On Strategy: Three books that have inspired our Practice

A question we are often asked when people hear about Incite’s Strategy Practice is ‘what do you do’ and ‘how is it different from Research and Planning’. The assumption is that the Strategy Practice exists simply to create strategies for our clients.

The answer is yes we do create strategies for our clients – but not just in the ‘strategy on a page’ way that people might think.

The majority of engagements we undertake will involve us spending time to understand our client’s situation, determine a profitable path forward and then advise on the best course of action(s) to take. And this, according to one of my favourite books on the topic, is essentially what strategy boils down to.

Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters, Richard Rumelt

In his book, Richard Rumelt says: “The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding principle, and a coherent action”.

In our minds, any engagement that seeks to advise a client on where to invest and how to grow should contain these three elements.

Another of my favourite excerpts from the book focuses not on the strategy itself but how it is communicated – and notably the importance of being specific and straightforward when articulating your strategic objectives. Something that we should all aspire to when engaging in this type of work.

“A hallmark of true expertise and insight is making a complex subject understandable. A hallmark of mediocrity and bad strategy is unnecessary complexity – a flurry of fluff masking an absence of substance.”

On the subject of substance, another book that has inspired the Strategy Practice is the fully comprehensive manual of Key Strategy Tools by Vaughan Evans.

Key Strategy Tools, Vaughan Evans

This book contains over 80 tools ‘for every manager to build a winning strategy’. And while I won’t claim to have used every single one of the frameworks included in the book, there are certainly five or so tools included that have directly inspired the way that we deliver findings and inform our recommendations to our clients.

The thing I most like about this book is the practical examples that it contains. Evans takes frameworks that I’ve known for years and applies them in inventive ways that can help to spark new ideas and fresh ways of thinking about a challenge. For example, his use of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the context of Pricing Strategy gave me a fresh perspective on a tool that has perhaps fallen out of favour in recent years.

Man reading a book and writing notes

The Importance of Balance in Life and Business, John Purnell

The final book that I’d like to give a special mention to is the Importance of Balance in Life and Business by the Joint MD of Anglepoise John Purnell. This book isn’t widely available and was gifted to me by my husband as ‘something I might be interested in’.

And interesting it is. John has essentially captured his entire philosophy of running a successful business dedicated to delivering sustainable growth, what he terms ‘The Anglepoise Way’, in less than 200 pages.

He states in the introduction that “Overall this book is a refinement of more than twenty years of experience and research into great company cultures and fundamental principles”.

What I love about this book is that it captures the inner workings of a company that clearly cares about how it does business. Considering everything from the optimal amount of pressure people need to be under in order to realise their full potential through to identifying the right framework for pursuing excellence across the business.

The excellence model they have adopted – The EQFM – is built around delivering results not only for the business but for employees, customers and society. It is one of a number of models that we as a Practice have explored as we think about how we can improve the way that we advise our clients on not only growing their bottom line but doing so in a truly human centric and sustainable way.

And on that note, I will leave you with a final quote from John.

“Excellence therefore starts with purpose and why and ends with our legacy (or at least the ongoing journey to leave the world in a better place)”.