Strategy is notoriously difficult to explain.the most famous business thinkers are still struggling to convey to the Boardrooms what they think the strategy should be. Yet, as the countless courses, consultants and breakdowns demonstrate, the strategy is often properly understood.
This is why this HBR illustrated book is actually a keeper. “What is Strategy? An Illustrated Guide to Michael Porter”, written by Joan Magretta, does a great job of bringing strategy down to Earth. “What is Strategy?” decomposes all of the elements envisioned by Michael Porter since 1980s and re-assembles them in visual style. Think of it as one of the best business graphical novels ever put on paper. Or as the most worked-on strategy power point presentation brought to you. Add to it a light-hearted, interactive visual style – and voila, you have a reference, easy to use guide to strategy.
This does not mean that the illustrated guide to Michael Porter’s idea is for children. It is not even beginners’ exclusive. The guide looks detailed enough to be used by any experienced person as a quick reference guide or, why not, as a strategy concepts refresher. For example, it starts with a depiction of the the executive team that goes into the boardroom. This description serves two purposes:
– to introduce the characters that play different roles in the business world and
– to describe the most common roles in the C-suite – what does each do and what are their responsibilities.
“What is Strategy?” focuses on the 🔥 topics beyond Michael Porter’s ideas. It actually creates a comprehensive and story-telling framework around his famous ideas. The story starts, as in many cases, with a crisis. “If things go well, do not break them” says a common C-suite philosophy. In the current super-disrupted world, it also goes without saying that a stable business situation makes rarely the case. Besides Pandemic shocks and dwindling markets, competition is ever more intense, whilst technological advances transform entire value chains (😉) in a matter of months. What was previously seen as a slowly-evolving status quo of the markets has become an almost continuous series of knock-on effects, fuelled by various economic shocks.
Of course, this situation will not last forever (or so I hope). Anyhow, you get the idea – nowadays the common employee must be equipped with the tools to advance the business from her level. She must understand the strategy, where does the company add value, what are the customers paying for, what are the competitors doing and what are the suppliers expecting from it (5 forces, right?). She must be clear on the company’s value chain – where and how does it add value to the customer.
Maybe one of the best concepts explained in the book 📚 comes at the very start of “What is strategy?”. Porter’s long-standing idea is that the strategy is not about “being the best” or “being the biggest”. The absolute strategy is the one that delivers most profits coupled with the largest base of happy customers. Surprisingly few Boards understand if his subtlety – yet the most successful companies make it constantly on this playing field.
This page – and many others – are good reasons to get re-acquainted with Porter’s strategic concepts. So why don’t you give it a try?
Title: “What is Strategy? An Illustrated Guide to Michael Porter”
Author: Joan Magretta
Illustrated by Emile Holmewood, Conceived by Heinrich Zimmermann
Publishing House: Harvard Business Review Press
Published: October 2020