Want to Be a Better Strategic Planner? Read These Classic & New Books on Strategy

By LBL Strategies Team

Strategic Management Books

In general, to be effective in any discipline, one must acquire the knowledge and skills required to practice that discipline.  If you are looking to be effective in the practice of the strategic management discipline, we encourage you to become familiar with many of these books.  Each adds to the overall body of knowledge which makes up the discipline of strategic management.


–   The origin of the word strategy predates recorded history and comes from strategos or military commander in histories of fifth-century B.C. Greek city-states.

–   In the early 16th century the Roman model of warfare was reintroduced in the Art of War by Niccolò Machiavelli as the first model for modern warfare.

–   Around 2,300 years ago, Sun Tzu is credited for having written the Art of War, a compilation of essays that remains, to this day, profound wisdom on the conduct of war.

–   Peter Drucker, the seminal thinker on management in the last half of the 20th century, wrote about “Management by Objective” (MBO) in his classic The Practice of Management (1954).

–   Drucker further developed his ideas pertaining to strategy in Management by Results (1964). This latter work appeared just as strategy as the central organizing concept for planning, structuring, and managing large-scale companies was being developed and taught by leading theorists and scholars of the decade.

–   Igor Ansoff explained in Corporate Strategy: An Analytical Approach to Business Policy for Growth and Expansion (1965) that strategy becomes the rule for making decisions: the “common thread” with four components—product/market scope; the growth vector; competitive advantage; and synergy.

–   In the early 1970s, the Boston Consulting Group (“BCG”) developed an analytic model for managing a portfolio of different business units (or major product lines). The first use of portfolio analysis, the BCG Growth-Share Matrix, displays the various business units on a graph charting market growth rate vs. market share relative to competitors.  https://www.bcg.com/publications/1970/strategy-the-product-portfolio.aspx

–   Michael Porter described in Competitive Strategy – Techniques for Analyzing Industries (1980)  a framework in which he used concepts developed in industrial organization economics to derive five competitive forces that determine the attractiveness of a market.

–   Tom Peters and Robert Waterman (1982), in their book In Search of Excellence developed an organizational model called the “Seven S” model that puts strategic management within the context of a complex organizational network.

–   Porter’s second major contribution to strategic management field was his classification of generic strategies described in Competitive Advantage (1985).

–   Peter Senge (1990) added to this internal focus in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by describing the impact of learning on both strategic and operational management.

–   Robert Kaplan and David Norton had a major impact on the discipline beginning with their first book entitled The Balanced Scorecard: Measures that Drive Performance. (1992) In this book they first developed the concept of a “balanced scorecard” that stressed the need to measure and control performance based on measuring and monitoring four types of measure / perspectives.

–   Chris Argyris made an important contribution to many disciplines in his 1993 book Knowledge for Action: A Guide to Overcoming Barriers to Organizational Change.  Herein he described the importance of a steady stream information to the facilitate what he defined as double-loop learning—learning that changes people’s assumptions and, therefore, their responses.

–   Rosabeth Kantor described in The Change Masters: Innovation for Productivity in the American Corporation (1994) her concepts of change management that include a major emphasis on empowerment throughout the organization to implement strategy effectively.

–   Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad made several important contributions to the development of the strategic management field, e.g. core competency.  This critical concept was originally described in The Core Competence of the Organization (1994).

–   Henry Mintzberg in his critical critique of strategic planning, in the Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning (1994) concludes that the term strategic planning is an oxymoron. Meaning that strategy cannot be planned because planning is about analysis and strategy is about synthesis. He articulates that strategy is “emergent” not planned.

–     In 1995 Fred Fry and Charles Stoner wrote a thoughtful book on strategic planning and management of the small business entitled Strategic Planning in the Small Business.

–     Jeanenne LaMarsh wrote a wonderful book on change management in 1995 entitled Changing the Way We Change: Gaining Control of Major Operational Change.  She points out change management begins with setting the vision—a desired future state.  However, this vision cannot be fully defined at the outset, that is, “the future is never an ‘end’—instead, it is a guideline, a flexible framework that sets the outside boundaries for change. It is ill defined, adjusting, and impermanent.”

–   In 1996 (originally 1992), Kaplan and Norton were among the first to recognize the need to carefully define the relationship/dynamics between strategy and operations.  This logic was clearly summarized in The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy in Action. They helped us understand the importance of executing the overall organizational strategy through a balanced operational approach. Norton and Kaplan’s “Balanced Scorecard” methodology specifies four strategic perspectives leadership teams must consider when building the bridge between the strategic plan and the strategic operating plan.  They include the financial, customer, internal business, and learning and growth perspectives.

–   The 2001 work of Jim Collins in Good to Great on the Hedgehog Concept is also noteworthy.  Collins points out the goals is not to be the best, an intention to be the best, or even a plan to be the best. Rather, it is arriving at a fundamental understanding of what you can be the best at.

–   One excellent example of using the concepts of Hamel and Prahalad is demonstrated in the work of W. C. Kim and Renee Mauborgne (2005), Blue Ocean Strategy. They developed an imaginative and creative approach to stretching and leveraging core competencies to gain an advantage in competing for the future.

