Strategy Books: Essential Strategic Reading

(May 2018) Strategy Books: Best of the Rest!

“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” – Michael Porter

To make the Best of the Rest Strategy Books, these are the remaining 4 books that appeared in our Top 9 research from Five Books Every Strategist Should Read.  To complete this list, I read 3 more books to make a proper evaluation and added one more that appeared in the list twice.  These next 3 books revealed new concepts that will be applied in our future strategy development.

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Another interesting fact about why these strategy books are the best of the rest versus the first group – none of these books have their own specific Wikipedia page – although several of the author’s concepts and ideas are still abundant in Wikipedia.

Drum roll, please

#5 – The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff

Strategy Books

Number of Times on the Rankings: 3

Other Rankings: Andrew St. George of the Financial Times said this was “My Book of the Year” in 1991.

The Strategy Books Key Story:This book provides real life examples to game theory – not just the mathematics behind every principle.  As they say, “Game theory means rigorous strategic thinking.” They share what steps we should anticipate in a variety of examples from Yacht racing, to game shows and politics.  My favorite part of the book is how they discuss – it is time to go to the gym to work out your brain. Not recommended for the audiobook – you need to read this one to see and compare the various examples.

Best Strategic Insight: The Nash Equilibrium.  This concept devises a way to develop a solution when two or more people are not cooperating.  I recently had a discussion with an expert who developed a mathematical model to identify the real root cause to support a business to grow.  One of the biggest challenges of strategic development is identifying the levers that have a positive or negative impact to the outcomes. Often strategic initiatives lack the corresponding key performance indicators to truly make a difference which leads teams wasting valuable time, energy, and resources.

Why you should read it: Being able to anticipate someone’s next move is very powerful.  Learning some of the basic theories to the more complex can help us become better leaders and managers.  Yet, one should be careful that it is still a “game” and never predicts the future with 100% certainty.

#4 –Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries by Industries and Competitors – Michael E. Porter

Strategy Books

Number of Times on the Rankings: 4

Other Rankings: This book has 16 printings in English and translated into 19 languages and this was originally published in 1980.  Michael Porter has been awarded the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor – the highest recognition to a Harvard faculty member.  This is one of 18 books that he has published. Porter has been recognized by many as the “Father of Strategy”.

The Strategy Books Key Story: Porter outlines the five forces for competitive strategy in this book and it has become a principle that is regularly taught throughout business schools for the past 40 years.  He argues that the key to survival is to find significant advantage in at least one of the five forces.

Best Strategic Insight: The five forces of competitive strategy are:

  1. Entry of competitors
  2. Threat of substitutes
  3. Bargaining power of buyers
  4. Bargaining power of suppliers
  5. Rivalry among the existing players

Why you should read it: At a minimum, this will put you on an equal footing with anyone who has completed a business strategy course with Porter’s teachings.  The principles are valuable to evaluate your own company versus your competition.

#3 – Playing to Win – How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin

 Strategy Books

Number of Times on the Rankings: 5 (2nd highest)

Other Rankings: The Economic Times listed this as 20 books by the most influential thinkers in business in 2015.  The Washington Post included this in the 2013 books every leader should read. Recently, Drew Houston, Dropbox CEO included this as one of his 4 favorite books to be a successful leader.

The Strategy Books Key Story: This is the story of former CEO A.G. Lafley leading Proctor & Gamble back to prominence.  Fellow author, Roger L Martin is strategic consultant who helps guide the CEO and management to identify the best methods to become relevant in a highly competitive global market.  During his tenure, Lafley helped double sales, quadruple profits and increase market value by over $100 billion.

Best Strategic Insight: P&G is one of the most complex organizations and it ranked #34 in the Fortune 500.  Their teams helped identify five choices that define strategy.

  • A Winning Perspective – A focus on customers and consumers while keeping in mind the competitive landscape.
  • Where to Play – They leverage Porter’s strategic insights to focus on areas where they can be successfully, such as geographies, verticals, competition, product categories and distribution channels.
  • How to Win – Identify the best win to differentiate yourself from the competition – in the eyes of the customer.  Are you a cost leader? A differentiator? Choose win and go forward.
  • Core Competencies – Leverage existing strengths and identify new opportunities to develop to exploit a market – while keeping in mind where to play and how to win.
  • Managing Strategy – Strategy is to define what are the exact goals that will help the company complete its objectives.  Clear measurements and consistent communication help keep teams focused on what matters.

