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Review: The Strategy Book, by Max McKeown

If you want to learn how to write a business plan, there are hundreds of books to read on the subject, full of concepts, tools and plan structures.  But most won't help you to think strategically. To quote Max McKeown:
"There are strategy tools and processes that can help, but the real heart of strategy is the strategist.  It's what you know, how you think, and how you get people to care enough about what you are doing to achieve your goals."
That's from McKeown's new publication "The Strategy Book: How to Think and Act Strategically to Deliver Outstanding Results".  McKeown is a British management consultant who has written several well-received books on business innovation, leadership and culture.  His latest effort is split into 6 parts:
  1. Your strategic self.
  2. Thinking like a strategist.
  3. Creating your strategy.
  4. Winning with strategy.
  5. Making your strategy work.
  6. The Strategy Book tool kit.
Parts 1-5 each comprise several sub-sections following a standard structure.  The author typically starts each sub-section with an anecdote of some organisation you'll probably know; he outlines his key messages in easy-to-follow language; and he points out some potential pitfalls.  Throughout, he makes pithy observations on strategy and its uses (or misuses) which I found myself underlining often.  And should you want to know more about any particular topic, there are good cross-references to other noted management authors. 

Part 6 is different, comprising 28 snapshots of leading strategy tools, ranging from SWOT analysis, through Porter's 5 forces, to Kaplan & Norton's balanced scorecard, with a few exotic ones thrown in.  Each snapshot is less than 2 pages long, and neatly covers the gist of how to use the tool.  McKeown's comments on some tools drew a knowing nod from me (eg. the BCG matrix).

Overall, McKeown has done a good job bringing together what is effectively a strategy course in one book. I do have a few thoughts for him if he decides to put out a revised second edition:
  • Use more anecdotes and war stories to illustrate the messages and tools.  Explain a little more how they're relevant.  And use more mid-size company examples; tales from IBM or Walmart are not always helpful or relevant to the leader in a company of 50-500 people.
  • Leave the rigid chapter structure until part 3; it's slightly distracting in the earlier sections.
But these are suggestions, not major criticisms.  Max McKeown sent me a complimentary copy of his book to review over the southern summer break. I'm glad he did; it was an easy read on rainy days, but we had so few this year that it took me a little longer than usual to finish it. No matter; I'm happy to have added it to my book shelf.

    Disclosure: Isambard receives commissions from Amazon for purchases made through links from this website, but that doesn't influence my opinions.