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Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy

Here’s How to Reconcile Empirical Rigor and Creative Thinking in Harvard Business Review

September 03, 2012, Toronto - Many managers feel doomed to trade off the futile rigor of ordinary strategic planning for the hit-or-miss insights from more creative processes. In fact, the two can be reconciled to produce novel but realistic strategies. The key is to recognize that conventional strategic planning, for all its analysis, is not actually scientific—it lacks the careful generation and testing of hypotheses that are at the heart of the scientific method, says a new article published in the September 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review. The article was written by A.G. Lafley, a former chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble; Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School; Jan Rivkin, the Bruce V. Rauner Professor of Harvard Business School; and, Nicolaj Sigglekow, the David M. Knott Professor at the Wharton School of Management. They outline a strategy-making process that combines rigor and creativity. A team begins by formulating options, or possibilities, and asks what must be true for each to succeed. Once it has listed all the conditions, it assesses their likelihood and thereby identifies the barriers to each choice. The team then tests the key barrier conditions to see which hold true. From here, choosing a strategy is simple: The group need only review the test results and choose the possibility with the fewest serious barriers.

The article also provides a link to a free download of the first chapter of Lafley and Martin’s new book, Playing to Win, which will be published by Harvard Business Review Press in February.

In Playing to Win, Lafley and Martin talk about strategy as a coordinated and integrated set of five choices: a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities, and management systems. They address the nature of the choices to be made, providing a number of examples and offering advice for making the best decisions. Their intent is to give leaders a do-it-yourself guide to strategy – the concepts, process, and practical tools leaders need to create and develop a winning strategy for their business, function, or organization – a strategy that serves customers better and enables organizations to compete more successfully.