Strategy Safari: a Guided Tour Through the Wilds of Strategic Mangament by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand, and Joseph Lampel (New York: Free Press, 1998. 416 pp)

Henry Mintzberg is the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University. He earned his doctorate from MIT and is the founding partner of CoachingOurselves.com.

Bruce Ahlstrand is a senior faculty member in the Business Administration program at Trent University. Graduating from the University of Toronto, the London School of Economics, and University of Oxford, Ahsltrand is considered an expert in strategic management and organization theory.

Joseph Lampel is Professor of Strategy and Innovation for Cass Business School at City University London. With a Ph.D. from McGill University, Lampel works with managers in the areas of strategy, project-based learning, and business innovation.

Don’t Mind Me—I’m Just Looking at the Animals

The intrigue of a safari surrounds the possibility of gazing upon diverse wildlife inconceivable in daily life. Whether the lethargic reclining of a hippopotamus or the restless chatter of a primate, one could imagine a simple animistic existence. Acting as a metaphor for the contrasting philosophies of strategic management, Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel utilize the safari as an image of the wilds of business management.

Strategy Defined 

Strategy Safari functions as a primer for the competing schools of strategy in business management. Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel separate strategic management into 10 distinct schools of thought. But, before we explore the contrasting viewpoints, let’s consider the definition of strategic management.

Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel define strategy as

“a pattern, that is, consistency in behavior over time… [strategy has] to form as well as be formulated… strategy is a position, namely the locating of particular products in particular markets… strategy is a perspective, namely an organization’s fundamental way of doing things the [company] way… [and] strategy is a ploy, that is, a specific ‘maneuver’ intended to outwit an opponent or competitor” (9-14).


Competitive Schools of Strategic Management 

 

With each school subsequently outlined, the definitions of strategy carry separate weight. For some, the formulation of strategy carries significantly more weight than the notion of outwitting the opponent. For others, “the company way” takes precedent over product positioning.

In brief, the authors outline 10 schools of strategic management:

  1. The Design School: Strategy Formation as a Process of Conception
  2. The Planning School: Strategy Formation as a Formal Process
  3. The Positioning School: Strategy Formation as an Analytical Process
  4. The Entrepreneurial School: Strategy Formation as a Visionary Process
  5. The Cognitive School: Strategy Formation as a Mental Process
  6. The Learning School: Strategy Formation as an Emergent Process
  7. The Power School: Strategy Formation as a Process of Negotiation
  8. The Cultural School: Strategy Formation as a Collective Process
  9. The Environmental School: Strategy Formation as a Reactive Process
  10. The Configuration School: Strategy Formation as a Process of Transformation

As a broad overview, Strategy Safari provides no clear thesis. Instead it describes the overarching field of strategic management offering evidence of the scholarship in each school as well as the pros and cons of each position.

The Whole Is Greater than the Sum of its Parts 

Therefore, it is hard to provide much of an examination of each school. But, do not rule out strategic management on the whole. Even with competing positions, the field offers much to consider.

Photo by Arno Meintjes

A school of thought, by definition, is divorced from reality. It exists in ivory towers, many steps removed from practice. Moreover, strategic management philosophy intentionally positions itself at different ends of the spectrum in order to differentiate from the crowd.

Therefore, a manager looking to implement strategy in business ought to consider the shades of gray in strategic management. Even though the authors split strategy formation into 10 separate schools, reality suggests that the field must be holistically considered.

“But those who have ultimate responsibility for all this—the managers of our organizations—can allow themselves no such luxuries. They have to deal with the entire beast of strategy formation—not only to keep it alive but also to help sustain some of its real-life energy. True, they can make use of the process in various ways: an elephant, after all, can be a beast of burden or a symbol of ceremony—but only if it remains intact as a living thing” (368).

Thus, don’t let the many cracks in the armor of strategic management in Strategy Safari deceive you. Behind the network of seemingly contradictory theories resides a careful apology for strategic formulation in business management. Just as a safari provides opportunity to observe a myriad of wildlife functioning together despite the diversity of the animal kingdom, so too do strategic management schools operate when considered holistically.

If you are a manager in need of further understanding of strategic management, Strategy Safari functions as an excellent primer.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

Posted by: Donovan Richards
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