out, however, that Blue Ocean is influential among many managers and scholars, as attested by the creation of the Blue Ocean
Strategy Institute at INSEAD (see http://centres.insead.edu/
blue-ocean-strategy/; accessed Jan. 24 2015). Headquartered in
France, INSEAD is a premier European business school.
From Good to Great
Few Pop Strategy books can match the influence of From Good
to Great as inferred by the 4 million copies sold. Author Jim
Collins analyzed 11 companies that transformed themselves
from, well, good to great, where the criteria to achieve greatness is sustained periods outperforming competitors as well as
the stock market.
The purpose of From Good to Great was to identify the corporate traits of success, which Collins summarized as focusing
narrowly on business objectives and areas of competence, and
in the development of assets/capabilities that support them.
Collins, like many pop strategists, has been criticized for his
backward-looking approach, the small sample size of his study,
sample bias, etc. But perhaps the most damaging piece of evidence is, ironically, the performance of the 11 “great” companies
since the book was published. As a group they have amply un-derperformed the stock market, and two of them became “dogs”:
Fannie Mae and Circuit City. Interestingly, Collins admits that
his praised 11 deteriorated to mediocrity but, he points out, he
never asserted that this elite group would perform well in the
Despite these gaps—the failures of Fannie Mae (rescued by
the government) and Circuit City (went out of business), the lukewarm performance of the other nine “great” companies, flaws in
the analysis, the author’s own admission that the “great” companies deteriorated to mediocrity—the book is still considered by
many almost a business bible. For reviews, see “A Well-Crafted
Critique of Business ‘Success’ Books and My Ambivalence About
Good to Great” by Bob Sutton ( http://bobsutton.typepad.com/
accessed Jan. 24 2015) and “Good to Great to Gone” in the online edition of The Economist ( http://www.economist.com/
node/13980976; accessed Jan. 24, 2015). Similar criticism ap-plies to other famous Pop Strategy books such as Tom Peters’
and Robert Waterman Jr.’s In Search of Excellence.
Is Strategy Useful?
Even a cursory review of strategic tools can be overwhelming
because it typically presents a multitude of summarized ideas
that cannot be appreciated in a quick read. The sense of un-
easiness is amplified by the fact that the merits of some theories
are disputed, suggesting—correctly—that even practitioners and
scholars disagree on basic points. This is why an understanding
of the historical context in which strategy evolved is useful, par-
ticularly a good grasp of the thoughts of those with practical
expertise and clear minds. Paraphrasing some of the principles
of military strategy discussed in “A Lesson From the Greeks”
(Contingencies, November/December 2014), it is a good idea to
keep in mind that:
■ ■ Competition is unpredictable; it involves skill and chance;
■ ■ Competition is dynamic; it demands constant reassessments,
adaptation, and management of resources;
■ ■ Strategy involves general principles and frameworks, not reci-
pes for success;
■ ■ Strategic thinking involves the ability to craft plans that are
likely to improve outcomes;
■ ■ Strategic analysis requires foresight; that is, it involves the
ability constantly to assess risks and opportunities;
■ ■ Any tools or abilities, analytical or otherwise (e.g., intuition),
that improve one’s judgment also increase the chance of suc-
cess and therefore are strategic instruments.
The track record of military strategy is strong. The track
record of business strategy is mixed. Is it so because business
problems are more difficult to tackle than military problems?
No. Is it for lack of corporate resources? No. Maybe the answer
lies in our tendency to apply simplified frameworks instead of
facing complexity head-on. History shows that doing so requires
a serious commitment to learning, hard work, the ability to ponder, a dose of foresight, flexibility to adapt, and the capacity to
CARLOS FUENTES, MAAA, FSA, FCA, MBA, MS, is director
of the actuarial and underwriting departments of the
commercial products at Security Health Plan of Wisconsin.
His professional interests include strategy, particularly system
dynamics and game theory. He can be reached at carlos_
TOM MAKI, MS finance, is the director of strategic financial
planning and analysis at Security Health Plan of Wisconsin.
Tom has many years of experience in strategic planning,
forecasting, and budgeting. He can be reached at trmaki7@
If you don’t have the
time to do it right,
what makes you think
that you’ll have the
time to do it over?