Book Review: Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freedman

Lawrence Freedman books is a gigantic masterpiece into the history of strategy. Perfect for a newcomer and reminder for the expert. 

Good historians structure the events of the past around a good framework, thereby, informing the audience to some new insight that was not thought about before. Lawrence Freedman fantastic book on strategy provides a framework for understanding strategy from a historical standpoint. He frames strategy as a dynamic relationship between planning and action, the comedy or the tragedy as he puts it, that can bring about victory or defeat.

“One strategies are considered as narratives a close relationship with drama become evident” 

The work itself tells the story of strategy right from the very start of history in a narrative format. In that way this book is great for a first timer whose understanding of this vast topic is relatively new. It will allow the neophyte reader to understand modern strategy concepts and how they evolved over the millennium thereby giving the reader a good foundational knowledge. However, it will give those who are well versed in this topic a aide-mémoire of the core of strategy and remind them that strategy is an art mixed with logic.

As a recent graduate, the art of modern strategy has never been more relevant. As I compete in the competitive marketplace I’m looking for what Porter calls my sustainable advantage. However, its not always clear how this can be attained as there are different argument. For example:

  • Freedom outlined that a good strategy is like a good narrative it is dynamic and must be changed throughout the conflict. This, however, seems purely internal
  • Clausewitz philosophy (if I understand him) argues that strategy is asymmetrical with the aim of getting the other side to do what we want it too, and of course, but this only focus on the external
  • Porter’s the latests export describes five forces that will influence a company or individual to remain competitive. He argues that the company must change in order to remain competitive.

Freedom of course covers all of these arguments in some detail. Which brings us to the biggest criticism I have of this book. Its extremely academic and as I understand strategy it should not be. Strategy is how do we win? and Freedom covers nothing practical, no new framework to think about just a lot of detailed history and very little practical advice.

If you were to read the Amazon comments a lot of the readers suggest that you skip the middle chapters and its easy to see why. In terms of practical uses that vast bulk of the book is useless.  It could be summed up quite easy:

Strategy is the getting of power

This is something that I can agree with. Power is why we learn strategy. In essence we all want it. Why would a book thats close to a 1000 pages do so well if people did not want power. But as this book attempts to point out all strategies have limitations. Armies have difficulty invading cities, such as when the Germans tried to invade Paris and companies may not have the core competencies to enter a new market. By the end of the book I was pondering an idea that it hinted out but was not specifically mentioned, that of being agile.

Over the past few years many business have attempted to become more adaptive to the marketplace, yet few actually are. It is easy to see why this attribute is considered desirable, the environment is way more dynamic than it ever has been. In the past major black swan moments were quite rare. So while some strategies become ineffective the majority remained. Nowadays, whole industries can be created and destroyed in a few years. Look at MySpace for an example, it had first mover advantage in the social media space but was overrun by Facebook. And now Facebook is in danger of being torn apart by a multitude of smaller more niche players. It’s bit like the Macedonian Empire with all of its fractions fighting for dominance and the big players struggling to remain on top. And yet strategy remains. Those who win are those who are able to do rather then those who able to think.

This is, Freedman says, what makes an effective strategist from ineffective one. The narrative we tell can either be a comedy or the tragedy. Power, or the study of getting power, is only the story, but armies, companies, and kings are all telling stories to remain in power. Strategy is a craft, one that we craft internally, one that we craft externally, one that we influence with and one that we are influence by. Its all but a game and the framework we tell is its best card.

This review is part of series on strategy books. The first book review in the serious was: A Backstabbing Powerful Game of Tremulous Grad Strategy 

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Audiobook Review: The Art of Possibility

“Dear Mister Zanda, I deserved this A because…”

It’s unusual that it that I spend a few weeks listening one Audiobook. I usually knock one out within a day or two, however, with The Art of Possibility I found myself rereading chapters over and over again. This is one of those books that the message is so simple that you can’t help to hear it again. The audiobook consisted of 12 chapters, each one a nugget of wisdom that provides a framework for creating possibility. Moreover, each chapter is read by composer Benjamin Zander and his wife Rosamund Stone Zander and accompanied music by the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.

The chapter that I reread at least three times was “Giving Everyone an A”. The principle is modest, assume that people are deserving of an A . This is not to be confused with receiving an A in an exam, merely that everyone is doing their best throughout life. I found myself, after this chapter, reminding myself to give an A to folks who might be frustrating. In this way it turned a potentially stressful situation into one of possibility. For example, I found myself grasping greater understanding at the person who cut me off in traffic; instead now I give them an A and assume they might have had a reason for doing so. This method is not the be all end all, nevertheless, I have discovered that I have been increasingly thoughtful and less susceptible to lashing out. It’s may not be the right answer yet its the healthy response.

I recommend getting the audiobook it builds music into the stories of the book along with sections “Dear Mister Zanda” that assists in binding the ideas together. However, there are sections of the book which seem rather uneven and it’s best just to make it through these parts to the golden nuggets.

Resources for this book

Philip Peng’s Blog has an amazing mind map of the principle of this book. His blog is great check it out:

The-Art-of-Possibility

Check out Benjamin Zander TED talk. It’s amazing.

