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STRATEGY BITES BACK
by Henry Mintzberg, Brue Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel
Pearson/Prentice Hall © 2005, 285 pages, $29.95 (ISBN 0-13-185777-0).
The Sharper, Racier Side of Strategy
Sick of the seriousness with which strategy gets treated by most practitioners of the art, the experts who co-authored Strategy Bites Back demonstrate the importance of differentiation by differentiating themselves with an unconventional collection of strategic insights. Like no other book on the subject, the authors have collected many nuts-and-bolts strategy lessons as well as cheeky quips and quotes from those whose ideas can give executives much to contemplate when determining their own strategies for organizational success. The combination creates a collection of short essays that turns the history of dull strategy books on its head while offering a vast array of inspirational strategies, options and advice in one volume.
In the straightforward parts of Strategy Bites Back, management expert Henry Mintzberg and others describe the valuable points that must be remembered for a strategy to succeed. For example, in Michael Porter’s essay, “The CEO as Strategist,” he writes, “To be successful, an organization must have a very strong leader who’s willing to make choices and define the trade-offs.”
The authors of Strategy Bites Back have gathered ideas from a plethora of sources, including The Economist, Financial Times, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review and other leading-edge publications, as well as the works of business experts such as Peter Drucker and Gary Hamel. Beyond these usual sources, the authors also tap strategists from history, including chess grandmaster G.M. Alexander Kotov and convoluted orator Mao Tse Tung. Even Hans Christian Andersen gets tapped for his expertise on a world where common sense and ego collide.
The more whimsical parts of Strategy Bites Back include a poem about the powers of spin and perceptions in the chain of command called “The Creation,” and a short essay by James Brooke called “Positioning the Derrière: Toilet Nirvana” that describes the novel ideas used to differentiate the strategies among Japanese toilet manufacturers. In it, Brooke describes smart toilets that can not only greet users by flipping their lids, but can also automatically measure the user’s urine sugar levels by making a collection with a little spoon held by a retractable, mechanical arm.
Bites and Bytes
Strategy Bites Back is composed of tidbits of wisdom that the authors call either bites or bytes. The “bytes” are the interesting excerpts on strategy that they have gleaned from the spectrum of strategic wisdom to enlighten readers about the depth and possibilities of strategy. These eye-opening thoughts present unusual stories, poems and quotations that get the mind working on the level of the great strategists who once appeared a little nutty at first glance.
The “bites” are the chunks of critical ideas that provide cutting insight into the entrenched beliefs that once passed for useful knowledge that have now outlived their usefulness.
The balance Strategy Bites Back provides between the bites and bytes, as well as the theoretical and the practical, demonstrates the sometimes contradictory aspects of the complete strategic picture that must be addressed to create effective strategy. For example, in the chapter “Figuring Strategy,” Henry Mintzberg describes the figuring view of strategy with the extended metaphor of a product launched into the market, complete with launching device, projectiles, targets, rivals and fit. This conceptual view of strategy is nicely balanced by the chapter, “A Vision of Strategy,” in which Patricia Pitcher recognizes the CEO as an artist and entrepreneur. ~
Why We Like ThIS Book
It is obvious from the jovial spirit surrounding the strategic advice found in Strategy Bites Back that the authors have found a more creative way to stretch the perceptions of readers to help them think about strategy in a new and emotional way. By presenting strategy as a multifaceted phenomenon that can be executed successfully in many, many ways, the authors offer a welcome and realistic perspective of strategy that can help anyone get a better grip on its wild and tricky nature .~