Why you should read it: If you can understand how to turnaround a Fortune 50 company, we can take these same principles to any organization.  The most common challenge to this assumption – we are complex and different. I agree. However, few can argue that it is more complex and challenging than P&G’s ability to turn into a winning organization.

#2 – The 4 Disciplines of Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling.

Strategy Books

Number of Times on the Rankings: 2

Other Rankings:  The Franklin Covey Group lead by the authors have worked with more than 13,000 teams and 200,000 people in hundreds of organizations with private and public companies, education, and governments throughout the world.  They commissioned studies to evaluate real gaps in performance management and they did not write this book until they had completed over 1,500 implementations.

The Strategy Books Key Story: The Franklin Covey Group has been a leader in personal accountability systems for years.  Sean Covey has led the next steps in developing corporate accountability for executing strategy.  After 1,500 implementations, they refined the process and called it 4DX or The Four Disciplines of Execution.

Best Strategic Insight:  The 4DX process includes the following elements:

  • Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important.  Provide your best effort to those few goals that will make a difference.
  • Discipline 2: Identify and act on the Leading Indicators or Measures.  With effective leading tracking, the lagging measures will improve.
  • Discipline 3: Create a clear scoreboard so everyone knows quickly and easily if they are winning the game.
  • Discipline 4: Develop a pattern of accountability.  Have consistent sessions to assure the goals are moving towards completing the Wildly Important Goals.

Why you should read it: This is the best “how to” book on writing goals and getting them done.  The 4DX process is simple which enables it to be successful with your leadership and teams.  Read it, apply it. As we know a great strategy is worthless if we do not execute on it.

#1 – Good Strategy Bad Strategy – The difference and why it matters.  By Richard P. Rumelt.

Strategy Books

Number of Times on the Rankings: 4

Other Rankings:  Richard Rumelt was ranked #20 on the Thinkers50 List in 2011.  The book was shortlisted on the Financial Times Best Seller List in 2011.  John Kay, a British leading economist said that this is “the first book on strategy that I have found difficult to put down.”

The Strategy Books Key Story: Professor Richard Rumelt shares his 50 years of compelling strategic consulting and academic research to compile a very good read in Good Strategy Bad Strategy.  As with most stories, we tend to learn the most from the mistakes – what we should NOT do. His experiences provide us wonderful insight and a few laughs – you get the experience that you are having a fireside chat with someone who has spent nearly his entire life on the theory and practice application of strategy.

Best Strategic Insight:  There are many examples of strategic insights, here are my two favorite Good and Bad insights on strategy development:


  • Clear coordinated steps and goals that cascade and support the successful completion of the strategy.
  • A clear root cause analysis of the problems with a supportable approach to creating new opportunities to solve the problems.


  • Designing a metric or Key Performance Indicator without a strategy to support it.
  • Establishing “Fluff” in your vision, strategies or goals that are meaningless.  For example, “We are going to be the leading…blah, blah, blah…in our industry.” (Full disclosure – nearly every company that I have worked for had this and I supported the statement – oops!)

Why you should read it: This is solid wisdom from an expert in Strategic Planning.  The combination of real-life examples plus articulated theories will help challenge you to write better strategies.  You must think – and using the same fluff approach of the status quo is not a strategy. His personal commentary and projections about the future (which has mostly past) are quite entertaining.  Enjoy the read.

Next month, I will pull out one of my personal favorites, The Goal and discuss how this one concept can be a breakthrough for your strategic planning or lack of strategic planning.

Until next time, be Strategic with your Reading.

Before you start your strategic reading, claim your FREE 14 day trial of Cascade

Cascade is the complete strategy execution platform and will help you to plan, track, and manage your strategic plan. Easy to use, incredibly powerful and trusted by some of the largest (and smallest) brands in the world. Pricing starts at $29 per month

(April 2018) Strategy Books: Best of the Best!

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin

Our co-founder at Cascade Strategy, Tom, asked me to share my thoughts on the best Strategy Books EVER written. That can be an overwhelming thought considering how many strategic books have been written – then to evaluate whether they are strategic and if they are any good. Next, I must deal with the other problem – I HAVE NOT read every strategic book EVER written. Despite my current quest to read 100 books in 12 months (#raceto100books) – it still barely scratches the surface.

