Have your strategy and eat it too… or be eaten by…

In a recent paper that I found via the HBR LinkedIn group  this quote caught my attention:

“…Thereality is that finance will eat strategy for breakfast any day—financial logic will overwhelm strategic imperatives—unless we can develop approaches and models that allow each discipline to bring its best attributes to cooperative investment decision making…”

What is greattaartje is how this paper came into being: crowd sourcing via LinkedIn discussions. What is interesting is the discussion that it sparks. Some agree, some don’t and some comments have this emotional sub-tone that indicates the paper really touched people. This is exactly what is intended because this paper does nothing less than challenging dogmas in how today businesses are run.

Strongly entrenched dogmas are not unique to the world & history of business. History itself has many examples which, importantly, show the peril of ignoring the need for change when there is a clear and present need for change.

Let’s look at the year 1806 which saw the defeat of the Prussian army by the hands of Napoleon. Defeat isn’t really the right word in this case. The Prussian army simply wasn’t anymore… it ceased to exist… full stop. Why did this happen?

It was not because they couldn’t have seen this coming. Already in the 90’s of the previous century did the Prussian army meet the French revolutionary armies in the field. Napoleon had also already shown the world his capabilities as a strategist. So what was it? One of the reasons was that the Prussians stuck to old dogmas. They stuck to the ways that had been tremendously successful in the 50’s of the previous century when Frederic the Great was leading them. They stuck to the ways that they were taught and told to do. They stuck to it because this equaled success, respect and all that… before the year 1806.

You may now say: … this is all nice and dandy JW, but how are you going to link this to business finance and strategy being eaten by it? I am not. I think the HBR paper is about dogmas and the inability to face up to them. The Prussians army was destroyed but Prussia continued. They did get the luxury of learning their lesson, and they did. Soon after major changes were made in about everything, so not just the army but also socially and down to a deep level. In the end Prussia emerged as one of the European powers that defeated Napoleon. However, how many companies that make mistakes at this scale have such a luxury?

Jan-Willem Boots is co-founder of Changing Games

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