All the other books were text books and thus more or less easy to understand. This one, however, was the only one I read as a page-turner.
There are almost as many approaches to the field of strategy, as there are authors who write about that subject. You may be attempted to think that every aspiring author hopes to come up with the one and only concept that makes him a famous strategy guru. The result is an ever-growing body of knowledge about strategy. This vast amount of information — which often is contradictory — may be overwhelming for the interested layman.
This is the point where Mintzberg and his co-authors come in.
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They arrange this seemingly unordered knowledge into ten schools of thought. Then, they give us a safari-like tour through these approaches to strategy:. For each school, they describe its basic assumptions and approaches. They also place it into its respective historical context, which is very important for evaluation its validity today.
Strategy safari: the complete guide through the wilds of strategic management
Yet to comprehend the whole we also need to understand the parts. Each forms one "school of thought. Why Ten? In a colorful article entitled "The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information," psy- chologist George Miller asked why we tend to favor a quantity of about seven for categorizing things—for example seven wonders of the world, seven deadly sins, and seven days of the week. This reflects our cognitive makeup, he concluded: seven is about the number of "chunks" of information that we can comfortably retain in our short- term memories.
But those of us interested in strategy are, of course, no ordinary mortals—at least in terms of our cognitive capacities—and so should be able to comprehend, say, one more than the magic number seven plus two. Accordingly, this book proposes ten schools of thought on strategy formation. Cognition aside, in reviewing a large body of literature, ten distinct points of view did emerge, most of which are reflected in management practice. Each has a unique perspective that focuses, like each of the blind men, on one major aspect of the strategy-formation process. Each of these perspectives is, in one sense, narrow and overstated.
Yet in another sense, each is also interesting and insightful. An elephant may not be a trunk, but it certainly has a trunk, and it would be difficult to comprehend elephants without reference to trunks. The handicap of blindness does have an unexpected advantage, sharpening the other senses to the subtleties that can escape those who see clearly. Accordingly, in each of the ten subsequent chapters, we present one of the schools from its own limited perspective. Then we critique it, to extract both its limitations and its contributions. The first three schools are prescriptive in nature—more concerned with how strategies should be formulated than with how they necessarily do form.
The first of these, which presented in the s the basic framework on which the other two built, focuses on strategy formation as a process of informal design, essentially one of conception. The second school, which developed in parallel in the s and peaked in a flurry of publications and practice in the s, formalized that perspective, seeing strategy making as a more detached and systematic process of formal planning.
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That school was somewhat displaced in the s by the third prescriptive school, less concerned with the process of strategy formation than with the ac- tual content of strategies. Lauriol, , has mapped our ten schools onto these four. See also Bowman for another interesting cut of the field. The six schools that follow consider specific aspects of the process of strategy formation, and have been concerned less with prescribing ideal strategic behavior than with describing how strategies do, in fact, get made.
But if strategy can be personalized vision, then strategy formation has also to be understood as the process of concept attainment in a person's head. Accordingly, a small but important cog' nitive school has also developed that seeks to use the messages of cogni- tive psychology to enter the strategist's mind. Each of the four schools that follow has tried to open up the process of strategy formation beyond the individual, to other forces and other actors.
For the learning school, the world is too complex to allow strate- gies to be developed all at once as clear plans or visions. Hence strate- gies must emerge in small steps, as an organization adapts, or "learns. In contrast to this is an- other school of thought that considers strategy formation to be rooted in the culture of the organization. Hence the process is viewed as fun- damentally collective and cooperative.
And then there are the propo- nents of an environmental school, organization theorists who believe strategy formation is a reactive process in which the initiative lies not inside the organization, but with its external context. Accordingly, they seek to understand the pressures imposed on organizations. Our final group contains but one school, although it could be argued that this school really combines the others. We call it configuration. But if organizations settle into stable states, then strategy making has to describe the leap from one state to another. And so, an- other side of this school describes the process as one of transformation, which incorporates much of the huge prescriptive literature and prac- tice on "strategic change.
A few have already peaked and declined, others are now developing, and some remain as thin but nonetheless significant trickles of publication and practice. We shall describe each school in turn, with our own interpretation of its development and its difficulties, before concluding with our final integrative comments in the closing chapter.
Note that all of these schools can be found in the literature, often in very clearly delineated pockets: particular academic journals, special practitioner magazines, certain styles of books. But most are, or have been, equally evident in practice, both within organizations and from the consulting firms that serve them. Practitioners read and are influ- enced by the literature, just as the literature is influenced by the prac- tice.
So this is a book of the school of thought on strategy formation both in publication and in practice. A Field Review The literature of strategic management is vast—the number of items we reviewed over the years numbers close to 2,—and it grows larger every day. Of course, not all of this comes from the field of man- agement. All kinds of other fields make important contributions to our understanding of the strategy process. William Starbuck has written that to discuss "all aspects of organiza- tion which are relevant to adaptation.
This is, in fact, an understatement, because the last word in the quotation should read "collective systems of all kinds. Physi- cists' descriptions of quantum mechanics and mathematicians' theo- ries of chaos may provide insights into how organizations change.
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And so on. Add to this all the other literatures that are more commonly rec- ognized as relevant to the study of organizations—psychology on human cognition as well as leadership charisma, anthropology on cul- tures in society, economics on industrial organization, urban planning on formal planning processes, political science on public policy mak- ing, military history on strategies of conflict, and on—and the result is an enormous, dispersed body of literature capable of rendering all sorts of insights.
At the limit, strategy formation is not just about values and vision, competences and capabilities, but also about the military and the Moonies, crisis and commitment, organizational learning and punctuated equilibrium, industrial organization and social revolution. We consider this literature in its own terms.
We do not, however, seek to review it comprehensively. We had no more wish to write several thousand pages than most people have to read it. This, in other words, is a field review, not a literature review. We seek to cover the literature and the practice—to set out its different angles, orientations, tenden- cies. In so doing, we cite published work either because it has been key to a school or else because it well illustrates a body of work.
We apologize to the many insightful writers and consultants whose work is not men- tioned; we hope that we have left out no significant bodies of work. We must add one point, however. There is a terrible bias in today's management literature toward the current, the latest, the "hottest. We express no such bias in this book. Ours is a review of the evolution as well as the current state of this field. Later in this book we argue that ignorance of an organiza- tion's past can undermine the development of strategies for its future. The same is true for the field of strategic management.