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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters
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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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on 4 February 2018
This is a wonderful strategy book, enticing and gripping, that tells us like it is on the world of bad strategy, unmasking the fluff of pseudo-strategy and flawed thought. The funniest part is when it provides a template list for mission, vision, goals with a lot of fluffy words where you just have to insert any company and industry name. Bad strategy, ridiculous as it is made obvious by such template , is prevalent. In many companies "strategy" is just a vaguely motivational, vacuous pie in the sky wishing amassed with political correctness statements. This without really having any notion of scope or intrinsic competitive advantage, based on unique resources and capabilities, about how to achieve the goals. Rumelt even dedicates 3 to 4 pages mocking the self help gurus from new thought who for 3 centuries now in America, sometimes using a disguise of sophistication others not even trying to look adult, propagate the belief that you just have to think positive and profits and adaptation to a changed environment will follow without deeper questions and actions. Rumelt destroys charisma as being necessarily good or sufficient for strategy. He then explains what good strategy his with both a diagnosis of the challenges and a therapy to reach the goals (Kernel). If there is one criticism of such a wonderful book is that it would be easy to have a parallel of his ideas and concepts with those of other great strategists like Porter or Mintzberg so that this could be even more useful for the strategy field, by clearly pointing out in the text, or at least creating a table of equivalence between the informal language of Rumelt and published well acknowledge concepts of strategy from other authors and mainstream textbooks also on good strategy,
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on 14 September 2014
I've heard it said that the hallmark of genius is being able to take relatively complex subjects and make them simple to understand. Certainly, I've found myself it takes absolute mastery of a subject to really be able to convincingly whittle things down to a simple model.

Richard Rumelt attempts and (I think) achieves this not only with a clear concept (what he calls the "kernel") but with very sound and thoroughly researched justifications. But he doesn't stop there.

For example, he shows the effect of varying the "diagnosis" (the first part of the kernel) and how that can radically change the strategy, with detailed analyses of real situations. This goes beyond the normal "statement of the bleeding obvious" (e.g. the success of Gerstner's transformation of IBM into a service organisation being the salvation of the company) into a detailed walk through of how other analysts' conventional wisdom got it wrong.

I'm not going to summarise the book (you can look at the contents and "Look Inside" features for that), but students of strategy will see familiar concepts here: current situation/challenge definition (the "diagnosis"), policy and coherent action plans. True, all of this and perhaps even more is covered in other works, by Porter and others. And of course outlining the bad helps throw the good into stark relief.

But what I think you'll find here is something I've not seen often enough in strategy writing. Beyond the relatively standard and proven methods like Porter's Five Forces (for which he gives full credit), and case studies, what you'll get here is a keen analysis that breaks things down to the common sense fundamentals. This analysis is backed up with solid research, across so many sectors, that you will probably find some parallels to your situation.

So, you don't just get why the IBM's transformation strategy worked, you'll get a critical analysis of their prior situation and all the other so-called leading opinions on the subject at the time, including how they missed the mark by forgetting some simple basics (in this case, knowing the unique strengths). All of this is backed up with good use of analogy, to help you absorb the key points rapidly.

Very usefully - and far more useful than templates - he provides some very simple methods to drill down on specifics. For example, he provides simple methods, with examples, that help you identify sources of power, how to accurately identify a company strategy's when even they don't know (the Crown Cork & Seal case study is very useful here), how to apply Porter's Five Forces model to critically assess a market, even if it is very new to you, and even how to win over hard-nosed cynics on the value of strategy.

I like also that he doesn't pull his punches. The tone is usually respectful and academic, but down to earth. However, he cannot resist a few swipes at poor strategy and, indeed, even individuals he has met and had disagreement with in the past. There is an almost "Office Space" like decrying of template strategy that is only a hair's breadth away from Ron Livingstone's railing against "listening to eight different bosses droning on about mission statements". But I can allow him this indulgence because it is always in the context of describing bad strategy.

He's also unafraid to tell it like it is: recounting his discussion with Steve Jobs shortly after his return to Apple, he reveals not the detail of the strategy that Jobs was later to devise, but the simplicity and confidence of Jobs' approach to strategy as being as much "waiting for the next big thing" as anything else. Some might think Jobs flippant, but Rumelt proceeds to articulate why waiting for the right time or confluence of events (riding the waves of change, as he puts it) can be so important to latching not just onto any strategy, but the right strategy.

He is also fairly expansive in collating and presenting other useful perspectives, such as the school of critical thinking, which whilst not strictly strategy, is nonetheless an essential tool.

On the downside, whilst the conversational nature of this book is likeable, it can be frustrating if you want to get to "the bit that deals with x, y or z". And there are no "templates" or tools to use: he is quite clear that this is often the route to bad strategy, substituting for clear analysis and critical thinking (indeed, I was left agreeing with him that templates are a blocker, not an aide). But I don't think that's how this book is meant to be used.

This is simultaneously a book for the beginner, as well as a book for the experienced practitioner. Whilst it does a consummate job of explaining the fundamentals is a compelling way, it also would be beneficial to those people who know how to do this, but maybe would benefit from a fresh perspective. I certainly found it refreshing to go back through some of my strategy work and see it anew, with perhaps more critical and a clearer understanding of its flaws.

