Crafting A Strategy’s Strategic Management textbook is a result of ten years interviewing business owners about how business schools failed to teach students strategic thinking. Our industry of choice is the craft beer industry, which has seen incredible growth as consumers flock to small and independent craft breweries. By listening to what craft beer business owners wanted, we realized existing strategic management textbooks were not working. By listening to brewery owners tell us what you as students should know to be successful; we realized these success factors applied to any industry that any student might want to enter. By learning about the crowded market place these entrepreneurs operate in and they daily challenges they must overcome, we learned that the traditional strategic management theories still applied – in fact they were incredibly robust! However, the way we were teaching strategic management did not prepare students to the level that industry leaders required.
Strategic management may be the hardest topic to teach in business schools. There are two primary reasons that professors and students struggle with the concepts. First, students generally take a strategic management course at the end of their degree program – it is often positioned as a ‘capstone’ experience. Students enter these courses with a focused major (Accounting, Finance, Operations, Marketing, etc.) and they have spent the past 1-2 years immersed in their favorite major at a very deep level. By going deep into the world of accountancy for example, an accounting student learns that there is a lot of art in the science of accounting. They learn how to strategically plan the books and to position a firm within acceptable accounting practices, but also to position them favorably against their rivals. These students innately know strategic thinking and they expect the same level of rigor, planning, advising, and impact to come from their study of strategic management. However, their strategic management course is a broad overview of all business disciplines and not a deep dive into any one particular area. This frustrates students who are hungry to show what they have learned and apply their knowledge in a rich and impactful way. This brings us to the second major problem with typical strategic management courses.
The second major issue that holds strategic management teaching back is a focus on multiple industries. As mentioned above, students enter your course yearning for a deep understanding of strategy, similar to the deep understanding from their primary major. However, typical strategic management courses use a different industry each week, often basing this practice on the ‘case method’ developed at Harvard Business School. In fact, the case method has become so widely accepted in the industry, that very little pedagogical innovations have occurred in teaching strategic management in the last 100 years (Jain 2005). There is a fundamental mismatch between students who seek deep knowledge in a specific and focused nature and the accepted pedagogy of multiple industries in the ‘normal’ capstone approach. Thus, students struggle to apply the teachings from a multiple industry approach and the course devolves into a memorization exercise about unfamiliar concepts. Our interactive textbook resolves these challenges and gives students the depth of understanding they seek, while simultaneously synthesizing the strategic aspects of all traditional business majors. By going deep into the craft beer industry and writing every single lesson from the perspective of a brewery business, we give students a chance to dive deep and apply their expertise in familiar and exciting ways. Further, our approach integrates innovation, creativity, leadership, and culture. Why did we choose to add these pieces into strategic management thinking? Because the job market demands that students know how to think on their feet, pivot ideas, and contribute immediate value to their companies and to each other.
Finally, we would like to promote one more critical aspect of focusing on the craft beer industry as a means to inspire students and increase learning outcomes. A major challenge with traditional strategic management theories and teaching is that traditional strategy assumes small companies are simply smaller versions of large companies. This is unfortunate because smaller companies lack economic power, economies of scale, and resources needed to ‘fit’ with the major theories typically taught in strategic management. Students tire of talking only about big companies because most have not nor ever will work for a huge company. Many of the theories that work for large companies simply don’t fit for small businesses. Heck, many business schools have even developed specific courses in Small Business Management to account for these fundamental differences and gaps in implementing theories into small companies. Take it from us; due to the heavy regulation and oversight of the beverage manufacturing industry, small and large breweries face the same challenges all over the world. This makes all of the traditional theories more real, easier to understand, and selecting among and between each theory (regardless of firm size) becomes an exciting puzzle for you to solve throughout the course. And you don’t have to simply take our word for it, check out this thoughtful piece by a couple professors who have inspired us to create a better way to think about and learn strategic management.