Huff, Anne Sigismund
The continuing relevance of strategy.
Human Relations, 54 (1).
My father-in-law understood what accounting was, or at least he was satisfied
with his definition. He was much less sure about 'strategy', and I was
not much help. It has never been easy for me to explain my field to others,
although an example will sometimes suffice. 'Strategic decisions have longterm
impact,' I said to my father-in-law a number of years ago. 'Your decision
not to open a branch store in Aspen was strategic.'
This kind of definition can lead to further conversation, or stop it. 'I
didn't realize it was so important at the time,' he might have said, giving me
an entrée to Mintzberg's (1978) arguments about realized strategy. Instead
he dismissed my example by contending, 'I couldn't give it much thought,
because I didn't have anyone who could handle it.' Unfortunately, I had not
read Edith Penrose (1959) at the time.
I recently have had an increasing number of such unsatisfying conversations.
Though I have much better stories to tell, I still worry that collectively
we are falling short. Strategy is too often dismissed in this globalizing
world of shifting alliances and instantaneous electronic connections as timeconsuming
and irrelevant. I think one problem is definitional.
In the last several decades, organization behavior, organization theory,
human relations and other areas of management inquiry have grown and
developed, yet they do not seem to have had the difficulties defining their
subject that we have had. The conversations we start, among ourselves and
with others, are rarely brought to conclusion; they tend to falter in the face
of new enthusiasms. The millennium is a good point to examine some of these
starting points, and contemplate how we might further a fascinating, but
elusive, area of inquiry.
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