The Crux: How Leaders Become Strategists

This book will teach you:

  • Strategy is a form of problem solving and you cannot solve a problem that you do not comprehend.
  • The most effective leaders become strategists by focusing on the way forward promising the greatest achievable progress—the path whose crux was judged to be solvable.
  • You cannot deduce a good strategy from theory. Much of design is a combination of imagination and knowing about many other designs, copying some elements of each.
  • To be a strategist you will have to keep your actions and policies coherent with each other, not nullifying your efforts by having too many different initiatives or conflicting purposes.
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Becoming a Strategist

A strategy is a mixture of policy and action designed to surmount a high-stakes challenge. It is not a goal or wished-for end state. It is a form of problem-solving—you cannot solve a problem you do not comprehend. Thus, challenge-based strategy begins with a broad description of the challenges—problems and opportunities—facing the organization. They may be competitive, legal, due to changing social norms, or issues with the organization itself.

In performing a diagnosis, the strategist seeks to understand why certain challenges have become salient, about the forces at work, and why the challenge seems difficult. In this work, we use the tools of analogy, reframing, comparison, and analysis in order to understand what is happening and what is critical.

As understanding deepens, the strategist seeks the crux—the one challenge that both is critical and appears to be solvable. This narrowing down is the source of much of the strategist’s power, as focus remains the cornerstone of strategy.

The strategist should understand the sources of “edge,” or power, or leverage that are relevant to the situation. To punch through the crux, you will use one or more of them. Willpower is not enough.

To do strategy well, avoid the bright, shiny distractions that abound. Don’t spend days on mission statements; don’t start with goals in strategy work. Don’t get too caught up in the ninety-day chase around quarterly earning results.

Importantly, there are multiple pitfalls when executives work in a group, or workshop, to formulate strategy. The Strategy Foundry is a process by which a small group of executives can do challenge-based strategy, discover the crux, and create a set of coherent actions for punching through those issues. It is quite different from strategic planning or other so-called strategy workshops, where the outcome is essentially a long-term budget.

Becoming a Strategist

“The Crux shows why Richard Rumelt is a global authority on strategy—. This new book takes you into real strategy situations ranging from Netflix’s streaming business to the US military’s development of battle doctrine to a detailed walkthrough of a three-day ‘strategy foundry.’ An immensely readable guide to one of the most difficult subjects: how to create a way forward when facing knotty challenges.”

—Andy D. Bryant, chairman of the Board Intel Corporation, 2012-2020

Additional Praise for The Crux

“In his powerful new book, Rumelt tells us ‘strategy is not magic’. But this book does manage to cast a spell. As a reader, I was drawn into the specific conundrums and ‘a-ha’ or ‘uh-oh’ moments in each story. As a strategy practitioner, I felt challenged and inspired to push myself to a higher level of thinking. Shifting us away from rote frameworks and feel-good prescriptions, Rumelt invites us into the company of great strategists where curiosity, creativity and cunning confront ‘gnarly’ situations by getting to the bottom of the real problem and leveraging our power to crack it. For any leader looking to deepen their grasp of strategic thinking—and put it into practice—this book full of new inspiration and practical ideas— will accelerate your progress.”
—Chris Bradley, McKinsey senior partner and co-author of Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick

“Richard Rumelt is the thinker with the biggest impact on my career and the companies I have been with, making my work more enjoyable and catalysing the creation of wealth which is nothing short of astonishing. The Crux is a triumph, a big step forward in how to approach this most vital of topics. The concept of the crux now makes it much easier to come up with the right, workable, strategy. This is the book I will press into the hands of my people as the best way to make them strategists.”
—Simon Galbraith, CEO and co-founder of Redgate

“In this powerful and practical book, Rumelt reminds us that real strategy isn’t a process of setting financial goals – it’s an in-depth, no holds barred conversation about the real challenges facing the firm and the creativity required to find transformative solutions. Drawing on a range of intriguing examples, Rumelt shows us both how this can be done and the enormous benefits of doing it.”
—Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor, Harvard University, author of Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire

“Strategy was a meaningless concept for our business until we engaged Richard Rumelt. He helped us turn away from empty goals and fictitious views of an unknown future and instead turn towards figuring out the “crux” of the issue so that we could focus on the right set of actions.  This is the only book you’ll need as a strategist if you are determined build a focused and coherent strategy for your business.”
—Dawn Farrell, president and CEO of TransAlta Corp. from 2012 to 2021

“The Crux delivers. Rumelt is at the top of his game, masterfully breaking down how to think about strategy, diagnose challenges, and put coherent solutions into action. I experienced first-hand how his concept of ‘addressable strategic challenge’ was invaluable for the Defense Intelligence Agency.”
—Lieutenant General (ret.) Robert P. Ashley Jr., Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, 2017-2020

“Amidst all the vacuous talk of business purpose, Rumelt gets to the crux. Another triumph from the most insightful—and entertaining—commentator on strategy writing today.”
—Sir John Kay, the London School of Economics, author of Other People’s Money and Obliquity

