Making Strategy: The Journey of Strategic Management


Colin Eden & Fran Ackermann

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    In the last few decades we have been led astray by airport books with sound-bite steps to strategic success, and elegant but equally unrealistic simplifications from theoreticians. In practice, strategy making is an ongoing, messy, incomplete process – as all who do sustained work in organizations know. I highly recommend Making Strategy because it provides both practical and theoretic insights into this complex reality.

    Strategy is sometimes viewed as unnecessary, even harmful. Colin Eden and Fran Ackermann have the experience with public and private organizations to illustrate its utility. The theoretical discussion in the first third of the book develops a valuable view of contemporary strategy: an intermittent but ongoing effort, often driven by the need for change, responding to multiple stakeholders. The authors urge strategy makers to avoid the urge to ‘blueprint’, and even suggest that deliberate strategizing is not always wise. On the other hand, they recognize that many companies seek ways to change their current way of operating. Because these changes inevitably alter power relations, they give careful attention to the politics of strategy making. Consideration of this important topic alone sets Making Strategy apart from almost all other strategy texts.

    In the second section of the book the authors illustrate their efforts to help clarify and possibly change strategy in a wide range of organizations. These vignettes clarify good theorizing in practice, and are thus of interest to both academics and managers. I believe the book makes a major contribution to the literature by respecting managerial intelligence, but suggesting what the outside academic can contribute to improving performance.

    In addition to giving a feel for the way in which strategy can be jointly negotiated, the occasional mishaps and frequent uncertainties they are willing to describe actually create confidence in the methods outlined in the third part of the book. The authors use interactive, sometimes computer-supported, techniques to help top management teams and other stakeholders express and synthesize their knowledge and aspirations. A primary tool is the generation of a ‘cognitive map’ – visual causal connections that Eden and Ackermann organize in various ways to both improve understanding and connect operations with more general objectives.

    The detailed discussions found in the tools section of the book are very useful even for those who are not committed to replicating the entire process outlined. For example, the section on setting up a workshop offers many practical tips of value to all who work with groups (for example, start with coffee to minimize the frustration caused by latecomers). Each chapter also has a ‘yes, but’ section which anticipates questions from those who are closely following the authors’ agenda.

    In short, Making Strategy provides a needed bridge between practice and theory. The steps it suggests are more complex than the average book written for a managerial audience; the theory it suggests is richer than the average book written for academics. It's a needed report from two individuals who are attending to the immediate needs of organizations, while satisfying a longer term objective to understand how these needs can be more effectively met.

    AnneHuffProfessor of Strategic Management University of Colorado at Boulder and President of the Academy of Management


    We would never have set out on this ‘journey’ without support from Tony Knight and Ashok Hegde in the early 1980s. They provided corporate settings in which to develop and test initial ideas. Our ‘journey’ of writing would never have been completed without continual nagging from John Bryson and Chuck Finn, who never ceased to have faith in our work. Both of us also thank our good friend Sue Jones for her encouragement and constructive criticism over a number of years. Steve Cropper started this ‘journey’ with us, and his initial thinking was an influence on the shape of the book; however, he moved to follow new interests which left him with little time to contribute further.

    For us, an important part of this book is the contribution the vignettes make to illustrating both theory and practice. However, it is always difficult for the clients of strategic change processes to see their story in black and white. Nevertheless they have all appreciated our wish to make public their experiences and have, for the most part, been willing and able to ‘sign off’ their vignette without changes that would have sanitized the account. We thank them all.

    Fran would particularly like to acknowledge support from Bob Bostrom and the University of Georgia for not only providing a wonderful place to write some of the book, but also loaning her a computer after the ‘Great Fire’ which completely destroyed the Terry School of Business in August 1995 and her computer! Colin is grateful for the opportunity of lengthy, and often heated, discussions with Kees van der Heijden as they have both sought to design and teach jointly an MBA programme in Strategic Management. Kees's book and ours were always intended to complement each other – reflecting a common orientation – however, the involvement of clients in the production schedule inevitably slowed publication of this book. We hope that readers of this book will feel persuaded to explore his book also.

    Finally we offer our thanks to John Bryson, Ann Huff, Geraldine De Sanctis and Karl Weick, for being prepared to read the book in manuscript form, and for liking it.


    The single user software referred to throughout the book is Decision Explorer and the networked system is Group Explorer. Information about Decision Explorer can be found at hhtp:// and for Group Explorer

    Using the Cross Referencing System

    In order to help readers move around the three parts of the book we have developed a cross referencing system. This system acts as a ‘hyper-text’ like format, enabling readers to gain clues about ‘what the techniques might look like in practice’ (The Vignettes), ‘how the techniques can be adopted’ (Practice: Methods, Techniques and Tools) and ‘why the techniques and methods have been devised’ (Theory and Concepts).

    Thus readers, for example researcher/academics, wanting to learn more about the JOURNEY Making methodology might concentrate on the Theory and Concepts; other readers, possibly practitioners, wishing to use some or all of the methodology might focus on the Practical part, with both of these types of reader dipping into the Vignettes when illustration is required. Finally MBA students who will be expected during their studies to learn about the various methods, theories, and approaches to strategy but who also will wish to know how to put what they have learnt into practice should find the integrated nature of the book helpful.

    To use the cross referencing system identify the word or phrase that you are interested in (marked in bold in the text) and then move to the cross references at the end of the line in the text.

    Select either the V / C / P cross reference (Vignettes, Concepts or Practice). For example, if you are reading about a particular topic in the Theory and Concepts section and you would like to see how it worked in an organizational setting then it is a simple matter of looking up the vignette page number. V34 given at the end of the paragraph indicates GO TO page 34 of Part 2: Vignettes.

    Where more than one word or phrase is in bold on the same line, a colon separates the cross references.

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