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Book Review: Strategy Safari

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Strategy Safari, a Guided Tour through the Wilds of Strategic Management by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel

The authors, who are management academics, review the various schools of business managment thinking, employing the conceit of a safari in search of the fabulous beast of business strategy in the jungle of management theory.

Each school has it emphases, its insights and its blind spots.  The schools are considered in rough order of historical emergence from the Design, Planning and Positioning Schools which insist on detailed anaylsis and planning by a central strategist, through the Entrepreneurial, Cognitive and Learning schools which empasise adapation to change by organisation, the Power and Cultural schools which examine the political and organisational dynamics of strategy, the Environmental school which considers the environment which conditions strategy, the Configuration school which tries to integrate all the preceding schools by strategy formation as a process of transformation. The authors conclude by unearthing the questions management theory hasn’t resolved or addressed. The narrative is enhanced by Mintzberg’s ability to draw on his own work in several of the schools.

Anyone looking for a plug and play business or marketing strategy will be disappointed. The book is a worthwhile read for anyone trying to make sense of business strategy. It gives a perfectly adequate overview of the area, salted with the shrewd comments which underscore both the uses and the limits of business strategy. It has proved to be sufficient coverage of business strategy for someone whose primary interest is to glean insights from business strategy to what might be termed development strategy, providing useful insights into the origins of the dated strategy paradigms, the Design and Planning Schools, which dominate what passes as development strategy.

It’s not an easy read, discussing strategy can become a melange of phrases which make formal sense but without an accompanying picture or sense of how strategy affects quotidian activity . Mintzberg and company try to avoid this, but cannot quite escape the nature of the subject itself.

Book Review: Globalization and Its Discontents

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Globalisation and Its Discontents has a far better description of globalisation than the World is Flat, which I have previously reviewed. This even though the book is primarily concerned with global financial governance, the IMF and the World Bank, and how they behave, especially in the developing world. Stiglitz contends that IMF’ policies have attempted to serve Wall Street have failed not only developing countries but the global economy and so the United States. The explanations of the economics is clear, and easy to follow. This is all the more remarkable since Stiglitz is a Nobel Prize winning economist, rather than a journalist or trade author.

The narrative assumes a great deal of recent world history, so that someone without a knowledge of that history may not follow it that well. Stigliz argues his case forcefully and leaves the impression that he is sure of the answers, or most of the answers, since however these answers, in dramatic contrast to the IMF’s answers involve consulting the political and economic leaders of developing countries this flaw may be overlooked.

Stiglitz examines the history of the privatization of the Soviet bloc  and development efforts across the world but focuses most on global liquidity crises. Appropriate responses to these crises is a central theme of the book, which makes it extremely relevant to the present moment as the global financial system faces an unprecedented credit crunch.

According to Stiglitz the IMF have historically told developing countries to endure the pain of such crises by allowing large scale job losses. This has been accompanied by loans intended primarily to ensure the investments of developing world companies. Inflation must reduced at all costs. Pain and costs are no mere metaphors, the IMF insists that job losses, bankrupcies, foreclosures even starvation are all necesary. Stiglitz’s alternative strategyt is for government to retain or employ expansionary monetary and fiscal policy, provide for re-structuring in economy but do so by having quick relief for bankruptcy, along the lines of Chapter 11 of the US Code. This would enable enterprises to change ownership, have title assured quikcly, and be able to access credit without the enterprise being liquidated i.e. destroyed. This approach avoids destruction to economy of large scale bankruptcies caused not by individual business failure but liquidity crisis.

And it has “….and its Discontents” in its title.