Why Smart People Struggle with Strategy – Reading Recommendation in HBR

Harvard Business Review Online has some interesting thoughts by Roger Martin on strategy, uncertainty and the problems that people with top-notch academic credentials might have with them.

Martin certainly isn’t wrong when he points out that strategy is not about finding the right answer, but about choices for an uncertain future. His basic suggestions, having diverse teams including people who have experienced failure and treating each other with respect, sure are nothing to disagree with in principle, either.

Still, there is a stale aftertaste to the article. Blaming strategy consultants for having the need to feel right and for having that correctness validated is a bit absurd when in most strategy projects, that is exactly what the consultants are hired to do. The client pays for confidence and certainty, so for the consultant, pointing out that that doesn’t exist is a tough job. If the client is willing to accept and handle uncertainty, I am convinced most of my colleagues across a multitude of companies will be more than willing and able to incorporate that in their projects.

The first thing one has to do about uncertainty is to acknowledge that it is there. The next step is to use methods to still come to a strategic decision, without pretending to know exactly how the future will turn out. Those are actually the much more important issues than who the people working on a strategy are, or if they might possibly be too smart for the job…