Chapter 2 – True Professionalism

In this chapter, Kim asks what you expect from professionals in other fields, and what exactly it is that makes them “professional”, whether doctors, architects, engineers or accountants. Typically, people in a profession use a common language; the same, limited set of terms mean the same things to everyone in the field. They can rely on a long-established set of proven relationships that reliably explain how things work, and this knowledge is cumulative – every new piece of insight adds to what is already known. Professionals follow standard, reliable procedures for solving problems and managing issues in their field, and observe a “safety first” principle – spectacular results are unacceptable if they risk disaster. Finally, they codify their knowledge, set standards of practice and train and test their practitioners.

Kim shows that “strategy” does not fulfil any of these requirements – there is no common language (we can’t even be sure what “performance” is!), and we don’t know how things work, relying at best on flakey statistical coincidences. There are no standard and reliable procedures, so the strategy advice you get depends entirely on who it is you happen to ask. Writers eulogise about spectacular successes – until they blow up – rather than celebrate the less exciting but solid performers who just do not mess up. Lastly, there is no codified knowledge, no standards of practice and no recognised training or qualification for what is the most important management task of all.

The chapter again ends with some tips to help you check the soundness of any professional strategy advice you may get, whether you seek it from outside advisers or get it done internally.


Not all references may be available freely to all readers or in all regions.
cartoon: Grail this way

  1. C. K. Prahalad and G. Hamel, 1990, “The Core Competence of the Corporation“, Harvard Business Review, May–June, pp. 79–91.
  2. Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor, 2003, “Why Hard-Nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory“, Harvard Business Review, September, pp. 66–74.
  3. Kevin Coyne and Somu Subramaniam, 2000, “Bringing Discipline to Strategy“, The McKinsey Quarterly Strategy Anthology. Retrieved 28-3-2012.
  4. See, for example, The McKinsey Quarterly, Booz & Company’s strategy+business, and Carl W. Stern and Michael S. Deimler, Eds., 2006, The Boston Consulting Group on Strategy: Classic Concepts and New Perspectives, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  5. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) can be found at
  6. AICPA Activities & Major Programs, Retrieved 23-4-2012.
  7. Scott Anthony, 2009, “Constant Transformation Is the New Normal“, Harvard Business Review Blog, 27th October. Retrieved 28-3-2012.
  8. Gary Hector, 1988, Breaking the Bank: The Decline of Bankamerica, New York: Little, Brown and Company.
  9. Tim Koller, Marc Goedhart, and David Wessels, 2010, Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies, Fifth Edition, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., pp. 188–206.
  10. Richard Young, 2012, “CFO to CEO – Is It Really for You?“, CFO World, 30th March. Retrieved 20-3-2012.

Cartoon by “Higgins