At CUNA Mutual’s Business Development Unit we are always on the lookout for a compelling new business book. Unfortunately, the business genre, which is flooded with new titles, is sorely lacking in strong material. Many business books these days focus on the three popular themes of finance, strategy and leadership. Too many take a single concept, which might have made for a good magazine article, and expand it with filler to 300 pages to satisfy their publisher. The end result is at best a painful reading experience and at worst a waste of time.
While this book has much to offer, one idea in particular stands out. Horwath makes the case that strategic planning and strategic thinking are two very different concepts. He notes that too many organizations invest substantial time and resource in strategic planning processes, without ever having developed a true culture of strategic thinking that must necessarily precede and underly the planning process.
Of course, Horwath is not the first to make such an observation. Horwath, in fact, quotes Professor Henry Mintzberg, one of the great pioneers of corporate strategy development, thusly: “Strategic planning is not strategic thinking. Indeed, strategic planning often spoils strategic thinking, causing managers to confuse real vision with the manipulation of numbers.”
Horwath also cites Professor Richard Rumelt of UCLA, another great strategic thought leader: “Most corporate plans have little to do with strategy. They are simply three-year or five-year rolling resource budgets and some sort of market share projection. Calling this strategic planning creates false expectations that the exercise will somehow produce a coherent strategy.”
The book goes on to describe practical approaches to embed strategic thinking into an organization’s DNA. Many years ago when John Lass was a new consultant at Boston Consulting Group, he learned one such practice. Whenever BCG would approach a new strategic problem, the case team would begin by forming a hypothesis as to what the ultimate strategic findings and recommendations might be. That hypothesis was then tested using various approaches – empirical data-driven, anecdotal, common sense – and typically the initial hypothesis would be modified as new data and ideas emerged. In some cases the initial hypothesis might be abandoned altogether. But the process of developing the initial hypothesis forced a process of true strategic thinking.
Horwath’s book offers other good ideas as to how to make strategic thinking an ongoing mindset in your organization. It’s a great read, and it’s less than 200 pages. Enjoy.