The State of Strategy, 2011

March 4th

After reading the excellent and provocative Lords of Strategy only recently, I eagerly seized “The State of Strategy Consulting, 2011”. (A blog post by Walter Kiechel in the Harvard Business Review, March 2, 2011) I should have known that when Walter Kiechel cited the Book of Job in the first sentence of his post that the outlook was not going to be rosy.

His assessment of the state of strategy consulting was that the premier firms are going to have difficulty selling their services at premier prices and that they are already doing strategy work as a “loss leader.”

Of course, the Lords of Strategy itself would caution that it’s difficult to remove assessments of the value of management tools from their market context. Rationalizing portfolio strategies in the 1970s, grasping the transformative impact of the Internet on the five forces in the 90s…leaders have consistently found that in times of fundamental change, strategy tools have proven valuable. Bain research drew this conclusion several years ago.

So what should we make of our current context and what implications should future lords of strategy draw? A clear-eyed assessment might begin with the fact that the HBR has found it useful to facilitate a “conversation” blog and that multiple participants commented on the state of strategy consulting by referring to technology, open source concepts and agile responses.

The basic point of Walter Kiechel’s blog post (that when the premium firms pursue whale projects they are moving into a competitive space that will make premium pricing a challenge) is not contradicted by an even more important development. A challenge has been issued to the traditional concept of strategy in places like Tunis and Cairo with astonishing results.

Strategy, the “work of generals,” that Napoleon and Clausewitz adopted from the Greeks, is already being challenged in fundamental ways by technologies like Twitter and Facebook. Only a few weeks ago it would have been controversial to suggest that a democratic impulse is surging in the traditional constituencies of the firm who are demanding a seat at the table when the most sacrosanct of strategy concerns are decided. The future lords will have to adjust and anticipate the crowd that is gathering outside the door. While strategy firms are seeking new markets, the core concept of strategy is itself changing.

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