My interest n businessnd businessistory ollows he questionhat
Peter Drucker asks, Whatdo we have o do today o prepare or tomorrow?"Part of what we have to do is to understand ow we got to where we are
todayand herein iesmy interest n history, ut, like manyof you, am also
deeply nterestedn the future and so try to read the current iterature nthis area. Thus, find MichaelPorter'swork useful. It mightseemstrange
that a person ike myselfwouldbe giving ucha papersinceeachyear there
are severalpeoplehere eachyear from Harvard who havebeen students
and/or have workedwith Porter. Yet in the past coupleof years, haveasked everalnon-Harvard) eopleat thesemeetingsf theyhadread Porter
andmost epliednegatively. think hat s a shame ecause e providesmany
tools for the business historian.
What ntriguesme aboutstrategic lannings that oneplans n a world
in whichoutcomesre not certain, et manyof uswrite history s f we know
the outcome.Ghemawat,however,makes he commonsensebservationhat
successactors re a shaky oundationor strategy3, pp. 5-6]. The same
casecanbe made or writinghistory.Of course,we do know he outcomen
a certain sense,but, unlesswe are very careful, we will miss intriguingpossibilities r leadsbecausewe alreadyhave our hypothesis. With this
explanationet us go on to look at Porter'swork.
Michael Porter is one of the hottest international)consultantsobusinessarms ndgovernments. is latestbook TheCompetitivedvantage
of Nations10]hasbeencalled brilliant" y some nd"nothing ew"by others.
While the mplicationsor present olicywill continueo be debated, orter's
workdoesprovide he businessistorianwith a powerful aradigm ndsetof
tools or consideringusinessn history.Why are some irmssuccessfulnd
othernot? Why do somenations eem o specializen certain ndustries ith
lots of competitors, hile othernationsdo not seem o know hat an industry
exists?Porterprovides aysof thinking bout hese ypesof questions.This
paperwill look at his three books: Competitivetrategy11], Competitive
Advantage9], and The Competitivedvantage f Nations 10].
Porter's farst book Competitive trategy,published n 1980, is an
exhaustiveook at strategy.His contexts the worldof the late 1970s, ut the
structurehat he setsout is a veryuseful vehicle or the businessistorian.
"Theessencef formulating ompetitivetrategys relating companyo its
environment"11,p. 3]. This s exactlywhat he businessistorian hould e
doing.2Theeasonsre hat t isusuallyifficulto dentifyuccessactorselevantoa particular
situation. Second, even when a success actor has been diagnosed o be relevant, theimplications or the leversmanagersmustpull are not completely oncrete. Third, the success
factor approach lacks generality because t implicitly assumes hat success actors areundervalued.Finally, n view of its other defects,t would be reassuringf the successactor
approach to strategy containedsome self-justification: a reason why strategic thinking is
necessaryn the first place. It doesnot2