To tackle this project, I have done what a strategist and an accountant would do. I examined the history of what other people think. Matter of fact, I reviewed 10 OTHER Top Strategic Book Review Lists including the Best Selling Strategic Books based on Amazon data. I listed all the books from the 10 different lists and sorted them based on appearing on the lists and their respective rankings on the list. The 10 lists had over 80 unique books.
To make the list of Strategy Books: Essential Strategic Reading, they had to have been listed at least 3 times AND I had to have read it before.

  • Of the 80+ books, only 17 appeared twice on the lists.
  • Only 9 appeared 3 times
  • I did not read 3 of the 9

Drum roll please

#5 – The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton M. Christensen

Strategy Books

Number of Times in the Rankings: 3

Other Rankings: Named one of 100 Leadership and Success Books to Read in a Lifetime by Amazon Editors.  The Economist names it as one of the six most important books ever written, and it received the Global Business Book of the Year in 1997.

The Strategy Books Key Story: Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen explains why successful companies fail to see disruptive technologies impacting their market and why they ultimately fall from glory because of the changes.  The innovator’s dilemma has two key parts.

  • Value Innovation is an S-Curve: The initial curve is costly due to product creation and iteration; the second curve or middle curve reaps the most profit and the final curve or end of product life cycle value decreases as competition increases and product reaches saturation.
  • Incumbent sized deals:  As a company and its customers grow, sales expectations increase for the company.  New product innovation become a smaller percentage of the total business and less of a focus as the company grows.  Existing customers do not show interest in the new products.

Best Strategic Insight:  As a business continues to grow, the company will move down the S-Curve with diminishing profits and customers who do not express interest to adopt something new.  To break this natural trend, companies and management have to be vigilant to address the following challenges:

  • Create a new technology or product with a new or “right” set of customers.
  • Use a smaller group to create, sell and distribute the product which is isolated from the core business.
  • Fail early and often to find the right solution.

Why you should read it: Managers who lead an organization to the top of any specific market generally believe they “know” how to be successful.  This bias (or blindness) doesn’t enable them to see the potential risk of new technologies impacting their market and even worse – they most likely will not know how to navigate the new market conditions until it is too late.  More importantly…it just may save your company. This often requires outside consulting to help a company see what they can’t see.

#4 – How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Strategy Books

Number of Times in the Rankings: 3

Other Rankings: In 2011, it was #19 on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential books.

The Strategy Books Key Story: In the 1930’s, Dale Carnegie was a successful sales person and he eventually built another business teaching a 14-week course on how to work with people.  One of the attendees worked at Simon & Shuster and he convinced Carnegie to make it into a book. He outlines the 12 things that the book will do for you including:

  1. Change your outlook to be more positive (written during the Depression.)
  2. Increase your influence, your prestige, and your ability to get things done.
  3. Improve your selling and leadership skills.

Best Strategic Insight: Carnegie outlines three key techniques to working with people.  They are contrary to the way most of us live.

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person a desire or an “eager want.”

Why you should read it: Machines are gaining power, but it is people who still rule the world.  This book will teach you lessons on how to work with the rest of us in a variety of different situations and it has stood the test of time.  More importantly, applying the concepts will also make you a happier person

#3 – The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Strategy Books

Number of Times on the Rankings: 3

Other Rankings: After 2,500 years, the Art of War is one of the most influential strategic books in East Asian warfare and the #1 Best Seller in History of Education.

The Strategy Books Key Story: Sun Tzu, translated into Master Sun, was an ancient military strategic leader from China during the late 6th century BC from the continuous wars of seven Kingdoms/States.  The most famous story is when the King of Wu ordered Sun Tzu to train a harem of 180 concubines into soldiers.  Sun Tzu ordered the King’s two favorite concubines as officers. His first command was met with laughter and he reiterated that it was at the command of the General.  He then ordered a second command and received the same response. As a result of the insubordination, Sun Tzu had both concubines executed. He chose two new concubines as officers and every order and command was maneuvered with perfection from that point forward.

