I use the concept of emergent strategy in the Gendernomics book when explaining and to some extent describing the various ways in which a strategy can form as a sum of individual actions. “Strategy as a pattern” is perhaps the more interesting one, and the one that forms the foundation of the book, “The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning“. This book is a critique of strategic management literature, often based in Drucker, Taylor and Porter, the titans of planned strategy, where the chief argument presented by Henry Minzberg is that in a rapidly changing world, long-term strategic planning is destined to fail. Instead he argues that the interactions of the company with outside forces over time will form the company strategy.
The novel approach by Minzberg was a stark contrast to the top-down strategic planning literature in vogue at the time. In the planned strategy camp, retreats where executives buried themselves in a mixture of analytical work and creativity to determine Visions, Missions, SMART goals, KPIs and strategies for how to move the company to new heights were the prescription for how to build a great company. Minzberg’s position was much more simply that in a rapidly changing world, by the time the executives and strategy consultants emerged from their retreat, the data they based their decisions on may already be outdated. Thus, the only way to “do strategy” in a world marked by rapid change and innovation is to train your staff well, set goals and assume that the parts will form a coherent whole.
I’ve on occasion referred to this as “Chaos theory strategy” in that order is expected to arise from chaos, and the actions, choices and thoughts of potentially thousands of people must align in order for the strategy to be coherent. A key factor of emergent strategy is that it can only be identified when one looks at the development of the company over time, historically speaking. This is a much more fluid way to think about human behavior if one takes the vantage point of extreme macro. Our cultures and societies are shaped by billions of individual decisions, chains of reasoning, emotional reactions and actions taken. Continue reading