Book Review: Being Strategic

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I’m embarrassed. I read Erika Andersen’s book, Being Strategic: Plan for Success; Outthink Your Competitors; Stay Ahead of Change, when it came out almost a decade ago. I thought it was great then, and now. I put it on my list of best books on business strategy. That was when I realized that I never reviewed the book. Well, that’s what I’m doing now. Better late than never.

For most of the time I’ve been in business, “strategy” has been about strategic planning. If you were in a large company, a strategy almost always involved three-ring binders.

Early in my career, I chaired a nonprofit organization‘s task force to develop a strategy. They had done a strategic plan only three years before. I was curious about why we were going through the same exercise so soon again.

I asked many people about the plan. Usually, I got a blank stare. Sometimes, I got a version of, “Oh, that.” Then I called a man who told me that the plan was important, and he used it every day. That surprised me because he was one of the rebels in the organization. I visited his office to find out more.

After a little chit-chat, I said something like, “Ed, you say you use the strategic plan every day and that it’s really valuable. Is that right?” Ed nodded.

“Why is it valuable to you,” I asked. The twinkle in Ed’s eye should have warned me I was about to be had. Ed pointed to the door between his office and the hallway. “You see that door over there,” he said. “Well, I like to leave the window open to get fresh air, and when I do that, the door slams shut. I use those three binders as a doorstop.”

That story may be a bit more colorful than most of the ones you hear about how people used, and or didn’t use, strategy. Erika Andersen’s book will help you use strategy for more than a doorstop.

She says creating a strategy is like building a castle. You’ve got a clear idea of why you want to do it. You’ve got a clear idea of what’s possible, given available resources. Those things don’t change much, but building the castle takes a long time. During that time, you make lots of little decisions about how to build the castle you want.

You may be asking yourself, “What, exactly, is ‘being strategic.” The answer is on page five where Erika Andersen says this:

“Being strategic means consistently making those core directional choices that will best move you toward your hoped-for future.”

That’s the entire book in a nutshell. Every day, you go to work and confront things that stand between where you are and where you’d like to be. You make choices about what to do and you keep moving forward.

Being Strategic has two parts. Part one is “Being Strategic Every Day.” The chapters there define the process of creating a strategy that will let you make those core directional choices every day. You’ll learn about figuring out where you are, deciding on what you can reasonably aspire to, facing facts, especially the hard ones, and when you need to slow down before you speed up.

Part two is “Being Strategic with A Group.” The key chapter in that section is “Strategy as A Way of Life.” It’s about how to keep strategy going. The odds are that the great big vision you had in the beginning will stay valid for quite a while. Circumstances will change, though, and you need to note the changes, determine if you need to change anything, and keep moving.

That brings us full-circle to building a castle. The author uses an ancient Welsh castle to illustrate how she thinks about strategy. You can’t build a castle in a couple of weeks. It takes generations. Some things you thought you wanted don’t get built. You build things you never thought about when you started. But, all the time, you’re working on the same castle.

Bottom Line

Being Strategic by Erika Andersen is one of the best books on strategy. It will give you the insight to keep from getting bogged down in the planning process and the energy to keep moving forward and making changes

Further Reading

Working on this review reminded me of the incredible book, Castle, with illustrations by David Macaulay.

Note: There’s no Goodreads link for this review because I read Being Strategic in hardcover format, before started using my Kindle.


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