I am often asked for guidance on how to become an expert on strategy and how to become a consultant or speaker on strategy. My first response is that it is a little like rock-and-roll—you mostly have to write the songs you sing. My second response is that my own personal path was circuitous. I studied electrical engineering in college, then worked as a spacecraft designer at the Jet Propulsion Labs. I studied Bayesian statistical decision theory at the Harvard Business School, switching to study strategy after two years. Then spent three years in Iran, teaching at a new Harvard-sponsored business school. Then back to HBS, then to UCLA to teach strategy for forty years, with three years off to teach at INSEAD (France). All along the way, I struggled to develop my own personal viewpoint and my own voice to writing and speaking.
What fascinates about strategy is its centrality to the success or failure of individuals, enterprises, and even nations. Make the right move at the right time and a cascade of positive outcomes may be unleashed. Fail to grasp the nettle of solving the crux problem and recovery may be long delayed or even impossible.
Much of what I have learned about strategy has come from working with executives. Whether at the DoD, a small start-up, or a giant enterprise like Shell, the best have a knack for teasing out the key elements of a situation and then focusing energy and resources on resolving those problems or grasping those opportunities. I have also seen too many who mistake vague generalities about ambitions and purposes for strategy or who treat strategy as an exercise in setting financial goals. My most rewarding work is when I can help an executive or group sort through the buzzing confusion of their situation and identify the crux issues they can and should address.
Today I am retired from university teaching and live in Bend, Oregon with my wife Kate and dog Jamie. When I am not writing, speaking, or consulting, I find time to ski, hike, kayak, hunt pheasants with Jamie, and read.
The word “strategy” comes to us from the Greek (στραταγός) stratagos denoting a military leader or general. In the photo I am standing where the Strategion stood in the Ancient Agora of Athens. Here, for a time, ten elected Strategoi (e.g., Pericles, Themistocles etc.) met to discuss policy for the city-state.
THE STRATEGEION — A Substack Journal