Climbing Your Mountain With “The Crux: How Leaders Become Strategists” by Richard P. Rumelt

Richard P. Rumelt's latest book, “The Crux: How Leaders Become Strategists,” is another foray into the classic tenants of strategy and success.

Rumelt is a Professor Emeritus at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Anderson School of Management. “The Crux” is his second book about strategies and how to achieve goals. There are three features to a good strategy, Rumelt says. The first is creating a position with value, the next is eliminating options, and the last is adjusting for fit. Companies lose credibility by making claims with no idea about how to achieve them. They have to have tangible plans with measured and specific responses to both anticipated and potential hurdles. Rumelt adds that mission statements are useful occasionally, but without policy and action behind them, they are empty words that will lead a company astray.

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Mainly, Rumelt works with the metaphor of a crux — a mountaineering term that refers to the hardest part of a climb where there is the most prominent danger. Any reasonable mountaineer prepares for the crux and is adequately prepared for problems that may arise. These problems in the business world, which Rumelt calls "Gnarly problems," include a number of different circumstances.

One Gnarly problem is when goals are not simplified, which becomes evident as time goes on. Another Gnarly problem is when actions cannot predict outcomes, and the line between an action and an outcome is blurred. Teams should be aware of what leads them to success or failure so that processes can either be repeated or fixed. And finally, the last Gnarly problem is when the problem itself hasn't been defined. This leaves leaders unable to fix overlooked issues when goals are simplified too far.

Mark P. McDonald, Distinguished Vice President Analyst for Gartner, lauds “The Crux” as the greatest book he's read in two years. As a practical book that eschews obvious approaches or heady interpretations, he appreciates Rumelt's use of themes around strategy and real-world examples.