Thoughts on the emerging practice of strategy

S trategy practices that emerged from WWII are increasingly inadequate to the task of guiding today’s organizations, communities and regions.

Even when they are executed, the results from traditional strategic planning are not very strong. This is not a new insight. Noted strategy theorist Henry Mintzberg pointed this out 20 years ago in his book, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning.  Bureaucracies tend to strangle innovation. In these situations, strategic planning often morphs into an annual budgeting ritual. Strategic thinking and innovation are sqeezed out of the process.

Even more important, the future has become both volatile and incrasingly unpredictable. Managing in this environment means organizations must be agile and flexible. Again, this is not a new insight. Management theorist Ralph Stacey underscored this challenge in a book he wrote in 1992, Managing the Unknowable.

We are learning that Hertzberg and Stacey were right. Organizations — and communities and regional economies, for that matter — are complex adaptive systems: dynamic networks embedded in other networks.

That makes strategy a different game. It is now a game of hunches and relentless experimentation. As Beinhocker notes, strategy involves a continuous search for linking, leveraging and aligning to a “dancing landscape” of opportunities.  It is a game of self-directed teams and distributed leadership. It’s a game of iteration and learning by doing. It’s a game of leveraging our collective intelligence. It’s a game that relies as much on insights from cognitive behavioral theory and complex systems as it does on disciplines of data visualization and data analytics. It’s a game of both strategic analysis and strategic intuition.

It’s taken us 20 years to figure out how to respond to these challenges. I’ve been working on this challenge since our successful strategy for Oklahoma City started in 1993. A small group of us started experimenting with a different approach to strategy. Given the explosive growth we have seen in Strategic Doing in the past year, though, I think we are on to something. The market is telling us that we may have reached our tipping point.

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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