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The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results
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The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  762 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Business is highly competitive, complex, risky and fast paced - like combat.What do you want me to do? This question is the enduring management issue, a perennial problem that Stephen Bungay shows has an old solution that is counter-intuitive and yet common sense. The Art of Action is a thought-provoking and fresh look at how managers can turn planning into execution, and ...more
289 pages
Published January 16th 2011 by Nicholas Brealey Publishing (first published November 1st 2010)
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Average rating 4.33  · 
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Tõnu Vahtra
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Definitely not your average bedside reading and requires significant focus to reflect on what is said and understand those things in the context of your everyday work. The most useful book I have read this year so far and I have probably never underlined/commented any other book so extensively. I realized that I have been advocating "The Art of Action" myself for years already and I had come to those principles from various sources ("Start with why", "From Good to Great", "Built to last", "First ...more
Stefan Kanev
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's a book about execution in organisations. And a fairly good one too.

The title is a reference to The Art of War. The author is a British historian and a management consultant. He makes a lot of parallels between how armies operate efficiently and how organisations should follow their example. Initially that felt wrong to me. Then I learned I didn't know anything about armies.

It's about operating in uncertainty, about giving clear direction instead of detailed instructions and about empowering
Jens Comiotto-Mayer
Jun 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The Art of Action" is one of the most edutaining books I've read so far, and it still bears some new insights reading it a second time. Highly recommended. ...more
Jack Vinson
Aug 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
From my blog.

I've had Stephen Bungay's The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions, and Results on my reading list for some time, as it has shown up in a number of overlapping communities as relevant thinking. Most recently, his name came up in my last post with respect to the Spice Girls Question.

The book is a study of military history as a guide to seeing how leaders might deal with uncertainty - in particular the German militar
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it
This was a difficult one for me. The content is spot on and I went away with reinforced and new principles, that make a lot of sense to me. I liked the systematic approach of laying down the 3 fundamental gaps and the friction that’s invited by them and then providing possible ways to close them.

Much of this reiterated what I took away from other books on leadership in the military realm like “extreme ownership” and “turn the ship around”. On top it added new dimensions and provided an angle dif
Gerard Chiva
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The title could be misleading. This is a book about strategy around the three gaps which cause businesses to fail in defining and executing their strategy under unpredictable environments: the knowledge gap, the alignment gap and the effects gap.

The author explains how businesses can benefit from 200-year old teachings from the military.

In recent years everybody is talking about OKRs to fix the alignment gap, however most businesses still fail to do what is most important: to design and continuo
Mar 21, 2019 rated it liked it
This hybrid book is neither fish nor fowl. The basic thesis is "the German military from ~1870-1945 was awesome and businesses should learn from how they did things". The problem is that the military history part of the book is so deep it is likely to alienate anyone who isn't a military history fan. But it is too shallow to be really satisfactory for a military history fan. They're probably better served by something like Robert Citino's The German Way of War. Likewise, the business side of thi ...more
Aug 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Art of Action by Stephen Bungay covers a story going back some 200 years. It's the story of the Prussian Army which, according to the author, "followed precisely the evolution trajectory we are on, but with a head start of about 150 years." It's a story about others who have been here before for a surprisingly long time, and what we can learn from them.

From my perspective, it's really a story about an organization trying to become agile. The starting point is a catastrophic October day in 18
Toni Tassani
Feb 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: safari
The author uses the stories and learnings of two Prussian military men, Carl von Clausewitz and Helmuth von Moltke to explain his proposal about strategy development and communication, and its implementation.
There are very interesting and useful concepts throughout the book, like Friction, the three gaps, mission command, backbriefing or hte idea of Execution between Strategy and Tactics.
However, the author shows a set of beliefs that made me feel uncomfortable, like the ones related to hierarch
Cyril Danthi
Mar 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
The commander in chief always develops a strategy to win the war. All though it is taken for granted that the soldiers in the field will obey the chief as planned to ensure they defeat the enemy. The chain in command and alignment becomes very important so that they know Why, What and How it has to be done. Business is an interaction between human organizations. It is competitive, highly dynamic, complex and risky. Organizations develop strategy and review it every year. Command is as unavoidabl ...more
Niki Agrawal
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
If you like history and you like business, this book is 100% for you. If you like only one of those things, then half of this book is for you. The author compares history to business, chapter-by-chapter, but I would have preferred a focus on just one.

For the business side of affairs (my cup of tea), there are several gems of wisdom on leadership with vivid examples you won't soon forget. How do processes at a company turn an average employee into an outstanding one? This is what this book will h
Joshua Francia
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
A convincing argument for leaders to put more emphasis on how the communicate what they're trying to achieve and why in favor of letting the team to figure out the how. A great way, also, to relieve the burden of wanting more information all the time, and to bring attention on the do-and-adapt framework, by letting the execution analysis to teach us what we didn't know in order to either keep going or correct our path. ...more
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very good book on strategy and how to make it happen.

