In November 1996, 16 years after HBS professor Michael Porter wrote Competitive Strategy,Harvard Business Review published an article by Porter titled 'What is strategy?' Although the article did not really answer the question satisfactorily, Porter nonetheless sought to challenge some of the competing theories on strategy that had emerged since he published his magnum opus. The article challenged, inter alia, ideas of transferable best practices ("Hear, hear!" we say), 'aggressive' outsourcing, core competencies (a la Hamel and Prahalad) and what is now called 'emergent strategy'.
The appeal of Porter and his influence has not really dwindled in the 35 years since his five-forces model swept the board. His lessons – ever-perceptive – remain standard business school fare – and rightly so. But he is not the only game in town and the intensity of competition in the distribution and supply chains in many industries now greatly exceeds the status quo of 1980; the 'third wave' has broken on the shore and industry models often barely resemble those of 1965 when Gordon Moore penned the article that gave us his eponymous law and when Porter sat down at his keyboard (probably of a typewriter) to draft 'Competitive Strategy,
In Ovans' commentary piece at HBR online, these issues are covered with interest and considerable optimism. She is right that strategy has moved on but moved us no closer than Porter in defining what IS strategy; that is a larger, more ambitious task than Ovans has attempted. Still, her article is worth the read.
To view Ovans' HBR article Click Here →