Strategy is only for experts: Alastair Dryburgh

'Strategy' continues to be a popular theme for authors, academics and consultants - but have any got it right?

by Alastair Dryburgh
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The Strategic Planning Society is holding a conference aimed at establishing strategy as a profession along the lines of law, medicine, accountancy and the like. The fact is, however, from the point of view of a practising manager, there hasn't been much new or of great value said or written about the subject for years. The key to effective strategy isn't more or better ideas, concepts or frameworks, but developing the ability to use what you already have.

Consider Kodak, which went bankrupt in January. It is no great surprise that its film business was destroyed by the growth of digital photography. What is surprising is that Kodak, which invented the digital camera, declined to develop it for fear of damaging its chemical film business. You don't need the benefit of hindsight to see this was a bad decision. Digital photography was the classic disruptive innovation.

Kodak didn't need better strategic thinking. It needed better ways of seeing the obvious but unpalatable, and doing the simple but uncomfortable.

Most strategy is like this - that is to say, simpler than the consultants and academics would have you believe. You are not reinventing the company, redefining the industry or creating the next Facebook. You are looking at what's going on in your markets to identify what customers (mostly your existing customers) are likely to be asking for in the future. You are looking inside the company to see where you are making money and where you are not. Often, you end up with something quite like what you already have, with some parts expanded, others shrunk or eliminated and a few things added. If the changes are radical, as with Kodak, what's needed is usually pretty clear, if not always attractive.

Recognise that you probably have all the strategic knowledge you need. The value is not in concepts or techniques, but in the ability to see clearly and act accordingly.

- Alastair Dryburgh is chief contrarian at Akenhurst Consultants and author of Everything You Know About Business is Wrong (Headline, £13.99). More at www.alastairdryburgh.com

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