Book Review: The Trouble With Strategy

Kim Warren has a trouble. His trouble is with the art and science of business strategy. His book, The Trouble with Strategy: The brutal reality of why business strategy doesn’t work and what to do about it, outlines how poorly mainstream strategy ideas have performed and how slowly (if at all) the “profession of strategy” has evolved over time.

He lays into business schools, many strategy consultants, academics and anyone in spitting distance.

The good news is that the first half of the book is engaging and fresh, outlining a novel way of understanding the performance of strategy as an area of study and practice.

I slowly found myself wrinkling my nose, tilting my head to one side and thinking “that’s not really a fair comparison”. For example, comparing the rigour of engineering or accounting or even medicine to business strategy I can’t help but wonder if Warren understands the the difficulty in running repeatable, controlled experiments on corporations when virtually no two are alike. The human body is extremely complex, but we have 7 billion examples to look at, all made in mostly the same way with limited evolution in front of our eyes.

I lost interest towards the end of the book as the insights quickly dried up.

Warren has a point. Strategy and strategy consulting is possibly a broken discipline. Academics and consultants and executives need to share what works better. Business schools may not all be perfect. But his book doesn’t provide much in the way of useful answers.

Published by David Kirk

The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and other commenters and are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organisation. David Kirk runs Milliman’s actuarial consulting practice in Africa. He is an actuary and is the creator of New Business Margin on Revenue. He specialises in risk and capital management, regulatory change and insurance strategy . He also has extensive experience in embedded value reporting, insurance-related IFRS and share option valuation.

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