Essential reading If you want to cut through the fog of what it takes to build and drive a successful business.  The deep insight of The Crux lays out a road map of first getting to a deep and clear diagnosis of your situation, then you can build a clear approach and direction to be followed by a set of actions. The Crux is your guide to become a successful leader and strategist with impact”
—Essa Al-Saleh, CEO of Volta Trucks

“Few have been as successful at integrating strategic management scholarship and practice as Richard Rumelt—.  In this book, he develops insights and ideas about strategy that are at once inspiring and actionable.  He challenges many of our established assumptions about strategy, but also gives us a path forward to help identify and address the central strategic challenges facing real firms.
—Jay B. Barney, former editor-in-chief, Academy of Management Review; Presidential Professor of Strategic Management Eccles School of Business, The University of Utah

“The Crux dissipates fog around what strategy is all about and establishes clarity. It forces strategists to reflect deeply on the issues that really matter and where strategic thinking and resources need to be deployed to succeed. In an increasingly complex world and an overflow of not always pertinent information that at times can be confusing, The Crux is refreshing and challenging, a must read”
—Francesco Starace, CEO and general manager of Enel Group

“The German poet Friedrich Hölderlin once said, ‘but where the danger grows, also grows the saving power.’  This is what Richard Rumelt invites us to discover in this inspirational book. On the way to the summit, the crux is the point at which we either collapse and give up, or it can instead become a tipping point that will lead us to the next challenge. And this is about strategy, an ongoing process of identifying critical challenges and deciding what actions to take. Richard Rumelt’s book is both a provocation and an invitation to find the crux and take decisive action accordingly.”
—Tobias Martinez Gimeno, CEO of Cellnex Telecom

Book Reviews & Press

Mark P. McDonald, Gartner, “The Crux, Strategy is dead, long live True Strategy”

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. Read more…

Andrew Hill, “Summer books of 2022” Business, Financial Times

A bracingly direct guide about the pitfalls of strategy, based around a climbing metaphor (the “crux” is the hardest part of a boulder-climb). Strategy is a journey “through, over, and around a sequence of challenges”, writes Rumelt, drawing on a wide range of real-life business dilemmas to illustrate how to tackle them.

Michael McKinney, Leadership Now: Building a Community of Leaders

THE CRUX of the matter is a phrase that has been around for over 200 years. Richard Rumelt recalls climbers in France calling the boulders they climb “problems,” with the toughest part of the problem referred to as “the crux.” Climbers will often look for a challenge that has the greatest reward and whose crux they believe they can solve.

In The Crux, Rumelt uses this as a metaphor for life. We all face problems, and finding the crux is the secret sauce where we “can gain the most by designing, discovering, or finding a way to move through and past it.” Read more…

Andrew Hill, Financial Times, “How leaders find a way ahead in chaotic times.”

In search of strategy principles to help companies through the fog of war and uncertainty, I turned to two new books by experienced strategy advisers: The Crux by Richard Rumelt, and Roger Martin’s A New Way to Think, a concise guide to management effectiveness. Read more…

Wally Bock, Three Star Leadership, “Book Review Short Take.”

“Short Takes” is my humble effort to cut through the clutter and highlight business books that might be perfect for your next read. Here’s why I think The Crux: How Leaders Become Strategists by Richard Rumelt might be a good choice for you. Read more…

Christian Stadler, Forbes, “How To Come Up Up A Winning Strategy? Start With A Challenge Not An Opportunity.”

The corporate equivalent to positive thinking is the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It seduces us with lofty terminology, such as “we will be number global number one” or “we will double our sales”. Aspiring but useless! In his new book The Crux: How Leaders Become Strategists, Richard Rumelt makes short shrift of such vagueness. He sets out a process that puts the biggest challenge your company faces at the heart of your strategy: finding the crux, seeking an edge, and avoiding distractions. Read more…

Martin Zwilling, Inc., “7 Ways to Continue Growing as Your Business Matures.”

I support the key strategies and priorities, summarized here, that Rumelt offers for all companies to address the continuing challenge of growth, no matter what their size and position today. Read more…

Richard Rumelt (excerpt from The Crux), ChiefExecutive, “Why You Should Never Confuse Strategy Work With Management Work.”

It was a cool November day in 1966. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara arrived to give a brief address at the Harvard Business School. Read more…

Roger Trapp, Forbes, “Why Almost Everything You Thought You Knew About Strategy Is Wrong.”

[Rumelt] is back with The Crux, subtitled “How Leaders Become Strategists,” which goes further in cutting through the flimsy aspirations that for so many businesses masquerade as strategies. Inspired by his love of rock climbing and those seemingly impassable obstacles that confront climbers on their routes to the tops of peaks, Rumelt has come to describe the crux as the outcome of a three-part strategic skill. The first part, he writes, is judgment about which issues are truly important and which are secondary. The second is judgment about the difficulties of dealing with these issues and the third part is the ability to focus, to avoid spreading resources too thinly, not trying to do everything at once. Read more…

Richard Rumelt is available for speaking and consulting engagements. To learn more, click

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