Our Picks: Top 7 Books on Strategy

The rules of the game in the business world are rapidly changing and therefore, executives not only need to equip themselves with the knowledge of enduring principles but also fresh ideas. That’s why we decided to provide our readers with a hand-picked selection of great reads on strategy.

We hope you enjoy the list and let us know what you think:

The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business: Are you at risk of being trapped in an uncompetitive business?

Chances are the strategies that worked well for you even a few years ago no longer deliver the results you need. Dramatic changes in business have unearthed a major gap between traditional approaches to strategy and the way the real world works now.

In short, strategy is stuck. Most leaders are using frameworks that were designed for a different era of business and based on a single dominant idea—that the purpose of strategy is to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. Once the premise on which all strategies were built, this idea is increasingly irrelevant.

Now, Columbia Business School professor and globally recognized strategy expert Rita Gunther McGrath argues that it’s time to go beyond the very concept of sustainable competitive advantage. Instead, organizations need to forge a new path to winning: capturing opportunities fast, exploiting them decisively, and moving on even before they are exhausted. She shows how to do this with a new set of practices based on the notion of transient competitive advantage.

This book serves as a new playbook for strategy, one based on updated assumptions about how the world works, and shows how some of the world’s most successful companies use this method to compete and win today.

Filled with compelling examples from “growth outlier” firms such as Fujifilm, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Infosys, Yahoo! Japan, and Atmos Energy, The End of Competitive Advantage is your guide to renewed success and profitable growth in an economy increasingly defined by transient advantage.

The Essential Advantage: How to Win with a Capabilities-Driven Strategy – Conventional wisdom on strategy is no longer a reliable guide. In Essential Advantage, Booz & Company’s Cesare Mainardi and Paul Leinwand maintain that success in any market accrues to firms with coherence: a tight match between their strategic direction and the capabilities that make them unique.

Achieving this clarity takes a sharpness of focus that only exceptional companies have mastered. This book helps you identify your firm’s blend of strategic direction and distinctive capabilities that give it the “right to win” in its chosen markets. Based on extensive research and filled with company examples—including Amazon.com, Johnson & Johnson, Tata Sons, and Procter & Gamble—Essential Advantage helps you construct a coherent company in which the pieces reinforce each other instead of working at cross-purposes.

The authors reveal:

· Why you should focus on a system of a few aligned capabilities

· How to identify the “way to play” in your market

· How to design a strategy for well-modulated growth

· How to align a portfolio of businesses behind your capability system

· How your strategy clarifies growth, costs, and people decisions

Few companies achieve a capability-driven “right to win” in their market. This book helps you position your firm to be among them.

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters: Clears out the mumbo jumbo and muddled thinking underlying too many strategies and provides a clear way to create and implement a powerful action-oriented strategy for the real world

Developing and implementing a strategy is the central task of a leader, whether the CEO at a Fortune 100 company, an entrepreneur, a church pastor, the head of a school, or a government official. Richard Rumelt shows that there has been a growing and unfortunate tendency to equate Mom-and-apple-pie values, fluffy packages of buzzwords, motivational slogans, and financial goals with “strategy.” He debunks these elements of “bad strategy” and awakens an understanding of the power of a “good strategy.”

A good strategy is a specific and coherent response to—and approach for overcoming—the obstacles to progress. A good strategy works by harnessing and applying power where it will have the greatest effect in challenges as varied as putting a man on the moon, fighting a war, launching a new product, responding to changing market dynamics, starting a charter school, or setting up a government program. Rumelt’s
nine sources of power—ranging from using leverage to effectively focusing on growth—are eye-opening yet pragmatic tools that can be put to work on Monday morning.

Surprisingly, a good strategy is often unexpected because most organizations don’t have one. Instead, they have “visions,” mistake financial goals for strategy,
and pursue a “dog’s dinner” of conflicting policies and actions.

Rumelt argues that the heart of a good strategy is insight—into the true nature of the situation, into the hidden power in a situation, and into an appropriate response. He shows you how insight can be cultivated with a wide variety of tools for guiding your
own thinking.

Good Strategy/Bad Strategy uses fascinating examples from business, nonprofit, and military affairs to bring its original and pragmatic ideas to life. The detailed examples range from Apple to General Motors, from the two Iraq wars to Afghanistan, from a small local market to Wal-Mart, from Nvidia to Silicon Graphics, from the Getty Trust to the Los Angeles Unified School District, from Cisco Systems to Paccar, and from Global Crossing to the 2007–08 financial crisis.

Reflecting an astonishing grasp and integration of economics, finance, technology, history, and the brilliance and foibles of the human character, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy stems from Rumelt’s decades of digging beyond the superficial to address hard questions with honesty and integrity.

