Saving the world through strategy

Games of Strategy. First Edition - Cases in Contemporary Strategy Analysis. Third Edition
February 25, 2000

Robert Grant and Kent Neupert, authors of Cases in Contemporary Strategy Analysis , see their target audience as students of strategy taking MBA or undergraduate degrees. Their declared goal is to help managers to understand better how to compete in situations that render decision making "challenging".

Meanwhile, in Games of Strategy , Avinash Dixit and Susan Skeath seek to introduce the student to a general theory of action based on game-theoretic models of strategy. They identify case study-based approaches to pedagogy as helpful to understanding questions of how to play strategy, but not necessarily to those pertaining to why given strategies work.

The point they make about case studies as a pedagogical tool seems quite pertinent. In the book''s 17 case studies, mainly of well-known international businesses, public sector or not-for-profit organisations are not represented. The cases are up to date, most being set in the late 1990s, and invite students to analyse the situation confronting the particular organisation and to say what they would do if they were chief executive officer.

Yet, despite a preface to the book that refers to "our approach to sorting through challenges", incorporating a recognition of the distinct capabilities that firms command, the cases stand alone. There is no model or framework developed that might help structure thinking and analysis of the chosen cases, although Grant has elsewhere specified his capabilities-based model of competitive advantage. An introduction outlining Grant''s capabilities-based model would help students to make more sense of the cases contained in this book, were it to be used as a stand-alone text.

Of course, there still remains the issue of a critique of the capabilities-based and other approaches to strategy, but strategy texts in general do not seem capable of dealing with debate about fundamental questions.

A similar criticism can be levelled at the Dixit and Skeath text in that there is such confidence in the merits of game-theoretic approaches that alternative modes of explanation are undervalued. For more than 300 pages of the book, assumptions of rationality characterise games usually played by two individuals. For instance, the authors invoke the example of the Cuban missile crisis, stating that they recognise the value of Graham Allison''s 1971 contribution to explaining it in political and intra-organisational terms. Yet still they describe using probability payoffs as the "conditions for successful brinkmanship", as practised by one individual, Kennedy, over another, Khrushchev.

Overall, the book is comprehensive in the enunciation of game-theoretic approaches but overly partial, to the detriment of a more rounded evaluation of their worth.

Games of Strategy. First Edition

Author - Avinash Dixit and Susan Skeath
ISBN - 0 393 97421 9
Publisher - Norton
Price - £23.95
Pages - 600

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