Henry Mintzberg

Subtleties about the nature of strategy:

What is “strategic thinking?” A sequence of underlying issues.

Complexity issue: How complex should a good strategy be?

  • We want to insure that a system contains sufficient variety to meet the challenges it faces.
  • But, we must keep in mind the equally plausible “keep it simple stupid”.

Kenneth Boulding’s dilemma or the “specificity” issue:

“Somewhere between the specific that has no meaning and general that has no content there must be for each purpose an optimal degree of specificity/generality.”

How much change issue:

  • How to reconcile conflicting forces balancing change and stability?
  • Despite the impression conveyed in most of the literature, strategy is a concept rooted in stability, not change.
  • Organizations pursue strategies for purposes of consistency.

Pattern or pace of change issue:

  • Is revolutionary change vs. incremental change sought? The situation will dictate.

Source of change issue:

  • Where do strategies come from? Organizations learn by doing, by thinking, by programming, by calculating, by arguing.
  • From whom or what do strategies emerge? The leader? The group? Rationalized techniques that suggest the “right” strategy?
  • To put this all in another way, is strategy formation fundamentally a personal process, a technical process, or a collective process?

Integration issue:

  • Is strategy an integration of components, or simply a loosely coupled collection of directions?

Control vs. learning issue:

  • How (A) deliberate and centralized or (B) emergent should an effective strategy formation process be?
  • To what extent is there a need for control as opposed to handing authority and discretion to others to participate in incremental learning?
  • Indeed, the more emergent the strategy, the more central management must treat the content as resulting from the process itself.

Choice issue:

  • How much choice is there, really? The question is not whether there exists strategic choice for the organization, but how much?
  • The power of an organization is somewhat in relation to its dependency on the environment for resources.

Thinking issue:

  • How much strategic thinking do we want anyway? Can organizations that are obsessed with the strategy formation process lose resilience?
  • We cannot become conscious at the expense of our ability to act. Perhaps Karl Weick strikes the right balance here with his point that we need to act but then we need to make sense of our actions.

All ideas quoted or modified based on the work of Henry Mintzberg, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Free Press (January 31, 1994)

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