Emergent StrategySeptember 11, 2012 7 Comments
There is nothing wrong with strategic planning – except when we believe that strategy unfolds as planned. A good strategic planning process is one that crystalizes our intention. It is the process through which we articulate a clear vision of where we want to go. And it is how we come to a clear agreement on which direction we are going to take. It is not insurance on the future. The map can never be the territory.
A strategic organization is deliberate in defining its direction. It develops ways to measure progress; it is sharp when identifying benchmarks. But that is only one side of the coin – the planning side. Stowe Boyd just reminded me of Mintzberg’s excellent work defining the other side of the coin, the action side, the adaptability side, the side that grapples with reality – the side of emergence:
An emergent strategy is a pattern of action that develops over time in an organization in the absence of a specific mission and goals, or despite a mission and goals.
Emergent strategy is sometimes called realized strategy. An emergent strategy or realized strategy differs from an intended strategy.
Mintzberg argues that strategy emerges over time as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality.
Emergent strategy is a set of actions, or behavior, consistent over time, “a realized pattern [that] was not expressly intended” in the original planning of strategy. When a deliberate strategy is realized, the result matches the intended course of action. An emergent strategy develops when an organization takes a series of actions that with time turn into a consistent pattern of behavior, regardless of specific intentions. “Deliberate strategies provide the organization with a sense of purposeful direction.” Emergent strategy implies that an organization is learning what works in practice. Mixing the deliberate and the emergent strategies in some way will help the organization to control its course while encouraging the learning process. “Organizations …[may] pursue … umbrella strategies: the broad outlines are deliberate while the details are allowed to emerge within them” (Mintzberg, 1994, p. 23-25; Hax & Majluf, 1996, p. 17).
We know how to plan. Let’s do it well. And now let’s focus our energy on working in a context that’s emergent – this is where change happens.