 

Thanks for reading! 😀 If you enjoyed it please hit the star button below and if you really liked it please share. It would mean a lot to me to share my words and ideas with other people.

A Backstabbing Powerful Game of Tremulous Grand Strategy

George Friedman, the head of the private intelligence firm Stratfor, knows his stuff. Despite criticism of his book The Next 100 Years, as being outlandish and a little bit crazy, I found it to be an interesting worldview on the development of geopolitics over the next 100 years. While the suggestion of giant battle stations above Earth within 100 years seems outlandish, we may have to start considering space a military zone due to technological advancements; it too big of a draw for the US military complex. The main thesis, as I understand it, is about how countries use and keep to an overarching Grand Strategy and that thinking in this way helps us understand international relations in the past and into the future. What I couldn’t help think about in this book is how this geopolitics affects Australia.

The US grand strategy, as Friedman see it,is to ensure that no power can rise military or economically, to challenge US hegemony. This makes a lot of sense to me. For example, when the Roman Empire was considered the overarching superpower on the Mediterranean it too had a policy of stopping other powers from getting too powerful. It did this by supporting different Kingdoms over others. For example, whenever the Seleucid Empire become too powerful the Romans would lend support to the Ptolemaic Kingdom, and when both these kingdoms became a bit too powerful the Romans would support the Greek leagues. In the ancient case, the different kingdoms tried to manipulate Rome for their own benefit. They did this through varying different relationships with Roman politicians and generals and moreover, with the use of promises and bequeaths upon the King’s death.

Friedman suggests that three countries will become extraordinarily powerful over the next top 100 years. Japan is one, as over the next 100 years Japan’s military will grow rapidly and Japan will naturally want to protect its trade routes. Turkey is the next country in sits between the crossroads of the Middle East and Europe, furthermore, it has been the traditional seat of power in the Middle East and will likely be again. The last country is Poland, who he says will naturally need to expand power as Europe and Russia flex power in different ways, ultimately leading to Russia becoming weak and Poland being able to take advantage of this. Friedman suggests that Turkey and Japan will form together against the US. I find this idea interesting, however, I see the situation more akin to the Romans and the last of the Hellenistic kingdoms. In that, the nations of Turkey, Japan, and Poland will attempt to use US power to their advantage. One way they may achieve this is through manipulating trade agreements, something to the major players practice already. I theorise it’s probable that Turkey and Japan will actually have competition with each other and not have time to form an alliance against the US. Furthermore, it is distinctly probable, in my opinion, that the United States would keep these countries fighting against each other, thereby, slowly degrading the ability of these countries to take actions. All the while these growing powers will be trying to win the support or manipulate the American hand.

Being from Australia, I was interested in how Friedman analysis will affect my country. Sadly, he did not specifically lay that out. However, I can sort of figure it out myself. Is very clear that Australia’s Grand strategy is very much aligned to that of the United States. In that, we don’t want other countries getting too powerful and affecting the United States as a maritime power. Our alliance has benefitted us in that we have safe access to international trade without the need for large military naval power. However, that’s not stopping Australia investing heavily in its maritime power, especially since the rise of China’s military which represents a major threat to Australia’s maritime power and international trade. Unlike, Japan however, Australia is not much of a threat to the US. Our common focus to ensure the status quo will see us support America in any action it deems. Furthermore, I think the US accepts that Australia’s aim is to increase military spending by a significant amount is congruent with their strategy and, therefore, Australia is not seen as a major threat but as a major ally in the Asia region.

I disagreed with Friedman analysis of how the countries will interact with each other in relation to Japan, Poland, Turkey, and the USA. This may be a symptom  of Friedman own cultural bias in that the underlying US cultural view that all countries are either allied to or against the United States. When it could be that these countries simply view the United States as a tool to expand their own power and that these countries are playing a complex game with a double edge sword. If they misuse they most likely will cease to exist yet if they play the United States correctly they will be tremulous power. Australia too is playing this game and our hopes for a safe, secure, and a powerful future rest on the close alliance with the United States.

Majority of Companies Data Security Strategies are Inadequate

An often overlooked part of business is protecting the digital assets that underlie the capability to generate value. Often we are told in Business School that the goal of the market is to create value and that is true, but an often overlooked part is the defence and security of those assets.

Like Yin and Yang businesses have two sides. Yin is the creating value side. Its the sales and marketing people who derive value and innovation. While Yang is the side that protects that value. The data scientist, and IT professionals. Without both sides your business will be at risk of losing its assets or not growing.

 They are meticulous in building leads, but barely muster the means to ensure that information is safe.

However, I should put a disclaimer here that I’m not talking about risk. Businesses’ need to take risks, but they should also actively manage protecting their assets. Yet I have seen many businesses not engage in the Yang side. They are meticulous in building leads, but barely muster the means to ensure that information is safe. Moreover, this leaves their systems vulnerable to attack from hackers who might steal that information and ransomed it back to the owners at an inflated price.

For me the idea of creating value without putting in the proper defence is a highly risky endeavour. More businesses should take the time to ensure the safety of their system.

