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Thought Leadership

Adam Bryant

Does culture really eat strategy for breakfast?

November 16, 2021

This chestnut of the business world overlooks the importance of—and the challenge of creating—a clear strategy.

In my firm’s frequent conversations with board directors, C-suite executives, and HR leaders, we continually hear the same refrain as companies hit the reset button for life beyond the pandemic: “We are rethinking everything.” We should apply this healthy impulse to the popular business expressions that inform reinvention — but that may have outlived their usefulness. Let’s start with the oft-quoted line “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Over the years, the line has been attributed to Peter Drucker, widely considered the grandfather of management wisdom. But it turns out he never wrote those words. It doesn’t even sound like Drucker. His tone was much more formal.

The expression is so ubiquitous it’s become a truism. And I’m not arguing that it’s entirely wrong — just misinterpreted. Culture is important. And a good strategy can, in fact, be consumed by a bad culture. That’s the idea behind one source for the quote: Mark Fields, who said, in 2006, when he was president of Ford America, “You can have the best plan in the world, and if the culture isn’t going to let it happen, it’s going to die on the vine.”

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The ExCo Group’s Adam Bryant wrote this article for his column in Strategy + Business.