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Book Review: The Crux, Strategy is dead, long live True Strategy

By Mark P. McDonald | May 03, 2022 | 0 Comments

StrategyStrategic planningManagementLeadershipBook ReviewCorporate Strategy Formulation

The Crux is hands down the best and most practical book I have read in the past two years.  Richard Rumelt is a proven leader in creating effective strategies and this book helps you understand what strategy really is.   Highly Recommended.

If you have ever been frustrated with esoteric, elitist, and obvious strategies or strategy presentations, then this is the book to help reset the organization.  Rumelt points out that strategy, like many good ideas, has devolved from its original intent – making the most important choices and decisions – to an administrative/finance process.  In that transformation strategy has become facile and meaningless.

Rumelt defines true strategy as the mix of policy and action designed to overcome a significant challenge.  Rumelt calls these significant challenges “Cruxes”.  A crux is further defined as a challenge that is both critical and appears to be solvable.    It is a very simple, but immensely powerful way of thinking – particularly compared to the current goals first

Using this view Rumelt effectively advocates that strategy is a special form of problem solving with the ability to deal with Gnarly problems.  Gnarly problems or situations that

  • may have no clear definition of the problem itself, it tough because the issue is not self-evident nor self-defined. This means that gnarly problems are either overlooked or avoided in favor of simplistic goals, because you have to work at them and face the truth
  • do not have a single or simple goal, rather they often require addressing a number of potentially competing ambitions. Again, they are hard to solve and cannot be wished away with a goal of mission statement.
  • you need to search for alternatives and response as they are not easily solvable, which leads many to opt for insufficient or unrelated solutions
  • the connections between actions and outcomes are unclear. There is no previously determined or proscribed solution – no recipe, that is what the strategy is there to do.

The book concentrates on four themes.  Each theme is clearly discussed and brought to life with anonymized case stories.

Theme One: Squarely facing the company’s challenges is the best way to deal with strategic issues.  Too many people avoid this by starting with goals or visions of the future that lead to avoiding what really matters.

Theme Two:  Organizations need to have a clear understanding of the sources of power and leverage that can address the challenge.  Too often executives fail to recognize what really matters and how to use that to positive effect.

Theme Three: Focus on the challenge, that is the strategy, not bright shiny things like mission statements or starting with goals.  These get leaders off the hook and helps them avoid what really matters.

Theme Four: Being strategic requires leaders to work together differently.  “Strategy” has become a form of resource allocation and zero-sum budgeting games among executives that does not build a winning company.  Instead, Rumelt provides a process and discussion of how executives and leaders need to work together on addressing the challenge.

Overall, this is a great book one which is changing the way I think and the actions I am looking to take to be more strategic. Rumelt presents these ideas in a personable and highly accessible way.   It’s a rare 300 page business book that is well worth the time and the read.

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