I slightly disagree on some parts related to complexity. At times it sounds a bit too much adherring to current organizational structures, a bit too much top-down-and-back. Of course the 'and-back' part alone would be a vast improvement in many businesses, not to mention a focus on intent instead of orders.

The most important contribution are the 3 gaps (knowledge, alignment, effects), I'd say.
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: career, own, agile, kindle
As a non native English reader, this book was sometimes hard to follow. The structure seems to be more academical than practical. Having almost one sixth of notes and index is a good indicatiin for that.
However I liked to find similarities from different domains and compare or adapt them, in this case the military. The author created a triangle of directing, managing and leading, with a bit more focus on directing or command in military speak.
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-top-favorites
I have enjoyed the book and found it captivating, even I struggled a bit with too much details on various historical events.

The reality of organizational challenges is stated in a way that perfectly resonated with me and the cause very nicely clarified. The rest of the book focuses on solutions, and I particularly appreciated the alignment section as well as the command-lead-manage concept.

Wally Bock
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Art of Action is a unique book in the world of strategy. It defines and draws on important lessons that the military has learned and (the and is critical) it connects them to the world of business in a useable way.
Julio Lopes
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fierce follower of van Moltke. It brings so much clarity into the what we think are the lean methodologies of the startup world.

It's essentials are super similar to management by objectives thought it retains it's essences and strips it of the unecessary bureaucracy.
Jason Donohoe
Aug 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some powerful mental models

A great book overall. The core concepts come together nicely to provide a very useful mental model for navigating the crazy world of organisations trying to execute on their mission.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: blog-shelf
This book is a must-read for anyone in a position of leadership.
Mar 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Probably the best book on leadership that I've ever read. Foundational for understanding concepts like Strategy, Strategy Deployment, Flight Levels, Leadership at Every Level and Aligned Autonomy. ...more
Bjoern Rochel
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, eng-mgmt
I'm always viewing these management books from an IT / software development perspective. Please bear that in mind when you read my review.

I like what this book brings to the table for the omnipresent question of how cross functional, mostly self directed teams align with higher management levels and strategy. A lot of it feels natural, obvious and as Bungay says "just common sense" to me.

Even if you just use his proposed Strategy Briefing only as a thinking tool and stakeholder management tool,
Martin Samuels
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
It has become a commonplace for management books to refer to military thinkers on leadership, but normally these thinkers are ancient Chinese writers, such as Sun Tzu. Here, Bungay has taken Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, architect of Prussia's astounding victories over Austria in 1866 and France in 1870. Bungay shows that the system of command developed by Moltke addressed the problem of 'friction', first identified by Clausewitz, in ways that are fully applicable to modern business. The explana ...more
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Briefly, this is a very interesting book with a lot of valuable lessons from history (military history) and business. The book introduces a valuable & intuitive approach that can be applied, from my point of view, to many fields and aspects of life.

Ideas of the book sound very logic and intuitive, let you wonder why this approach (or equivalent) isn't the mainstream in business (at least) after all this time? The approach, from my point of view, is valid to be applied to many aspects of life no
Franck Chauvel
May 01, 2016 rated it liked it
S. Bungay draws here a parallel between management of a business and of a battlefield. Looking back
at some "old" 19th century battles, he explains how Prussian generals understood that the uncertainty of real life generates "friction" that prevent the execution of their carefully planned strategies. They then relax the precision of commands and gave unit commanders the freedom to act or react as needed. This tradition, still alive in German forces, contributed
to there successes. The same hold f
Chris Downey
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Lots of interesting parts of the book and things I think I will take away and use.

I definitely agree on the importance of intent and context. The part I struggled with is the concept of the higher level stating the task of the lower level. Im wondering if this is just down to terminology - what I associate with the term t 'task' may be different from the author's intent? One for further research. In saying that, at the end, it does say how the concepts can still be compatible with self organisin
Thomas Loefgren
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great book about leadership, management and direction and how to best get teams/organisations to operate smoothly and in unison during uncertain or changing circumstances/environment.

One of those books that put so much stuff you "already know" into clear models, that make you see things in a new and more informed way. Recommeded for people interested in leadership and very applicable to innovative/creative processes.

For a geek like me it also doesn't hurt that it uses Prussian War history less
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the sure signs of a good book is that it gives something to bring to table even in casual conversations. "Oh, you lost a family member in a war? I just read a book that was based on a military genius' ideas of how not to lose!"

Oh well.

Seriously, though, The Art of Action did bring into my attention new tools for analysing organisational problems, and noticing problematic patterns that might have gone unseen for long, while also giving solution guidelines that could be used to remedy situa
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Probably the best book about strategy, leadership and management I have read to date. Fully utilizing his excellent grasp of both military history and modern management theory and practice the author manages to explain why the seemingly simplest things are so hard in both war and business and show a path towards reducing this friction.
Emily Stewart
Sep 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Bungay explains how to succeed in business you must have clear and concise objectives that he demonstrates by using examples from warfare - he is a historian turned management consultant. It explains how to lead to tangible positive results: by making tough decisions and prioritising effectively. It is an enjoyable read and worthwhile for anyone in a leadership position.
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