Strategy is de facto always an iterative learning process, even if this is often not made explicit and information gaps between iterations make it less effective and efficient.
The process of strategy is not a linear process but an iterative cycle.Wardley (2018), 15
To maximise overall learning in a changing
one needs to minimise cycle time, not maximise the information
processed in each step of the process.Bungay (2012)
is based on models, strategic learning can be analysed in terms of
creating and updating
Models.Friston et al. (2017)
This can happen consciously (based on an Explicit Model) or unconsciously (based on an Implicit Model).
The learning process has a generic structure.Generalised from Boyd (1995), Bungay (2012), Lafley
& Martin (2013), Rumelt (2011), Scotland (2020), Sun Tzu (see Schön
2020 and Wardley 2018), and Wardley (2018). For a structurally
equivalent model of learning in the brain (as a biological/cognitive
system) see Friston et al. (2017), 19. The process diagram is adapted
from Boyd’s “OODA Loop” (Boyd 1995).
Making it explicit helps identify and close gaps as well as minimise cycle time.
The system’ssets the overall goal of the strategy. In evolved Systems it is given or emergent over the system’s lifetime; in designed systems it is decided (or, to be more precise, strictly also emergent, but shaped by actors with Power).
Organisations have characteristics of both evolved and designed systems, so their purpose will be partly evolved and partly shaped by specific actors.
A strategy can only be successful if it pursues and furthers the
realisation of the actual, not the espoused purpose of the
system.“Purpose” is equivalent to: Purpose (Sun Tzu, Wardley,
McCandless & Schartau), Ambition (Lafley & Martin), Aspirations
Perception, i.e. data gathering, informs the system about its own state and that of its environment. It forms the basis for context or situational awareness, which in turn is the prerequisite of successful strategising.
A highly complex context requires a high diversity of data sources
and/or frequency of observations.“Perception” is equivalent to: Observe (Boyd), Outcomes
(Bungay), Evidence (Scotland)
Based on perception, the context of the system is represented in an explicit or implicit Model. This generates context awareness and enables a situational assessment.
The diagnosis for the situation should replace the overwhelming complexity of reality with a simpler story, a story that calls attention to its crucial aspects. This simplified model of reality allows one to make sense of the situation and engage in further problem solving.Rumelt (2011)
This requires identifying and assessing salient context features:
- The capacities of the system
- Any challenges and opportunities, i.e. Affordances of the environment
- An explicit or implicit Theory of Change
The adequate mode for modelling depends on the characteristics of
the system’s environment:The following is adapted from Kurtz & Snowden
(2013) and David Snowden’s further development of the Cynefin
- Clear: categorisation (to identify best practices)
- Complicated: analysis & synthesis (to identify good practices)
- Complex: collective Sensemaking (to find new or exapt existing practices)
- Chaotic: action (to establish constraints that enable modelling)
Modelling informs perception as well as (directly and indirectly via
decision) action.cf. Friston et al. (2017)
“Model” is equivalent to: Landscape and Climate (Sun Tzu), Orient (Boyd), Diagnosis (Rumelt), Insight into the basis of competition (Bungay), Where to play (Lafley & Martin), Map and Where (Wardley), True North (Scotland)
Based on the model and the situational assessment it enables, policies for action are selected. This means prioritising and directing resources and thus the setting of Enabling Constraints.
Building blocks for policies can be taken from two different sources:
- Structural and cultural: doctrine, i.e. generic rules that have been validated and are stable in the long term
- Situational: gameplay, i.e. rules that are specific to a set of situations and that are adapted as the situation changes
In choosing building block, trade-offs between simplicity and stability on the one hand and adequacy and adaptability on the other are unavoidable.
Decision generates immediate input for perception, thus feeding
the learning process.“Decision” is equivalent to: Doctrine and Leadership
(Sun Tzu), Decide (Boyd), Guiding policy (Rumelt), Plans (Bungay), How
to win (Lafley & Martin), Doctrine and Gameplay (Wardley),
The ultimate realisation of a strategy (and the test of its viability) is action, i.e. the overt system behaviour resulting from the chosen policies.
The alignment and coherence of actions is based on and constrained by the previous steps of the process, i.e. they create internal. To mitigate this, two meta-strategies are useful:
- Short-term probes to quickly test the viability of
strategic optionsKurtz & Snowden (2003), 469
- Long-running processes focused on capability building,
not concrete actionsLafley & Martin (2013), ch. 5
Action generates input for perception, thus closing the learning
loop.“Action” is equivalent to: Act (Boyd), Coherent actions
(Rumelt), Actions (Bungay), Core capabilities & management systems
(Lafley & Martin), Tactics (Scotland)
- Boyd (1995): “The Essence of Winning and Losing”
- Bungay (2012): The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps Between Plans, Actions and Results
- Friston et al. (2017): “Active Inference: A Process Theory”
- Kurtz & Snowden (2003): “The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world”
- Lafley & Martin (2013): Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works
- McCandless & Schartau (2018): “Liberating Strategy: Surprise and Serendipity Put to Work”
- Rumelt (2011): Good Strategy/Bad Strategy
- Schön (2020): The Art of Strategy: Steps Towards Business Agility
- Scotland (2020): “The Road to Successful Agile Transformation: Imposing Agile with Coherence, Constraints and Curiosity”
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
- Wardley (2018): Wardleymaps