Firm guidance for would-be CEOs

Strategic Management - Contemporary Strategic Management - Key Concepts in Strategic Management
November 11, 2005

Strategic management, with its roots in multiple disciplines and in practice, has evolved rapidly since the 1960s. Significant growth in the diversity of topics has given rise to a kaleidoscope that oscillates around core debates such as internal versus external orientations towards the firm, and design versus emergence. Whether perspectives should be unified, in acts of creative destruction, or different strands of inquiry encouraged as enriching the discipline is the subject of considerable discussion.

Such a varied and dynamic field presents formidable difficulties and opportunities to textbook authors. Key concerns are whether to try to portray richness and pluralism, or coherence of a subset of the field.

These classic challenges of scope, depth and coherence have tended to result in all-encompassing 1,000-page tomes or slender, focused offerings.

Strategic Management is intended to compete with the large mainstream strategic management books. It is aimed at students about to complete a first degree in business administration and at managers with a theoretical interest on an MBA course or beginning a doctorate in business administration. The book is set out clearly in 18 well-written, discursive chapters, where referencing and theory are relocated to aid readability.

Theory discussion, references and suggestions for wider reading are highlighted in boxes. Up-to-date cases and strategic challenges for a more practical audience are also presented.

With different readerships in mind and with the author's sympathy towards the emergent view of strategy, the book has a novel structure. To stress the processual nature of strategic management and, in particular, the feedback link between formulation/implementation and the firm's contexts, the book is constructed so that the reader draws on earlier material to inform later understanding.

The book begins with traditional approaches to strategic management and then, reflecting the needs of the practising manager, focuses on a selection of strategic dilemmas. Previous material is then re-engaged in discussing perspectives on formulation and implementation and, finally, links are again made with practice through a number of longer case studies.

Strategists looking to move away from conventionally structured approaches should welcome this book's innovative and dynamic structure. The discursive style and helpful but discreet highlighting of key concepts is effective, even though the structure makes this book more complex than many traditional texts. The extensive use of contemporary cases is appropriate for undergraduates and MBAs alike, although pointing out strategic questions as case studies unfold removes the opportunity for students to develop their ability to recognise such issues. The handling of theory may prove successful for these audiences, but the way in which it is discussed, and the further exploration sections, may not fulfil the needs of doctoral students.

Contemporary Strategic Management is aimed at MBA students and final-year management students. Its clarity and readability is assured through clear structuring, judicious use of bullet points, numerous figures and many stimulating case illustrations. It begins with traditional strategy analysis, then discusses the practice of strategy and finishes with current priorities for managers. Unusually for a core text, it features no large case studies. Distinctively, the emphasis throughout is on what the practising manager can or should do in strategic situations. This practical approach combined with a direct tone will resonate strongly with MBA audiences. For students interested in the theoretical and conceptual foundations of strategic management, however, further reading will be necessary.

In a discipline with different paradigms and languages, students may struggle to see how the myriad concepts, techniques and theories fit together. Key Concepts in Strategic Management recognises this difficulty and claims to offer succinct discussions of all the key concepts in the discipline. Concepts are arranged alphabetically and described effectively, but the depth of coverage is uneven. The book's value becomes apparent where discussions are developed, and there are links to other sources for wider reading. This book will be of great use to those new to strategic management. However, as with the other reviewed, and strategy books in general, the extent and complexity of the subject continue to frustrate and tantalise in equal measure, challenging authors to achieve comprehensive, balanced and thorough texts.

Duncan Angwin is lecturer in strategic management, Warwick Business School, Warwick University.

Strategic Management

Author - Colin White
Publisher - Palgrave Macmillan
Pages - 840
Price - £34.99
ISBN - 1 4039 0400 6

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