Best Strategic Insight: Although the key story is graphic and shocking, this book goes far beyond military strategies.  Sun Tzu highlights the many important lessons of working with people including the use of diplomacy.  Three of my favorite Sun Tzu quotes and comparisons from the Six Principles of Sun Tzu & the Art of Business:

  • Avoid your competitor’s strength and attack their weakness.
    • “Any army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids and strikes weakness.”
  • Use speed and preparation to swiftly overcome the competition.
    • “To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of any virtues.”
  • Develop your character as a leader to maximize the potential of your employees.
    • “When one treats people with benevolence, justice and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.”

Why you should read it: Because Tony Soprano said he was reading it on the Sopranos in 2001?  Despite the pop culture, the above quote spiked the volume of copies ordered for this book written over 2,500 years ago.  The Art of War remains influential and its first English copy was completed in 1910. The book continues to be a dominant theory in East Asian culture and more recently in western culture.  Many modern strategic theories are rooted in these original writings and it has been influential to military leaders Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Colin Powell.

#2 – Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Strategy Books

Number of Times in the Rankings: 7

Other Rankings:  Named bestseller by Wall Street Journal and Business Week.  Fast Company Leadership put the book to it’s Hall of Fame. The China Research Institute named it as one of the 40 most influential books.

The Strategy Books Key Story: Based on research of 150 strategic decisions ranging over 100 years and 30 industries, this is one of the deepest reflections upon what makes companies work – and what doesn’t.  The blue and red ocean are outstanding analogies. In a deeply competitive environment, organizations must battle and scrape for every dollar of profit. All the blood, sweat and tears is represented in this red ocean environment.  Blue oceans are organizations taking strategic decisions to sail free from the competition into their own successful environment with higher profits and less competition.

Best Strategic Insight:  Blue Ocean strategy creates a framework to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

  • Raise: Identify product, pricing, and service standards within an industry.
  • Eliminate: Reduce any unnecessary costs and/or create a new market segment.
  • Reduce: If the part or process cannot be eliminated; what can be done to reduce the costs or outsource.
  • Create: Continue to create new products and services to differentiate compared to the competition.

Why you should read it: By all accounts, this was the most referenced strategic book, in 7 of the 10 rankings. The book provides great examples of how Cirque du Soleil, Southwest Airlines, and Dyson vacuums created blue oceans in a previously considered red ocean environment. Since the writing in 2005, the following companies are examples of blue ocean strategies including Pitney Bowes, Tata Motors, and Starbucks.

#1 – Good to Great by Jim Collins

Strategy Books

Number of Times on the Rankings: 3

Other Rankings:  Several members of Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council said it was the best management book they’ve read.  This sold over 5 million copies outpacing Blue Ocean Strategy.

The Strategy Books Key Story: This is the compassionate result of a 5-year study of 1,435 good companies spanning 40 years. Only 11 companies made the list for being considered great. To make the list, each company had to beat the general stock market by at least 3 times over a period of 15 years.  After researching the 11 companies and then selecting comparison companies to understand the differences of what they did to become great versus everyone else who didn’t. For the period of study, they identified that the findings were nearly mathematically impossible to refute.

Best Strategic Insight: Jim Collins did have a bias – he did NOT – want this to be a book about leadership.  He wanted to show the empirical findings on how these businesses used specific strategies to meet this ranking for only 0.77% of the population.  And the team found many awesome findings such as:

  • Identifying the proper method for change management, aka the Flywheel Effect
  • Getting the right people on the bus (company) and in the right seats.
  • Use of the Hedgehog Concept
  • Stop doing things that are against your strategy

Yet, they also found that every Good to Great company had a Level 5 Leader. The right type of leadership mattered.

Why you should read it: This is my favorite business book and I think you will find it as well.  Read it and listen to it on audible – you can hear Jim Collins passion for the research, surprise findings, and amazing insights.  Becoming great isn’t easy; but there is a proven formula to get it done.

Next month, I will reveal the Best of the Rest Strategy Books.  This Top 10 will include my personal reading/ranking of the three that I did not read and my favorites from the rest of the list.

Until next time, be Strategic with your Reading.

Before you start your strategic reading, claim your FREE 14 day trial of Cascade

Cascade is the complete strategy execution platform and will help you to plan, track, and manage your strategic plan. Easy to use, incredibly powerful and trusted by some of the largest (and smallest) brands in the world. Pricing starts at $29 per month

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