McKinsey Quarterly Top 10 of 2012

The McKinsey Top Ten Articles of 2012 (registration required) contains a few items of interest for strategy folks.

First, it looks like the “s-word” is coming back into style in the endless wheel of business language faddism. Four of the articles have strategy in the title, and some of the others make heavy use of the term in the text. Birshan and Carr in “Becoming More Strategic” say

We are entering the age of the strategist. As our colleagues Chris Bradley, Lowell Bryan, and Sven Smit have explained in “Managing the strategy journey,” a powerful means of coping with today’s more volatile environment is increasing the time a company’s top team spends on strategy. Involving more senior leaders in strategic dialogue makes it easier to stay ahead of emerging opportunities, respond quickly to unexpected threats, and make timely decisions.

Second, we have Cynthia Montgomery’s rumination on “How Strategists Lead,” which makes a decent complement to Dick Rumelt’s Good Strategy, Bad Strategy and is based on a forthcoming book. It’s mostly wisdom-talk, but of a refreshingly skeptical and thoughtful type that fits many of my prejudices, so I’m endorsing it. One part that will be of interest to many of our readers is her insight that since going into executive teaching she’s found that her students are largely incapable of allowing their analyses to temper their optimism or to link their business plans to their analysis of competitive forces. We want executives with a can-do spirit, but we also want executives who are good at the Serenity Prayer and have the wisdom to know the difference between the things they can change and the things they cannot.

Third, we have “How Leaders Kill Meaning at Work,” worked up from a 2011 book, which is based on a large diary study (“…nearly 12,000 daily electronic diaries from dozens of professionals working on important innovation projects at seven North American companies.”). The article is based on “entries in which diarists mentioned upper- or top-level managers—868 narratives in all.” It turns out that “killing meaning” is equivalent to “interfering with success on projects and thereby demoralizing team members,” so the worker-motivation angle isn’t really necessary to their catalogue of upper-management dysfunction. The main quibble I have with the article is that they make no allowance for the possibility that experimentation and/or creating options might be the right way to go, although in the examples they give, if that was what was going on, communication with the front-line troops was inadequate.

All in all, might be worth registering for.

Freakonomics is bad science

The writing has been on the wall for a while (Freakonomics-type gee whiz research has bugged me from the beginning) — but if you haven’t read it yet, check out Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung’s critique of “Freakonomics: What Went Wrong?”

You can find more Freakonomics coverage on Gelman’s blog.

Data and Competitive Advantage

Here are three short interviews about “competing with data:” Erik Brynjolffson, Jeff Hammerbacher, and the Butler basketball coach Brad Stevens. The interviews don’t get into too much detail, at all, but nonetheless are interesting to read (or, you can watch the video format of the interviews at the above link).

Butler’s basketball successes are sort of curious, given their size/resources – so nice to learn a bit more about their approach (or, how they impute the success).  Of course, luck is always an alternative explanation for any success (Alchian, 1950).

Strategy Resources from Around the Web

Here are some strategy-related resources and links from around the web:

Those are a few strategy-related links that quickly came to mind.  We’ll surely add others.  If you happen upon this post – feel free to add additional links into the comments.