Strategy is Emergent

I think the above sentence captures a critical concept that our modern education  tends to obscure. Modern education makes things look orderly. In fact, life is not orderly. It is full of unexpected events. Shit happens, as they say. And strategy is the cognitive tools that copes with disorder. It is emergent, rather than fully formed.

So here is a thought about strategic lifestyle from HBR

If you can’t find time to think, it probably means that you haven’t organized your firm, unit, or team very well, and you are busy putting out little fires all the time.

Or perhaps you have not organized yourself. One gets organized for strategic reflection. How? First, by creating routines that lead to thinking — rather than the other way around.

In fact, we normally follow the “think in order to do” pattern-. And so, we come up with quick fixes to problems. These quick fixes may be very clever. But they usually do nothing to open our eyes to the broader situation that led to the problems at hand.

For example, the other day, a colleague called me. He was excited because a firm expressed interest in investing in his start up idea. We chatted about how to negotiate with the firm. But we did not chat about what drove that firm to express interest. It was just assumed that it was because the start up idea is brilliant. Without thinking through what drove the firm. we would be less ready to explore what other firms might express a similar interest.

This applies to why you do what you do as well. I love this story from the above article

… if you can’t even explain why your own company does (things a certain) way, I am quite unconvinced that it could not be done better. For example, when more than a decade ago I worked with a large British newspaper company, I asked why their papers were so big. Their answer was “all quality newspapers are big; customers would not want it any other way.” A few years later, a rival company – the Independent – halved the size of its newspaper, and saw a surge in circulation. Subsequently, many competitors followed, to similar effect. Yes, customers did want it. Later, I found out that the practice of large newspapers had begun in London, in 1712, because the English government started taxing newspapers by the number of pages they printed — the publishers responded by printing their stories on so-called broadsheets to minimize the number of sheets required.  This tax law was abolished in 1855 but newspapers just continued printing on the impractically large sheets of paper.

It amazes me how infrequently we challenge the conventional wisdom about why things are the way they are.


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