“Strategic choices rarely show any evidence of wisdom: for the very first time, I demonstrate how it should be done.” On 22 December 2017, Roeland van Straten (45) will be defending an unconventional doctoral thesis in which he provides a detailed answer to the question: How should one think strategically? His answer is a model that precisely describes how to analyse the past and present in an integrated way and identifies when such knowledge results in ‘strategic wisdom’, irrespective of the company.
Solution to the most important problems at business schools
Research shows that business schools have been struggling with two key problems for decades: how do you teach students to find an integrated way of applying what they have learnt in practice and how do you teach them to think critically about their decisions? Although a theoretical solution for this was formulated in 1967, no one has succeeded in giving it a concrete form until now. In his doctoral thesis Van Straten claims to have developed the first-ever ‘grand unifying theory’ that provides a solution to both problems.
“This really is crucial for anyone in the world who would call themselves a strategist”, says thesis supervisor Prof. Celeste Wilderom. Van Straten himself argues that he is offering a necessary alternative to the emerging ‘disneyfication’ of management thinking. “There is a strong tendency to present the world of business as a simple, colourful world in which everyone can win – some kind of Disneyworld. It may be entertaining, but has very little overlap with the real world”.
According to Van Straten, we have to accept the strategic decision-making is complex and that this complexity is increasing all the time. This is why, in his view, only one solution remains for students, managers and definitely for supervisory directors: learning the skill of systematically forming an integrated picture of a company and of its relative position in the market. With his model and 49 ‘guiding questions’, Van Straten provides a practical structure with which to do this.
In his doctoral thesis, Van Straten illustrates it through an analysis of companies such as Spyker and Fastned. These demonstrate that the application of his model results in more, better substantiated and more functional knowledge than the tools in strategic management books. Van Straten also expects to see books being rewritten, especially if their central focus is Michael Porter’s famous ‘Five Forces’ model. Thesis supervisor Prof. Marianne Junger could hardly be clearer: “Van Straten’s work reduces Porter’s model to a caricature”.
Potential turning point in strategic thinking
“This could mark a turning point in how we think about strategic thinking”, says Van Straten. This is because his work offers a solution to some key problems facing business schools, but also because his model sets the first-ever standard for what ‘good’ strategic thinking actually means in practice. In doing this, he inadvertently criticizes a lot of existing work, which not everyone will find to their liking. “Of course, you can just ignore my model, but wouldn’t that make you a little like a chemist who ignores the periodic table? I would rather engage in a cooperative dialogue!”
There are several reasons why you might call Van Straten’s doctoral thesis unique. First of all, he has found a concrete and integrated way of mapping out the virtually uncharted research territory concerning the how of strategic thinking. Another unusual factor is that he does not use the kind of generalizations based on a few practical examples that is often the case in management books. Van Straten aimed to base his work on fundamental principles and this ultimately led him to discover a new key to understanding the world of business. He did all of this with no help from third parties while working on a manuscript entitled How to Understand the Business World. That manuscript went on to form the basis for his doctoral thesis that he completed in just nine months.
Van Straten developed his model without any knowledge of the academic literature. Despite this, the ideas in his manuscripts have already been compared to the work of leading strategy professors at Harvard, Wharton, Tuck and Stanford. London Business School called the theoretical basis: “Impressive. Intelligent. Completely different”. His work has now been discussed with numerous leading players in business, including McKinsey, BCG, Roland Berger, Accenture, Deloitte and PwC, and Van Straten is currently in talks about collaboration with the world’s leading business school, INSEAD.
 Nobel prize-winner and organizational scientist Herbert Simon formulated it as follows 1967: business schools should strive to develop an explicit, abstract, intellectual theory that leads to new practical knowledge. In his view, this requires “a detailed model that shows how combining theoretical and practical knowledge can result in better decisions”.
Roeland van Straten
Van Straten (45) is a strategy consultant and has been the owner of Seyst Finance & Strategy B.V. since 2002. He has more than twenty years’ experience in corporate finance, private equity and strategy consultancy. He specializes in the financial and strategic justification of complex decisions and has worked on well-known Dutch projects relating to the F-35 (JSF), the new Feyenoord stadium and the business case for the smart meter in the Netherlands. Van Straten is also a non-executive director at the Overijssel Energy Fund, a lecturer at Nyenrode Business University and co-author of the well-known textbook ‘Strategie en Management’ (Strategy and Management). For more information on his clients or projects, see www.seyst.nl.
Doctoral degree ceremony
Roeland van Straten’s doctoral degree defence and ceremony will be held on Friday, 22 December 2017 at 10:15 in the de Waaier building, University of Twente, based on an almost 450-page doctoral thesis entitled A Model for Firm-Specific Strategic Wisdom – Including illustrations and 49 guiding questions. His thesis supervisors are Prof. Celeste Wilderom and Prof. Marianne Junger. For further information or an interview, you can contact Roeland at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +31 (0) 06 – 13 65 02 02. See also these three articles about his doctoral thesis on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/roelandvanstraten/