Strategy Is a Pattern of Actions

#model2 mentions

On an abstract level, Strategy is a set of System activities, structured in a process.

On a traditional view of strategy in organisations, there are different degrees of control over this process and the resulting activities:

Strategy can best be conceptualized as a continuum with “pure deliberate” (prescriptive) strategy at one end and “pure emergent” strategy at the other. James (2018), 4

But this takes an “officially” acknowledged, idealised process for what is really happening. When we look at how actors or components within the system (e.g. the organisation) actually behave,

[s]trategy as a population-wide pattern of action cannot be chosen by anyone, but rather emerges in the interplay of individual intentions and choices in local interactions. Here there is no polarisation of deliberate intention and emergence.Stacey and Mowles (2016), 299

From this perspective, strategy is always emergent and only appears deliberate if the interactions it arises from are structured by specific Power relations, e.g. interaction patterns like chains of command, reporting lines, or spheres of influence.This is true for systems of all kinds – even personal strategies pursued by conscious agents emerge, on the level of the system “agent”, from the interactions of its components: depending on the level of Causal Emergence the agent’s goals, capabilities, and context; different aspects of their phenotype; or their neurons, transmitters, and sensory organs.

These patterns, structured in different ways as they are, stabilise when they are successful, i.e. help the system fulfil its purpose. Thus we can understand ”deliberate” and “emergent”I’m using quotation marks to signify the different types of emergent patterns, as opposed to the dichotomy between emergent patterns and deliberate design.

strategies as different Attractors
of the system that evolve in specific Environments – “deliberate” strategy seems to work well in war, “emergent” strategy in urban planning, for example.In Mintzberg et al.’s (1998) typology of strategic management, “deliberate” strategy corresponds to the Design, Planning, Positioning, Entrepreneurial, and Cognitive Schools, “emergent” strategy to the Cognitive, Learning, Power, Cultural, and Environmental Schools.

More systematically, which attractor the system will settle into depends on external factors like scale, time horizon, and predictability of the environment, as well as internal factors like the influence specific agents have on system behaviour (i.e. their power) and the potential for self-awareness of the system.

With large scales, long time horizons, and low predictability, and/or a low level of control and low potential for self-awareness, successful patterns will tend to resemble “emergent” strategy. In such a context in makes sense for agents with power to adopt a specific (meta-)strategy themselves: design, i.e. deliberately set the conditions, for emergence.The resulting process can be understood as implementing a specific variant of the Configuration and Transformation School (ibid.).

For the resulting process or pattern of actions, this implies a focus on the Adjacent Possible and on improved position:

[T]the more uncertain the future, the more its essential logic is that of “taking a strong position and creating options,” not of looking far ahead.Rumelt (2011). Examples for formalisations of this approach are the Cynefin (Kurtz & Snowden 2003, Snowden 2005), Adaptive Action (Eoyang & Holladay 2013), and Liberating Strategy (McCandless & Schartau 2018) frameworks.

Thus agents shape strategy by exerting power either to directly influence patterns of action, or to establish conditions for the emergence of patterns – but in neither case do they relinquish or neglect their power.

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