What I Didn’t Learn in Business School: How Strategy Works in the Real World
By Jay B. Barney and Trish Gorman Clifford
Harvard Business Review Press, 2010
This is an easy-to-read business novel about Justin, a recent MBA graduate in his first consulting assignment about the viability of a new product developed by R&D. He encounters issues that go beyond his educational training as he attempts to relate the issues to cases and other material from his MBA course work. It can be read at several levels. For example, it could be read by someone with little or knowledge about business; it could be read by someone contemplating earning an MBA; it could be read by a practitioner, a recent graduate, or a professor.
To fully appreciate the depth of the book, it is necessary to be acquainted with Jay Barney’s Resource Based View for examining strengths and weaknesses of a firm. Justin uses Barney’s VRIO analysis to assist him in developing his analysis.
Throughout his assignment, Justin encounters strong senior managers and senior consultants who have significant experience and vested interests in the outcome of the project. He interviews the CFO who has six different financial analyses and who does not know which one is right. He meets a senior operating manager who has done a complete five-forces analysis concluding that the product under study is not viable, only to realize that this analysis may be examining the wrong industry. The value chain involved in the launch of a new product tests Justin’s academic training. He learns to understand what a real core competency and competitive advantage are.
The reader is introduced to the application of various strategic management tools throughout the book and then encounters the “real world” of corporate politics and prior arrangements. He learns that he needs to ask the right questions and challenge assumptions that are being used. He learns the value of a team as he works with the other consultants on the project. He learns to deal with criticism from his superiors.
Although this book is a novel, it explores real-world application of Justin’s education. At the conclusion of each chapter, the authors provide a series of reflection questions for the reader. Therefore, the novel, at times, becomes a textbook. The book allows the reader to gain knowledge and to reflect on the application of that knowledge. As with any good novel, the reader is left in suspense regarding the ending, so I won’t spoil it by “giving it away.”
This is a very enjoyable book to read. It is recommended for your next airplane trip. I give this four stars and a big “thumbs up.”
 Barney, J. B. Gaining and Sustaining Competitive Advantage. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2011.
 VRIO (Value, Rarity, Imitability, Organization) is a framework for examining resource strengths and weaknesses.