Book Review: Autobiography of a Yogi

Paramhansa Yogananda “Autobiography of a Yogi” has all the hallmarks of a crazy idol worshiping cult. Read by likes of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson, and Marc Benioff, and recommended by the company MindValley as one of the best books you can read to increase your spiritual nature you would think you would be reading something of substance, even for the spiritual world. However, what you got is a piece of fabricated crap about Yogananda encounters with spiritual leaders.

Now I’m not saying that this book did not make me think, it did. But it can’t be taken at face value. This is far from an autobiography, it’s a mix of the true and the delusional. Yes, meditations is good for you, yes yoga is good for you but just because the guys teaching these things believe in some mythical astral world does not make it true. The last few chapters in the astral world could not help but make me think that Yogananda was on some mushroom influenced cosmic journey into la la land.

By all means read this book it has inspired lots of people, but remember reality because that world is far more beautiful.

If you click here it will take you to my Amazon Affiliate page.

Thoughts on the Grand Challenges of Anthropology – a 150 year discipline in existential crisis

American Antiquity released a crowed sourced list for the question “What are archaeology’s most important scientific challenges?” (see end for the list) to the dismay of countless disgruntled anthropologist who have attacked the work. They argue that the list was complied by old American white guys and ignores the rest of the world, woman, young anthropologists, gays etcetera. The work is part of a larger effort to write a Grand story for Anthropology which has often lacked a way to express it justification to exist.

I don’t have a problem with the answers on the list. They are perfectly acceptable research questions that will get grants. What I have a problem is the question that generated the list.

“What are archaeology’s most important scientific challenges?”

It is the wrong question. There are an unabridged host of challenges that can keep an Anthropologist occupied for a long time. What Anthropology lacks is a way to justify and express why people should study it. Moreover, people who have studied Anthropology know that it is highly useful and can help many areas of society in the problems that our modern world faces. Such as terrorist, change power dynamics, how to improve NGO’s efficiency, how business can actually change corporate culture, the list goes on and on. Instead, what we should ask is “How can we make Anthropology useful in the modern world to encourage people who study it can get jobs” because that is how this area of study will survive by being more useful to the world.

Grand challenges for archaeology

  1. Emergence, communities, and complexity

1. How do leaders emerge, maintain themselves, and transform society?

2. Why and how do social inequalities emerge, grow, persist, and diminish, and with what consequences?

3. Why do market systems emerge, persist, evolve and, on occasion, fail?

4. How does the organization of human communities at varying scales emerge from and constrain the actions of their members?

5. How and why do small-scale human communities grow into spatially and demographically larger and politically more complex entities?

6. How can systematic investigations of prehistoric and historic urban landscapes shed new light on the social and demographic processes that drive urbanism and its consequences?

7. What is the role of conflict—both internal factional violence and external warfare—in the evolution of complex cultural formations?

B. Resilience, persistence, transformation, and collapse

1. What factors have allowed for differential persistence of societies?

2. What are the roles of social and environmental diversity and complexity in creating resilience and how do their impacts vary by social scale?

3. Can we characterize social collapse or decline in a way that is applicable across cultures, and are there any warning signals that collapse or severe decline is near?

4. How does ideology structure economic, political, and ritual systems?

C. Movement, mobility, and migration

1. What processes led to, and resulted from, the global dispersal of modern humans?

2. What are the relationships among environment, population dynamics, settlement structure, and human mobility?

3. How do humans occupy extreme environments, and what cultural and biological adaptations emerged as a result?

4. Why does migration occur and why do migrant groups maintain identities in some circumstances and adopt new ones in others?

D. Cognition, behavior, and identity

1. What are the biophysical, sociocultural, and environmental interactions out of which modern human behavior emerged?

2. How do people form identities, and what are the aggregate long-term and large-scale effects of these processes?

3. How do spatial and material reconfigurations of landscapes and experiential fields affect societal development?

E. Human–environment interactions

1. How have human activities shaped Earth’s biological and physical systems, and when did humans become dominant drivers of these systems?

2. What factors drive or constrain population growth in prehistory and history?

3. What factors drive health and well-being in prehistory and history?

4. Why do foragers engage in plant and animal management, and under what circumstances does management of a plant or animal lead to its domestication?

5. Why do agricultural economies emerge, spread, and intensify, and what are the relationships among productive capacity, population, and innovation?

6. How do humans respond to abrupt environmental change?

7. How do humans perceive and react to changes in climate and the natural environment over short- and long-terms?

Book Review: When its Wrong to be Right

Whilst perfunctorily playing Fallout 4 I decided to read this book in-between deaths. At 114 pages and over 50 chapters there is not much depth so its quite fast to read. As for wisdom, there is some but its so short that it not developed fully. Which is really quite a shame because Russel Howcroft holds some unique and interesting views of the world. Such as the idea of a work/life balance is shit and the right kind of bullshit can actually be good.

Perhaps the thesis of this book is that Australian culture (and perhaps world culture) should celebrate all types of ideas even of they don’t conform the vast majority of idea out their. Which is really good advice for someone who makes a good living of generating out their ideas!

If you want a quick read then you may want to purchase it from my amazon link here

My Favourite Russel Howcroft Ad