Open Strategy: A book review by Bob Morris

Open Strategy: Mastering Disruption from Outside the C-Suite
Christian Stadler, Julia Hautz, Kurt Matzler, and Stephen Friedrich von den Eichen
The MIT Press (October 2021)

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  African proverb

As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of Judgment Calls in which Thomas Davenport and Brooke Manville explain how and why decisions made by a Great Organization tend to be much better than those made by a Great Leader. Why? While conducting rigorous and extensive research over a period of many years, they discovered – as Laurence Prusak notes in the Foreword — “that no one was looking into the workings of what we term [begin italics] organizational judgment [end italics] – the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.”

In Open Strategy, Christian Stadler, Julia Hautz, Kurt Matzler, and Stephen Friedrich von den Eichen explain how to master disruption by formulating an open strategy, one exemplified by Nokia. Consider these points made by Gary Hamel in the Foreword: “Nokia’s bet on open strategy paid off — big. First, it produced a strategy that was novel…Second, the highly participatory process produced a strategy that was well grounded…Third, the open approach produced a strategy that was credible and widely understood.”

All that is very important, of course, but I think Nokia’s great success is best explained by the next reason Hamel cites: “Finally, Nokia’s s all-hands process produced a strategy that was granular, and therefore immediately actionable. Strategies created at the top often lack specificity; they’re more about the ‘what’ than the ‘how.’ This lack of detail creates long lags between strategy formulation and implementation. Nokia’s strategy, by contrast, was built from the moment. Each of the three major imperatives [identified on Page xii] incorporated dozens of shovel-ready ideas that could be quickly operationalized. By the time the strategy gelled, employees were ready to act.”

The authors add, “As Gary Hamel and his coauthor Michele Zanini put it in their new book  [Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them, Harvard Business School Publishing, 2020], ‘an open strategy process is messier and more time consuming than the top-down alternative, but the benefits are worth the efforts’: deploy specific tools and techniques that allow them to handle the complexity of internal and external views, generate specific kinds of strategic insights, and mobile employees in desirable ways — without compromising secrecy unduly.”

In Open Strategy, Stadler, Hautz, Matzler, and von den Eichen provide an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that will enable the leaders of almost any organization — whatever its size and nature may be — to complete a collaborative and inclusive process that produces robust, future-focused, practical, and high-impact strategies at a time when the need for them is greater than at any prior time that I can recall. They thoroughly explain the HOW. Theirs is a brilliant achievement. The potential value of the material is incalculable.

I presume to add one caveat, provided by Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”


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  1. Kurt on December 19, 2021 at 1:21 am

    Thank you Bob, for this thorough review. It made my day!

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