Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Rumelt on strategy: An interesting new book on how to think about making plans

I don’t think business has much to teach us about military affairs at the tactical level. A major reason for that is a fundamental difference: In business, you want to cut corners and aim for efficiencies, because if you fail, you can just declare bankruptcy and start over. But I think that the military can ...

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I don't think business has much to teach us about military affairs at the tactical level. A major reason for that is a fundamental difference: In business, you want to cut corners and aim for efficiencies, because if you fail, you can just declare bankruptcy and start over. But I think that the military can learn a lot about strategy from the world of commerce, especially because businesspeople get feedback on their strategy every day, while military commanders generally can only learn about that if they go to war.

But I don't mean that military people should run out and buy the latest bizness buzzword book. Instead, I think they should study people like Alfred Sloan and Warren Buffett. And I also think they can learn from people who study business strategy. That's by way of saying I have been reading and enjoying Richard Rumelt's Good Strategy/Bad Strategy.

He is very quotable, so I thought I might as well get out of the way and let him speak. Here are four things I underlined:

I don’t think business has much to teach us about military affairs at the tactical level. A major reason for that is a fundamental difference: In business, you want to cut corners and aim for efficiencies, because if you fail, you can just declare bankruptcy and start over. But I think that the military can learn a lot about strategy from the world of commerce, especially because businesspeople get feedback on their strategy every day, while military commanders generally can only learn about that if they go to war.

But I don’t mean that military people should run out and buy the latest bizness buzzword book. Instead, I think they should study people like Alfred Sloan and Warren Buffett. And I also think they can learn from people who study business strategy. That’s by way of saying I have been reading and enjoying Richard Rumelt‘s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy.

He is very quotable, so I thought I might as well get out of the way and let him speak. Here are four things I underlined:

Good strategy almost always looks … simple and does not take a thick deck of PowerPoint slides to explain.

The core of strategy work is always the same: discovering the critical factors in a situation and designing a way of coordinating and focusing actions to deal with those factors.

Like a quarterback whose only advice to teammates is ‘Let’s win,’ bad strategy covers up its failure to guide by embracing the language of broad goals, ambition, vision, and values.

A strategy that fails to define a variety of plausible and feasible immediate actions is missing a critical component.

Tom again: And that’s just from his introduction. More later.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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