Good to Great – Jim Collins

No book list on strategic planning and leadership is complete without Jim Collins’s classic. So many books are written for entrepreneurs first starting out, detailing how to build a business from nothing. But Good to Great is relevant for the executive who’s working at an existing business that’s either stagnating or looking to get to the next level. This is not about the unicorns – this is about real – but middle-of-the-road – companies that must deal with all the inertia and complexity of existing corporate structure and policies.

Published in 2001, some of the case studies may at first seem a bit dated, but the message still rings clear and the management strategies described in the book still apply to companies today. Now, if you’re the type of person to read this list, there’s a good chance you’ve already read this book. But if you haven’t, grab a copy today. You’ll be happy you did.

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy – Richard Rumelt

Like Good to Great, Rumelt also approaches the topic of strategic planning through case studies, but the central theme in this book takes those ideas one step further. With a more diverse set of examples – from church pastors to government officials – Rumelt doesn’t just examine organizations, but the people making these critical leadership decisions.

The book first takes a close look at “bad strategy,” and Rumelt defines its four primary hallmarks:

  • Fluff is a form of gibberish masquerading as strategic concepts or arguments. It uses ‘Sunday’ words (words that are inflated and unnecessarily abstruse) and apparently esoteric concepts to create the illusion of high-level thinking.
  • Failure to face the challenge. Bad strategy fails to recognize or define the challenge. When you cannot define the challenge, you cannot evaluate a strategy or improve it.
  • Mistaking goals for strategy. Many bad strategies are just statements of desire rather than plans for overcoming obstacles.
  • Bad strategic objectives. A strategic objective is set by a leader as a means to an end. Strategic objectives are ‘bad’ when they fail to address critical issues or when they are impracticable.

But a good strategy book would not be complete without providing some direction and tools you can use to avoid these mistakes and build your organization, and Rumelt does not disappoint. His “strategy kernel” – consisting of Diagnosis, Guiding Policy, and Coherent Actions –  helps build a foundation for your own strategic planning overhaul and sets the stage for his explanation of how to leverage strategic advantages and start truly thinking like a strategist.

The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen

For those companies who’ve reached the top of their industry, the hard work and tough decisions are only the beginning. Wrestling with fellow giants is challenging enough, but what’s almost impossible is simultaneously fighting off the upstarts nipping at your heels.

Christensen’s book is another classic which tackles the paradoxical dilemma many cutting-edge businesses face: how do you continue to satisfy your customer’s current needs while also preparing to satisfy their future needs? With examples like Intel’s 8088 processor and the Honda Supercub, Christensen shows how disruptive competition can creep into the low end of the market. These competitors can upend your business by offering an alternative that’s cheaper than your business and has matured to the point where they’re just good enough to satisfy your customers’ needs.

This is an important book for executives who are beating their heads against the wall to push product innovation, yet still struggling to hold onto customers. It’s for the young company who wants to be that upstart and take on giants. And of course, it’s for any company still trying to define its identity in the marketplace.

So whether you’re a startup yourself, an established company looking to stay relevant with a skunkworks operation or just an organization trying to think like a startup, this is a book for you.

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Deep Work is another book to help change your thinking, but it tackles a much more fundamental issue for strategic planners.

When you’re a busy executive, it’s easy to fall into the trap of a reactive, email-based approach to work, where you’re more focused on putting out fires than working on the core aspects of your business. This book is designed to snap you out of it.

Deep Work is more than just a book about distracted culture; it’s a resource for those who are looking to get more out of their time. Author and Georgetown professor Cal Newport presents a powerful argument against the email-filled, disorganized, multitasking style that too many knowledge workers have fallen into, and carefully builds a plan for how these same people can change their approach to focus on what they should be doing: “Deep Work.”

Instead of spending all day doing shallow, easy, or feel-good “To-Do list” type work, Newport shows the reader how to build their days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, the end goal of which is to help them produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed. We have a finite amount of willpower and energy, and Deep Work is all about making the most of those resources.

The book starts out on the extreme end of the scale in order to drive home the concept – Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind – but as it progresses, Newport acknowledges many of the realities of modern day work and lifestyles and uses his own experience to demonstrate how even today’s business leaders can implement the most important principles of deep work.

Strategy in the 21st Century – Randall Rollinson and Earl Young

We would be remiss if we did not include Strategy in the 21st Century, written by LBL’s own Randall Rollinson and Earl Young. This book covers many of the fundamental principles we teach at LBL, and it delivers a rich understanding of strategy based on the authors’ experiences in successful careers teaching, consulting, designing and implementing strategic management systems and processes over the past 30 years.

This collaborative work traces historical developments in theory and practice of strategy from its seminal roots in the art of warfare to modern day application in business and organizational management. Along the way, Strategy in the 21st Century delivers fundamental insights, practical methods and tools, forming a step-by-step approach to strategic management that has been applied successfully in private companies, nonprofit organizations, public institutions and units of government both large and small.

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