I personally found this book far more valuable read cover-to-cover than as a book to dip into. As such, you might want to try this as an audiobook: I found this a very effective way to consume it, being very much like listening into a really good business radio programme on Radio 4 (or NPR, for our American cousins).
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VINE VOICEon 9 March 2013
I bought this book based on the good customer reviews and a sense that my business strategies need improving. I regard the information contained in this book as timely and more than simply useful. It has certainly focused my thinking on strategy being the means to achieving goals as opposed to merely signalling aspirations. Similar to the Harvard Business Essentials book on strategy, you are advised to begin with a thorough swot analysis and to use your strengths to overcome weaknesses, organisational and those, presumably, of competitors. It sounds obvious, writing this down, but it not necessarily something at the forefront of one's business thinking: in this way, the book focuses you down onto the essentials, the things that matter. Analysis of what comprises bad strategy is also useful and a trap one can easily fall into. If you are in business, today and need something to kick start a fresh approach, this is certainly one of the books I recommend reading and one of a few that have helped me to push forward during some difficult times in the last year or so.
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on 17 April 2017
Well written with clear explanation of a complicated subject - i will definitely re-read. The examples are well chosen from the business, military, and scientific spheres. The author suggests learnings and applications from his examples, and although quite complex in places it is all very readable. The comprehensive index and notes are a plus too.
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on 30 September 2017
I want to qualify my review by saying I come from an advertising strategy background so was looking for something different - more craft, process and principles. There are some, but much of the book is long histories and case studies of business practice, which may be great for many readers but wasn't really for me.
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on 16 December 2013
This book must be essential reading for captains of industry, ministers, and generals! The lessons are clear and manifold, and the books is very readable. The question is how much the principles can be be applied by smaller businesses? I think quite a lot. The fundamental point is that a good strategy is simple and honest, and must not be conflated with goals, aims or spurious targets. By all mean have a PR machine, but recognise the truth for yourself! The tricky bit is having the insights needed to be a good strategist is not easy.

My only slight criticism is that the book finishes with the recent financial crisis, and the hubris of what went wrong. In such a context I am still not quite sure how it could have been "done right"? I would like to have seen the author's analysis of how say Bush or Bernanke could have acted differently with very complex jobs to do and avoided these crises. At the core of it you can get down to whether democracy is the problem, and certainly to nuances of the US system of government. The US economy does seem to produce a near catastrophic bubble just about every 20years. Not comfortable thoughts. Clearly people could have made different decisions, but to do so there would have been little choice but to abandon their jobs. Mind you along with impunity for banks it is clearly absurd that Paulson, Bernanke or Geithner kept their jobs. They should presumably all be in jail, along with a selection of the CEOs and presidents of the big banks and AIG, for falling culpable asleep at the wheel.
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on 30 June 2013
Before buying this book I had often heard people talking of strategy in such differing ways that made me wonder if I was missing the point or they were. After reading this I now feel that I truly understand what strategy is and - arguably more importanty - what isn't strategy.

The book is written in an accessible style and peppered with useful examples of both good and bad strategy (as the title would suggest!). Some of the ideas are so simple that you'll want to read them twice just to be sure you haven't missed the key point. In a time where it seems the engineering of increasingly complex 'things' (insert something appropriate from your own field of interest here) is seen as the way ahead (or to get ahead?), it's refreshing to know that there still exists a place for simplicity. The authors obvious passion for and knowledge of strategic planning and execition pores through the book and the chapter on nVidia is an excellent example he uses to demonstrate the 'pulling together' of each of the strands mentioned elsewhere in the book. Indeed, his previous employment history with the US Dept of Defence allows him to use some military examples which are both enlightening and of particular interest to current military practitioners and no doubt explains why the UK Chief of Defence Staff (CDS - Gen Richards) has this on his approved Reading List. I would however say that Rumelts attempts to suggest that the US led invasion of Iraq was an example of poor strategy because the US was somehow misled by its allies is, frankly preposterous. There are one or two similarly naive comments throughout the book which made me wince hence the 4*s, although to be honest, it probably deserves 5*s and I'm just trying to over complicate matters!

Overall, this is an excellent place to start for anyone who wants to know more about Strategy in a modern context. Another good read I would suggest to follow this is Execution to Die For by Graham Haines. It's one thing to formulate an all conquering strategic vision, but without skilful execution of that strategy, it'll amount to little more than a paper exercise. This disconnect between Strategy Planning and Execution of that vision is where future works should aim to focus.
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on 1 May 2014
A sensible and often very entertaining look at a serious topic. Rumelt recognises that good strategy is pretty much independent of who and where you are, lessons learnt from huge multinationals are equally applicable to a local charity in the UK (to take a very pertinent example of my experience). The main insight is that all too often strategic business plans, visions, mission statements consist of "fluff" based on wishful thinking, rather than taking a realistic, often uncomfortable look at the main challenge facing an organisation and building an achievable set of goals based on that.
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on 19 April 2013
If you had to start somewhere with reading about strategy this is a very good place to start. I've got several years of experience in government doing strategy and I've studied it academically as well, so I'm applying a wide evidence base and this is a good book about strategy.

This is the first book that I've seriously highlighted, mainly because it struck a chord with me and seemed to be full of sensible advice about the characteristics of both good and bad strategy. I can see myself using some of the content at work to help me and my colleagues develop better strategies and avoid some of the pitfalls.
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