstanding book, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, which I have also reviewed.
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VINE VOICEon 9 August 2002
If like me you are doing your MBA, this is one of two essential books (the other being the book of MBA models.) This is a potted history of strategic thinking, not sufficient on its own to develop your dissertation according to one school of thought, but an excellent starter for ten and a superb context in which to place the evolution of corporate strategy.
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on 22 April 2002
I admit that I started reading this as a fan of Mintzberg's easy to read and sometimes funny style. As a business school student, the schools of strategy were not hanging together for me. One text would present a number of broad schools, another would sub-divide them, and of course they would both call some of them by different names. This book starts by introducing the different schools and how they came about, then discusses each in turn, then (hallelujah!) provides a really clear table at the back of the book showing how they differ. It has made my studies easier, though I admit to bias and being a fan to start with.
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on 3 October 2001
This is possibly the best strategy book I have ever read. If you think the only way to develop business strategy is to get loads of data, put it into matrices and analyse it, yet you are left wondering why the method doesnt 'quite fit', this book is for you.
Describing and contrasting a number of strategy 'schools', the book talks about how different approaches can legitimately be used in different businesses. The book has given me such a new way of looking at strategy that I dont really want to tell you about it at all!!
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on 27 December 2003
Mintzberg is one of the pioneers of corporate strategy and has a pragmatic view on the subject. Having devoted a couple of decades on researching the subject, few persons could be better equipped to provide an overview of the subject than he.
The book contains a meta level presentation of the different schools of corporate strategy in an accessible and inspiring way. It also points out the strengths and weaknesses of each school.
After having read the book you will be in a better position to put corporate strategies you run into in perspective and know what the strength/weaknesses are for the chosen school of strategy.
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on 4 June 2002
When I bought a copy of Strategy Safari, I had been studying strategic management at the university for almost a year. I found the subject hard to comprehend, however the book, like a jigsaw, helped me bring all the disconnected fragments of knowledge together.
In this book Mintzberg, Ahlstrand and Lampel review various schools of strategy and then offer their own view of the strategy-making process. The book maintains a good balance between describing strategy theories as well as giving examples of how these theories can and are applied in practice.
The book is well-illustrated, which makes for pleasant and quick reading. In fact, it only took 3 days to read Strategy Safari. Perhaps this could serve as a criticism of the book (one of few) - amid all the illustrations there is not as much content as one wishes there to be.
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on 7 March 2000
Mintzberg et al. are able to capture 40 years of intensive research on strategic management. This is no mean feat. They describe and appraise the ten most influentials schools of strategic management as they see them. Sometimes scientific rigour is traded for heuristic value but this makes the book not one bit less brilliant. It is written by the most important writer on strategy and organisational issues and therefore a goldmine of information. After reading the book even a total beginner to strategy will see the big picture and the details. Only Henry Mintzberg is able to do this. Definitely the best book on strategy ever written. I scrapped my own lecture on strategy in favour of this book. Go and get it!
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