FORBES: The Attacker’s Advantage Is Valuable Executive Reading

Career College Central Summary:

  • Ram Charan was asked by a client how to deal with uncertainty. The result was his latest book, The Attacker’s Advantage. The literature on how business leaders should manage when the future is uncertain is pretty sparse. I like Michael Raynor’s The Strategy Paradox and Ram Charan’s book, plus my forthcoming The Flexible Stance. Most other strategy books recommend finding a path and pursuing it. The recent trend to deemphasize strategy in favor of execution reinforces the practice of ignoring uncertainty.
  • Business leaders who successfully deal with uncertainty have five characteristics, according to Charan:
  1. “Perceptual acuity,” which he describes as wide-range scanning of changes in trends.
  2. “A mind-set to see opportunity in uncertainty.”
  3. “The ability to see a new path forward and commit to it.”
  4. “Adeptness in managing the transition to the new path.”
  5. “Skill in making the organization steerable and agile.”
  • Charan’s best example is told in his last chapter. A large division of Merck performed a major shift in direction. The move was difficult and would have succeeded at few companies, but the executive team pulled it off well.
  • The Attacker’s Advantage is focused on high level strategy, written for corporate CEOs and the heads of large divisions. His contribution is valuable, but also limited. There is a need to deal with uncertainty that is much more tactical, executed by lower and middle managers as well as by senior executives. This need is not addressed in Charan’s book.
  • For example, businesses periodically have to deal with significant sales declines. These can result from recessions, but can also happen due to technological change (look at Blackberry), social attitudes (cigarettes), government policy (for-profit colleges) or competitive challenges (brick and mortar bookstores). On the flip side, business leaders are sometimes surprised by increased demand, which can occur for all of the same reasons. Then their companies face challenges to growth, such as limited working capital, lack of skilled personnel, and limited ability to get increased materials from vendors.

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