I’ve read numerous books on strategy since before my MBA in 1996 and ever since. There were some good and some poor. As part of preparing for the forthcoming course on “Being more strategic” for PM Forum http://www.pmforum.co.uk/training/ I needed to select a couple of books to recommend to delegates. This is the first of two that I have chosen and the more conceptual.

This book “How to think strategically” was written by two former McKinsey economic and strategy consultants who combine leading-edge thinking and real-world experience. I found this book to be thorough and practical without delving too much into the detail of theory (although all the most important ones – Michael Porter etc are covered). They promise to “guide you on a journey from identifying an opportunity to creating value, right through to choosing the right activities and avoiding the wrong ones”. They deliver.

I really like their simple definition of strategy upon which the book is based: “a set of co-ordinated, creative and sustainable actions designed to overcome one or more core challenges in the pursuit of a higher purpose” and the importance of value creation. There are good sections on “what is strategic thinking?” and “how to think strategically” – with reference to the mental models and assumptions that can get in the way.

Throughout the book the authors pose critical questions to guide you through the strategic journey – whether this is for the organisation overall, for a specific business unit or market or in any other context. Marketers will find comfort in the fact that much of what we consider marketing strategy is addressed as the heart of enterprise strategy.

Naturally, the book takes you through the stages of structured analysis to identify key issues and core challenges. The “invisible hand” is used as a metaphor for organisational culture and all of us within the professions understand how this really does make or break strategy implementation and execution.

In numerous places, the authors acknowledge that insight and creativity are the keys to successful strategy and they even offer creative thinking techniques and exercises to stimulate the process. Although in my experience, this is the hardest part of strategy and not something easily taught.

Like most books on strategy, it is a little light on execution (just 30 pages of the total 240) although the architecture for change management is elegant. But I suppose that if you get all the other elements they mention right, implementation should be relatively straightforward.

There is a web site http://howtothinkstrategically.org/ but unfortunately the app isn’t yet available as it is still in beta testing.

Book contents:

Part 1

  1. What is strategy?
  2. What is strategic thinking?
  3. Turning strategic thinking into strategy
  4. What is business strategy?

Part 2

  1. Managing the invisible hand
  2. Assessing the current situation
  3. Identifying the core challenges
  4. Defining what success will look like
  5. Solving the core challenges
  6. Reducing uncertainty
  7. Managing execution