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant: Written by the business world’s new gurus, Blue Ocean Strategy continues to challenge everything you thought you knew about competing in today’s crowded market place. Based on a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than a hundred years and thirty industries, authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne argue that lasting success comes from creating ‘blue oceans’: untapped new market spaces ripe from growth. And the business world has caught on – companies around the world are skipping the bloody red oceans of rivals and creating their very own blue oceans. With over one million copies sold world wide, Blue Ocean Strategy is quickly reaching “must read” status among smart business readers. Have you caught the wave?

Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy: Competitive advantage. The value chain. Five forces. Industry structure. Differentiation. Relative cost. If you want to understand how companies achieve and sustain competitive success, Michael Porter’s frameworks are the foundation. But while everyone in business may know Porter’s name, many managers misunderstand and misuse his concepts.

Understanding Michael Porter sets the record straight, providing the first concise, accessible summary of Porter’s revolutionary thinking. Written with Porter’s full cooperation by Joan Magretta, his former editor at Harvard Business Review, this new book delivers fresh, clear examples to illustrate and update Porter’s ideas.

Magretta uses her wide business experience to translate Porter’s powerful insights into practice and to correct the most common misconceptions about them—for instance, that competition is about being unique, not being the best; that it is a contest over profits, not a battle between rivals; that strategy is about choosing to make some customers unhappy, not being all things to all customers.

An added feature is an original Q&A with Porter himself, which includes answers to managers’ FAQs.

Eminently readable, this book will enable every manager in your organization to grasp Porter’s ideas—and swiftly deploy them to drive your company’s success.

Judo Strategy: Turning Your Competitors’ Strength to Your Advantage: A century-old strategy holds the secret to toppling corporate giants. ‘In a world where advantage increasingly depends upon movement rather than position, “Judo Strategy” drills home the ultimate principle of strategy: maximize impact while minimizing effort. This is easy to say but difficult to accomplish. The authors provide pragmatic techniques and examples to help make this principle come alive. Don’t enter the market without this book’ – John Hagel, Author, “Net Gain and Net Worth”, and Chief Strategy Officer, 12 Entrepreneuring, Inc. Why do some companies succeed in defeating stronger rivals, while others fail? This is a question that, sooner or later, all ambitious competitors must face.Whether you’re a tiny start-up taking on industry giants or a giant moving into markets dominated by powerful incumbents, the basic problem remains the same: How do you compete with opponents who have size, strength, and history on their side? The answer lies in a simple but powerful lesson: Rather than oppose strength to strength, successful challengers use their opponents’ size and power to bring them down.

This is the message at the heart of “Judo Strategy”. Based on extensive research by Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie and research associate Mary Kwak, “Judo Strategy” introduces a groundbreaking approach to competition that shows companies how to win against imposing odds. Using vivid examples from companies ranging from Wal-Mart and Charles Schwab to Juniper Networks and Palm Computing, the authors demonstrate how managers can translate the core principles of judo – a martial art that prizes skill not size – into a winning business strategy.By mastering movement, managers learn to seize the lead and make the most of their initial advantage. By maintaining balance, they can successfully engage with opponents and respond to rivals’ attacks.

And finally, by exploiting leverage, managers can transform their competitors’ strengths into strategic liabilities. This book will help any company – large or small, new or old, virtual or physical – become a more effective competitor. In addition to developing the concept of judo strategy, it presents a defensive primer – in the form of “sumo strategy” – for companies facing judo attacks.Packed with the insights of world-class managers and strategists, “Judo Strategy” does double duty: it can help you become a giant-killer, while also teaching you to protect your hard-fought position from challengers in the wings.

Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change An argument for simplicity from the bestselling authors of Profit from the Core

Is radical reinvention the key to winning in today’s fast-paced world? Not judging by the results of some of the world’s best-performing companies.

In Repeatability, Chris Zook and James Allen—leaders of Bain & Company’s influential Strategy practice—warn that complexity is a silent killer of profitable growth. Successful companies endure by maintaining simplicity at their core. They don’t stray from, or regularly discard, their business model in pursuit of radical renovation. Instead, they build a “repeatable business model” that produces continuous improvement and allows them to rapidly adapt to change without succumbing to complexity.

Based on a multiyear study of more than two hundred companies, the book stresses the value of repeatability in business, showing how the “big idea” today is really made up of a series of successful smaller ideas driven by a simple and repeatable business model. Zook and Allen show how some of the world’s best-known firms combine a core differentiation model with speed, adaptability, and simplicity to land them at the top for long periods of time. These firms include: Apple, Danaher, DaVita, IKEA, Nike, Olam, Tetra Pak, Vanguard, and others.

CEOs, senior executives, managers, and investors all need to read this book. It’s the new blueprint for reaching the top—and staying there.