An Economist magazine article titled ``The Planned and the Damned,''
reports on a surprising 75-company study about strategic planning by
accountants Deloitte Haskins & Sells. The result: `` ... Firms
without central planners tend to produce higher returns.''
Companies with central planning staffs, the researchers conclude,
tend to diversify unwisely and are slow to shed misfit elements in
If not central planning in these turbulent times, then what?
The search might begin, oddly enough, in the public sector. One of
my first columns, February 1985, describes a dramatic turnaround of
the U.S. Air Force's Tactical Air Command under Gen. Bill Creech, a
prophet of ``de-organizing,'' as he called his approach to fighting
bureaucratic, centralist tendencies.
In a public talk about the Tactical Air Command success, Deputy
Assistant Secretary of Secretary of Defense Bob Stone proclaimed
Creech's secret was to ``organize as we fight.'' Stone implied that
Creech had executed a straightforward structural shift. ``Not so,''
Creech shot back. ``That's the cover I used to gain the Pentagon's
acquiescence.'' The real purpose of the move, Creech vowed, was to
``organize in accordance with the human spirit,'' to build
small-group cohesiveness and esprit in pursuit of effective
This ``strategy/structure'' vs. ``spirit'' battle, as I now call
it, also emerged during a recent overseas visit. I listened to the
chief executive of one of Europe's mightiest companies analyzing the
costs of his firm's ``petrified structure'' in the face of new,
mostly Asian, competition. He contrasted the current sluggishness
with the ``winning spirit'' that marked the company's sparkling post
World-War II success. He discussed one major victory in the U.S.
market, attributing it to ``work(ing) like an Olympic team.''
Restoration of such spirit, this highly analytic German concluded,
was the key to future success, maybe even survival. Chalk up one
more round for the ``spirit'' forces!
It was more than happenstance that these remarks were uttered
while the Harvard Business Review (May/June 1989) was featuring a
lead story titled ``Strategic Intent.'' Professors Gary Hamel and
C.K. Prahalad argue that ``as `strategy' has blossomed, the
competitiveness of Western companies has withered. This may be
coincidence, but we think not. ... Did Komatsu, Canon and Honda
have detailed, 20-year `strategies' for attacking Western markets?
Are Japanese and Korean managers better planners than their Western
counterparts? No. ... Companies that have risen to global
leadership over the past 20 years created an obsession with winning
at all levels ... and then sustained that obsession. We term the
obsession strategic intent. …