As an assignment in the Strategy and Marketing course of my ongoing MBA studies we were required to give our personal view of what strategy is and I thought I should publish the result here. Part of the reading for the assignment included five articles from Harvard Business Review, three by Michel Porter and two by Kathleen Eisenhardt.
The three articles by Porter takes a high level perspective, defining strategy in terms of the nation state, the industry as a whole and strategy at the highest level of the enterprise. Essentially this is a top-down perspective, or perhaps one could call it outside-in. For Porter strategy is about making conscious trade-offs (what not to do), supported by a unique set of activities that reinforce each other and are difficult to reproduce, all in all creating a unique strategic position giving a sustainable competitive advantage (What is Strategy, p 70).
In the two articles by Eisenhardt et al strategy is something emergent, arising from the pattern of activities (patching and the application of simple rules). It is more about the internal strategy process than finding a strategic position. Essentially this is more of a bottoms-up perspective on strategy, or perhaps one could say inside-out.
Porter and Eisenhardt also differ in the time scale of strategy. Strategy in the eyes of Porter is long term; if a strategy does not lead to a sustainable advantage with a high performance outcome, it is not strategy or at least not successful strategy. As a counter point, the two articles by Eisenhardt et al discuss strategy with a shorter horizon (“internet time”).