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Roadmaps and Revelations by Paul R. Niven

Roadmaps and Revelations by Paul R. Niven

Roadmaps and RevelationsRoadmaps and Revelations
By Paul R. Niven
Wiley, 2009

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3 stars: Valuable information and a good read

There are tens of thousands of books available on the subject of strategy.  Over 110,000 are available on alone. Books by authors including Norton, Kaplan and Porter are a staple in many MBA strategy courses.

So how does Paul R. Niven, a strategy consultant, hope to stand out in a sea of established works? His attempt is “a business fable.” Niven’s three previous works on balanced scorecards are basically how-to books. Roadmaps and Revelations is a story of a road trip that takes many metaphorical turns.

The book is a quick read at 215 pages. The first 184 are the fable and the remaining 21 pages are a summary of Niven’s approach to strategic planning.

The main characters in the book include Rory Newman, Director of Planning for a privately held company, and Sydney Wise, a serial entrepreneur and strategy guru. The two are thrown together through a series of circumstances that results in a road trip down California’s Pacific Coast Highway from Napa Valley to San Diego. An acquisition of the privately held company puts Rory on the spot to develop a strategic plan for the company in a few days. He stresses about how he might approach this and then fate delivers Sydney. What ensues is a two-day road trip with a number of experiences and conversations that help Rory develop his strategic “story.” As quickly as Sydney enters Rory’s life, he disappears again, making an emergency departure at LAX. The fable, like PCH, has many twists and turns. Many of these are contrived experiences to make the author’s point on strategic development. Some, however, are just distracting.

The author’s message is clear:

  • Many companies take a poor approach to developing strategies.
  • A clear mission is at the center of a solid strategic planning process.
  • Strategy development does not have to be an overly complex process.

Niven weaves his 10-step process of strategy development and implementation into the fable. Or if you just want to get to the point, you can simply fast forward to page 185 and read the “Process and Model Summary.” The author also promotes his Web site and consulting practice at the end.

This book is not for everyone. If you learn better by reading stories, this book will be helpful in underscoring the lessons you picked up at business school. If you learn better by having real fact-based examples of strategic planning or a reference manual, there are other books you should read.

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