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I spoke recently with Walter Kiechel about his new book,The Lords of Strategy, which describes the rise of the large strategy consulting firms—BCG, McKinsey, and Bain—as well as the business school professors who contributed conceptual frameworks and pragmatic insights to the strategy revolution. Kiechel, a former Managing Editor atFortune magazine, was the Editorial Director of Harvard Business Publishing from 1998 to 2002.
HBR: Two of the big themes in the evolution of strategy thinking from the 1960s to the present particularly caught our eye. The first is the rise of frameworks that brought with them Greater Taylorism—sharp-penciled analytics that focus on costs and efficiency. The second is about helping employees to learn, innovate, and change. Why is the first set of ideas so much better understood?
KIECHEL: The bottom line, I guess, is that it's easier to measure costs and market share than it is to measure the human dimension of what goes on in organizations.
But it's more complicated than that. People who put more emphasis on the human side don't seem to care about developing a shared explanatory framework. The people interested in developing the idea of strategy, by comparison, wanted that very much. Michael Porter didn't throw over the experience curve or the growth-share matrix; he criticized them, but he also built on them and improved them. I can't find any evidence that the people who were pushing the human dimension ever settled on a base of ideas. Stanford professor Jeff Pfeffer says that if you canvas 105 people in organizational science, you get 146 different answers to the question "What are the most important issues to focus on?" Among those, 106 are unique answers.
I wonder if a different kind of mind is needed for analytics than for reinvention and growth.
Or a different part of the mind. Neuroscientists are finding that...