Strategy in the crisis – keep it simple!

Strategic decisions are complex – lets not make the job tougher!

Jo Whitehead of Ashridge Strategic Management Centre, writing for the Executive Education section of the Financial Times struck a cord with me. His call was for Business Schools and strategy text book writers to get back to the basics. More and more text books are offering complex strategy models that do nothing  to help with the real challenge of strategy: the need to make and implement hard choices in an uncertain environment, with limited information.

Jo talks about students and professors wanting to talk about the latest new and sexy ideas and leave the basics behind. Furthermore, they do not have the time or inclination to put these concepts into practice other than applying them to a few after-the-fact case studies rather than in the crucible of real life, messy situations.

It leaves us with graduates (and executives) talking about these flashy ideas, but when they are required to develop a strategy, they go back to over-simplistic approaches like a SWOT analysis. Jo calls for a smaller number of foundation-type models upon which to build a rigorous set of strategy skills.

After having been in the field of crafting strategy for about 25 years, I have seen many of theses trends come and go – and admittedly have often got caught up in the excitement of some of them myself. I am not saying that they are not without value. For instance, working with a team while at Deloitte, we used the concept of “core competencies” to help convert a company manufacturing arms and ammunition into one that manufactured other peace-time products (a classic swords to ploughshare project). However, core competency thinking cannot be applied universally in all strategies and frankly it took the immense experience and brain-power of our consulting team (Dr, Adriaan Davidse and Karola McArthur) to make it practical.

All good strategy results in one, or a series, of critical decisions – always taken in complex environments with uncertain futures. Strategy tools that help us visualise, understand and manage this complexity add insight. Strategic concepts that make it more obscure or unnecessarily add another level of complexity are seldom useful. As we constantly remind ourselves at Genesis Management Consulting, strategy is ultimately “what are we going to sell to who, and with what basis of competitive advantage”. And if you cannot answer that question at the end of your strategy development process, you had better follow Jo’s advice and go back to the basics!

Link to FT article


For further information about how to combat the complexity of strategic decisions, contact Simon at


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