The writing of many great thinkers can be difficult to follow. Their great points are often much clearer in the hands of other writers. Author Joan Magretta demonstrates this with the works of Michael Porter. It seems that most executives are aware of Porter, but few bother to read Porter because it's difficult reading. Magretta's work takes that barrier away.
Everyone directly involved in business strategy needs to know Porter's thinking. "Understanding Michael Porter" is an excellent way to do it.
One of the biggest and most common flaws Porter finds with typical business strategies is that they fall into the trap of thinking that if the company is the best at something, that will make the company successful, and further that there's something unique that the company can do to be the best. In reality, all the competitors are working hard to execute well. Striving to be the best is a zero-sum game that has everyone copying everyone else and that does not lead to profitability. Rule #1 is not to make this mistake.
From there, Porter gets more complicated, describing the various types of strategies that can lead to superior profitability. The key thing is differentiation. Managers must make emotionally difficult decisions to ignore some opportunities so that they can focus on others.
In my consulting work, I apply a simple test to determine whether the strategy avoids the error of aiming just to be the best and embraces differentiation. Write out the strategy in one or a few sentences. Reverse the meaning of the strategy statement. If the result sounds somewhat plausible as a strategy, then you have a real strategy. If the result sounds ridiculous, then you have a ridiculous strategy.
Several reviewers have commented negatively on the performance given here by Erik Synnestvedt. I concur. The reader has an odd and annoying sing-songy drawing out of the end of most sentences, depending on the vowel sounds involved. You can hear it in the sample. At first it doesn't seem so bad, but after a couple of hours of it, it gets increasingly annoying and distracting.
This book desperately needs editing down. Far too many words for too little content.
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