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European Management Journal Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 507–519, 2005 Ó 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Printed in Great Britain 0263-2373 $30.00 doi:10.1016/j.emj.2005.09.006

The Field of Strategy: In Search of a Walking Stick
TAIEB HAFSI, H.E.C. Montreal HOWARD THOMAS, Warwick Business School
The question of whether there is an academic field of strategy is important. It is the questionthat defines the area of strategic management and all the research and teaching that takes place under its name. In this paper we argue that there is a field of strategy, but it is still underdeveloped despite an incredible surge of research in the last twenty years. We believe that most strategy research does not really address the defining issues and that it has become less and less relevant topractising managers. There has been a drift to traditional social science approaches because of the complexity of strategic issues. This has increased confusion among practitioners and academics alike. Despite the fact that practice and theory are not well connected and that strategic management has so far failed to produce the volume of useful results expected by managers, the search for truly useful‘walking sticks’ for strategists will succeed, thus, enabling them to combine theory with practice. Ó 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Strategy, Strategic management, Field of Strategy, Walking stick, Research in Strategy, Strategic practice, Corporate strategy At a recent meeting of strategy researchers we posed the question ‘‘How should we define the academic field of strategy?’’ Theanswers were somewhat tentative, to the surprise of everyone attending, including us. Apparently, we are not even sure if we agree on the same definition of strategy. There is no lack of available definitions. Anyone with any claim to recognition in ‘‘the field’’ has provided one; Andrews (1987) has traditionally been considered one of the more complete definitions.1 Yet all these definitions remainso vague and so general that they provide little help. Most of the definitions are either descriptive of the strategy-making process or tautological in nature, saying basically that strategy is the set of decisions that makes an organization successful, or strategy is what top managers do. Such a lack of clarity in the basic concept makes the search for meaningful research findings and hence theoryconstruction difficult. In probing further into definitions of strategy, one is faced with a multiplicity of strategies: some are corporate, others business, still others functionallyrelated. Each author has a different definition. To compound the problem, each of the functional fields of management has its own strategy arm – marketing strategy, financial strategy, production strategy, and so on, eachhave their own journals and set of dedicated scholars. This proliferation inevitably leads to the question: ‘‘What is strategy anyway?’’ The more convincing definitions are also the more troubling for researchers. One manager at a Harvard conference argued that strategy is made up of ‘‘messy, unsolved and perhaps undefined problems of importance characterizing business management’’. Joe Bower, one ofthe leading Harvard academics, argued (1982) that ‘‘the charter of business policy (as strategy was originally known) is to focus on the life and death

After more than twenty years as dedicated researchers in the field of strategy, the authors are wondering if the academic field of strategy really does exist. Excellent and exhaustive reviews by many distinguished academics(e.g., Pettigrew et al., 2002 and various authors in the European Management Review – Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 2004, European Management Journal) take note of the extreme diversity of the research but shy away from providing a convincing framework to clarify what the field is all about.
European Management Journal Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 507–519, October 2005

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