Once Again:
The True “Heart of Strategy”

Built to WinMy friend and colleague Hal Movius has just delivered to me his profoundly important Built to Win, coauthored with Lawrence Susskind.

The topic is purportedly "negotiation." I use "purportedly" because it so thoroughly re-defines the term that the "old definition" is more or less rendered meaningless, even a distraction.

Much (most) of what we "do" in the real world, internal to our organization or vis-à-vis outsiders, is, in fact, negotiation of one sort or another. But the way the "skill" is typically approached is transactional—how to structure a single negotiation. To be sure, in the last few years we have emphasized such things as "win-win" approaches—and that's no small thing.

But Built to Win goes a country mile or ten further. First, the authors argue that internal politics make a mess of negotiation outcomes as much as the "at the table" bit—complex internal pressures (substantive, political, subjective, as much as "hard numbers") by various functions are as important as the "stuff-at-the-table," especially over the long haul—you know, that funny-ole-word, imp-le-ment-a-tion. Second, they argue that such complex "stuff" at the opposing party's organization is also crucial. "Win-win" at the negotiating table is relatively unimportant if everybody, or lots of bodies, back home (both homes) is pissed off at the result.

Third, and the real breakthrough, is the notion that negotiating per se (remember, much of what we "do") can be an incredibly important "strategic competence" that becomes a core, encompassing, pervasive (i.e., everybody!) system and "cultural trait" of a successful organization.

As you know (see my "Heart of Strategy" post—also PDF and PPT), I fervently believe that "all this stuff" is the true basis for lasting "strategic EXCELLENCE," not the battle plan for conquering markets. "We will conquer X market, a 'Blue Ocean,'" is utterly meaningless (deleterious) if not married to the "all-important last 98%" called Execution or "Implementation through the Enthusiastic Cooperation of 100% of our People."

The book is loaded (!!) with compelling examples—and practical advice for getting the "core competence" imbedded throughout the enterprise. Frankly, in the very best sense, this is not a "page turner." The idea, which of course I've grossly oversimplified, is straightforward enough, but the execution requires a lot of deep thought and very hard work. The payoff is staggering—but building the under-structure ain't no walk in the park.

Bottom line: This is a terrific book, that truly deserves the moniker "an original," and we look forward to adding Hal to our Cool Friends roster. (Incidentally, the authors' credentials are solid gold, such as intense work with the Harvard Law School—on top of extraordinary "in the trenches" work. Yadda, yadda, yadda.)