Why leaders need to know about the evolution of strategy

A source of useful business ideas for the 21st-century leader

Esade Entrepreneurship Institute

This article is based on knowledge insights by Marcel Planellas

Why should leaders know about the science of business strategy? How can they benefit from business models that have been developed in the past? Why should they invest time in discovering key authors in the evolution of strategy? These and other questions are frequent among business leaders.

"A leader's commitment is strongly related to the company's future and management ideas are often associated with the latest business approaches," says Esade Professor Marcel Planellas. "Leaders are constantly searching for the latest thing and they tend to deny history, but models and theories that have been effective in the past can also be very useful tools for today's leaders."

Sometimes new management ideas are just a continuation of existing ones

Planellas's knowledge insights in Harvard Deusto show that discovering other leaders and academics who have solved similar issues in the past can open new perspectives in management. Knowing about the evolution of strategy can be a source of new ideas for the 21st-century leader.

Art and science of management

Being a leader has to do with experience, the development of functions and action-based learning, but it is also connected to knowing specific theories and learning management techniques. That's why experts sometimes refer to it as the art and science of management.

"Over the past 50 years, we have witnessed an impressive collective effort to develop the science of business administration and management," says Planellas. "Organisations and academic partners have designed models and tools to help leaders face their management challenges better."

The evolution of strategy
60s 70s 80s 90s 00s 10s
The beginnings of strategic planning Business portfolios Competitive strategies Resources and competences Innovation and new business models The end of sustainable advantage?

Economists, engineers, sociologists, philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists have conducted research on the complex and fascinating phenomenon of organisation development. According to Planellas, the paradox is that all this knowledge and science is surprisingly not very well known or valued by business leaders.

"Perhaps one reason for this lack of knowledge is the misperception that strategy ideas become obsolete or expire when new ones emerge," says Planellas. "When leaders acquire a historical perspective, they see how new ideas have been built upon previous ones."

Sometimes new management ideas are just a continuation of existing ones. In other cases, new theories emerge as an opposing view to encourage debate.

As in other social sciences, business management ideas evolve over time in an ongoing historical process. "The 21st-century leader should know about these management theories and how to use this knowledge in their business strategy. Looking back and discovering authors and models can be a very useful source of knowledge for present and future leaders."

Classical management books should coexist with the latest bestsellers in management

Strategic tools

The knowledge insights are a call to action. "On a leader's bookshelf, classical management books can and should coexist with the latest bestsellers in management. A leader's task is to be able to select from these strategic tools the most appropriate ones and know how to apply them in the organisation's particular context. These models are strategic management tools for executive leaders as well as businesspeople," says Planellas.

The author warns that not all models are useful for all contexts and that an organisation's particular circumstance is key. Executive leaders have to select the most appropriate models to build their strategy. They shouldn't attempt to cover everything. Instead, they should be selective and determine where, when and how specific models can be put to good use.

"The big challenge is to adapt these models to each organisation and develop business applications that meet specific needs. Executive leaders and businesspeople of the 21st century need to understand the evolution of strategy in order to become the architects of future decisions," concludes Planellas.

All written content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.