The growing popularity of Strategic Doing: Some questions answered

As the popularity of Strategic Doing grows, we are encountering some questions that deserve answers.

Where has Strategic Doing worked?

On places where Strategic Doing has worked, we have a number of good examples:

  • Arizona State University used Strategic Doing to organize its statewide solar summit and a set of collaborative initiatives;
  • In Rockford, IL, the mayor asked us to form a collaboration of all the non-profit organizations to develop a strategy for community development across the city. The result is EDEEN and a collaboration using Strategic Doing principles (Download their master agreement here;
  • In Seward and Soldotna, Alaska, both cities are using Strategic Doing to guide their development strategies, supported by the University of Alaska. In Fairbanks, they are using the discipline to develop their regional food system.
  • In Flint, MI, our colleague at Michigan State University has led a core team to rebuild inner city neighborhoods, a remarkable accomplishment. You can download Bob’s story in a slide presentation here;
  • In Shreveport, LA, Community Renewal International is integrating Strategic Doing into its work rebuilding inner city neighborhoods; one of our  design team, Kim Mitchell, is leading this work.
  • We have used Strategic Doing within Purdue to help academic departments both merge (Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation) and re-align (Department of Food Science).
  • We are using Strategic Doing later this month to develop strategic action plans for each of 12 universities that are redesigning their undergraduate engineering education.
In the last five years or so, we have conducted workshops in over 30 states.
We are now moving internationally. Recently, we held a Strategic Doing workshop in Southampton, England.
And we have a new group that has formed in Australia after we did a Strategic Doing workshop in late 2013.

How did Strategic Doing develop?

I would be remiss in not sharing with you the background of SD an how it evolved from my consulting work starting in the mid-1990s. There locations are particularly important to the story:
  1. Kentucky.— For a number of years, the KY Cabinet for Economic Development retained me to head up small teams of KY development professionals to assist distressed counties. In a little over a day, we figured out how to design quick strategies to get these communities moving. In assessing our progress, the Cabinet reported to me that in 18 of 22 counties, they found measurable progress 6 months after our initial visit.
  2. Oklahoma City.— A small group of civic leaders worked with me to develop a a more agile, action-oriented approach to economic development strategy. We started our work together in 1994. I continued working with OKC for the next seven years, as we refined this process. OKC is now a leading example of regeneration through collaboration.
  3. Charleston Digital Corridor.— Working with a single city employee, Ernest Andrade, I helped Ernest design a sophisticated strategy for creating an innovation ecosystem, the Charleston Digital Corridor.
You can get more on the background on Strategic Doing from a TED talk and from a  paper on the Emergence of Strategic Doing.

How does Strategic Doing work?

Strategic Doing works because we have uncovered the simple rules that guide civic collaboration.
These experiences underscored that by following simple rules, a loosely connected, open network of civic leaders could transform their economies. This insight follows from how complex strategies emerge from following simple rules. You can watch a video on how complex systems emerge as individuals follow simple rules. Or, read an article from the Harvard Business Review, “Strategy as Simple Rules”.

With Strategic Doing,  we are cracking the code — discovering the simple rules — that unlocks sophisticated collaboration in our civic economy.

We know the simple rules to follow that lead to complex strategies to rebuild our economies. Strategic Doing enables these collaborations to form quickly, to move toward measurable outcomes, and to make adjustments along the way. It is a strategy process that follows “lean” principles: move quickly, experiment, figure out what works and expand it.

Now we are figuring out how best to each and practice these rules.

To support the national roll-out of training needed for Strategic Doing, we have an emerging national network of universities working together to advance Strategic Doing: Purdue, Michigan State, The University of Akron, the University of Missouri. We have a certification course, and, soon, some shorter on-line courses, targeted at practitioners.

What explains the growing popularity of Strategic Doing?

We have had no marketing; people are learning of our work through word of mouth. We just launched a web site a couple of months ago along with a Facebook page.
I believe SD is growing because of three reasons:
  • It’s understandable — people quickly see how they can move ideas into action;
  • The practice is deeply tied to a set of values embedded in our Strategic Doing Credo;
  • People just have fun
While simple, Strategic Doing is not easy. It takes practice to master, and it is a collective discipline. Mastery comes when a critical mass of people embrace and practice the approach.
Perhaps the best compliments come from professionals who have worked in this field and who see this approach to strategy as a “game changer”.

We now have an emerging national network of universities working together to advance Strategic Doing: Purdue, Michigan State, The University of Akron, the University of Missouri. We have a certification course, and, soon, some shorter on-line courses, targeted at practitioners.

How do we learn more?

Read a blog:
Keep up with our activities; Like our Facebook page
Send us an e-mail about training options:


Ed Morrison is Director of the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. For the past five or six years, he has been developing new, agile approaches to strategy in open, loosely joined networks, a discipline he calls Strategic Doing. Prior to starting his economic development work, Ed worked for Telesis, a corporate strategy consulting firm. In this position, he served on consulting teams for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Volvo, and General Electric. He conducted manufacturing cost studies in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Sweden, and France. Ed started his professional career in Washington, D.C., where he has served as a legislative assistant to an Ohio Congressman, staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission, and staff counsel in the US Senate. He holds a BA degree cum laude with honors from Yale University and MBA and JD degrees from the University of Virginia.

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