Davenport, Leibold, Voelpel: To succeed we need to learn how to recognize brilliant strategies and tactics

The military has found that generals, such as George Patton, who have a firm grasp of military history are the ones best able to recognize brilliant strategies. They are also the ones most capable of eventually learning what cannot be taught: how to create brilliant ones themselves.

It is unfortunate that neither the present approach to strategy education nor this new approach will produce students who can immediately create brilliant strategies. This recommended approach, however, at least recognizes that fact and focuses efforts on what can be done.

Max Planck, the father of quantum theory and therefore the father of modern physics, once said that his discoveries were so incredible he had a hard time believing them himself. Just as it was especially difficult for a physicist to see that classical physics was seriously flawed, it will be especially difficult for business strategists to see that business strategy is likewise flawed. Nevertheless, a change in the focus of strategy is needed.

The present focus on formalized processes for creating strategies needs to give way to a focus on criteria for evaluating them and an emphasis on the importance of tactics in making or breaking them. Strategy case courses need to be recast as strategy history courses, with an emphasis on evaluating strategies and being able to recognize brilliant ones when we see them. Universities and business trainers would not be producing strategists – but they aren’t producing them now. They would, however, be producing students who may save good strategies from being overlooked and who have a healthy respect for both industry experience and the power of tactics.