This year, with the political scene in the United States heating up as primary elections are creeping up, you will hear politicians left and right talking about their “strategies” for improving the country. If elected president they will do this, as president they will do that, but are those strategies? No, far from it. What you are hearing are goals, not strategies. It is wishful thinking, what they hope to accomplish and rarely will you hear how they will accomplish what they say. This revelation, if it is even a revelation to many of you, comes from Richard P. Rumelt’s book, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters (2011).
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy differs from the pack of advice-giving books on business strategy in that it gets to the root of the issues of identifying what are good strategies and bad strategies and giving the readers the tools to form the former. According Rumelt, a good strategy is one that is implemented as a response to obstacles that stand in the way of your organization and achieving some sort of goal. As the book reveals, many organizations get bogged down with misleading thoughts on what a strategy, and more so what a good strategy is. They often mistake financial goals with a strategy or implement faulty policies that are motivated by those common buzzwords heard across the business world. Good strategy building, however, is driven by insight and focused toward being a response to a specific area.
Another aspect of good strategy building is that the process and ideas behind it are applicable across the board, not just for a growing business. Be it governments (as with the politician example above), schools, nonprofits, churches, etc. To demonstrate this, Rumelt uses examples that range from recent wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), major corporations like Apple and Walmart, to small, local businesses.
Richard Rumelt is the Harry and Elsa Kunin Chair in Business and Society at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. With a background in electrical engineer, followed by a time working for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab which oversees much of the United States outer space activities, Rumelt has focused his research on corporate and business strategy.
Below you can Professor Richard Rumelt discuss Good Strategy/Bad Strategy at the London School of Economics and Political Science: