The Strategy Book: A book review by Bob Morris

The Strategy Book: How to think and act strategically to deliver outstanding results
Max McKeown
Pearson (2020)

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Michael Porter

Not everyone agrees with Michael Porter’s assertion. Those who do include Michelangelo who once explained that he chipped away all of the marble except David when creating his greatest work of sculpture.

Marcus Aurelius urges decision-makers to identify the right problem and determine its essence before attempting to solve it. Also to identify the right question and determine its essence before attempting to answer it. He thereby explains the essence of strategic thinking, the subject of Max McKeown’s book.

“This book is about strategy in action” he explains. “It’s about making strategic principles and cutting-edge research useful. The third edition includes even more real-world examples of strategy in action. You will also find more on new ideas in strategy. Sustainability. Tensions. Psychology. Behavioural strategy. And how to combine creativity and entrepreneurship.”

McKeown promises a lot and delivers even more.

* * *

These are among the dozens of insights that caught my eye:

o “All can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but none can see the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” Sun Tzu
o “Reacting matters as much as planning. Your greatest success will come from strategic responses to unplanned opportunities.”
o “Strategists see what others miss. Strategic thinking is the difference between good managers and great leaders.”
o “All success is successful adaptation. There is a powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.”
o “Strategy is not a solo sport. Strategy and culture should eat breakfast together.”
o “Strategy gives you power. You can imagine your way to the future while there is still time to change.”

* * *

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Mckeown’s coverage:

o Becoming a strategic thinker (Pages 17-21)
o Thinking like a strategist (29-53)
o Risk taking (36-42)
o Knowing when to focus on new markets (48-53)
o Creative strategy (55-91)

o Positioning & intentions (65-70)
o Looking for competitive advantages (71-78)
o Choices and decisions: decision-making (79-84)
o Adaptation to competitive environment (85-91)
o Winning games (95-100)

o Creating new markets (101-108)
o Getting ahead of your strategic group (109-116)
o Business growth (117-124)
o Globalisation (125-130)
o Understanding strengths (131-135)

o Management processes (139-145)
o Meetings for strategic minds (146-153)
o Change management (154-159)
o Failure prevention (166-173)
o Toolkit (175-240)

* * *

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the quality of the information, insights, and counsel that Max McKeown provides in this Third Edition of one of his business “classics.” I do hope, however, that I have at least indicated why I think so highly of him and his work.

With astonishing precision and clarity, he dives deep to the essence of major business subjects such as strategy and innovation, then creates a context within which to reveal what it is…and isn’t, what it does…and what it doesn’t do. He has more degrees than a thermometer but thinks and writes in ways that are accessible and understandable to almost anyone.


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