September 2000

Strategic Insights: Decision-making Tools for Business Leaders

By Caryn A. Spain and Ron Wishnoff

Oasis Press, 205 pp., $19.95 paperback (ISBN: 1-55571-505-2)

Reviewed by Tom Morris, Editor, The CPA Journal

Strategic Insights presents a back-to-basics approach to strategic planning. According to co-author Caryn Spain, “Since the mid-1990s we’ve seen a resurgence of true strategic planning” as businesses grew weary (or wary) of buzzword-of-the-year programs such as total quality management (TQM). However, because the book incorporates ’90s terms (e.g., mission statement) and techniques, businesses that have ventured down those roads already will find familiar material and not need to start from scratch.

From the outset, Spain, president of Applied Business Solutions, points out that strategic planning is often confused with operational planning and cites examples of businesses or projects that failed or wasted precious time and resources because the planners did not consider major factors in the marketplace or the organization.

The book presents a sound framework for assessing a business from four perspectives, then leads the user through four stages that “turn your vision into action.”

Spain says that CPA firms have found the system effective, citing an 87% client retention rate over her 17 years in the strategic planning business.

“CPAs tend to be very linear and logical, and so is the applied business solutions system,” she said, “so it’s a good fit,” although she says the system also works for “nonlinear” businesses and people. She said that as CPAs increasingly expand their practices from providing financial management services to helping businesses analyze and evaluate themselves in the long term, their involvement in their client businesses’ strategic planning is logical.

Spain cautions, however, that her approach is not a universal solution. “This is not a good tool for start-ups or businesses in trouble,” she said. “For one thing, they lack the discipline that the system requires. Also, those businesses usually need to focus on whatever will work right now to make money.” Spain said that the client that benefits most from the Strategic Insights system is a business “at a crossroads, needing to choose from among many things in order to focus its resources,” and that can use strategic planning as a tool to facilitate decision-making. Spain also says her system is better suited to businesses with established longevity that want or need to move to the next level. Overall, the book and the system it presents foster no illusions about the amount of work required to develop a data-driven plan. q

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