This week’s Economist (2 November 2013) has a review of military strategy historian Sir Lawrence Freedman’s new book, “Strategy: A History”. The Economist says that
“[strategy] is about employing whatever resources are available to achieve the best outcome in situations that are both dynamic and contested”
In the book, Freedman himself writes,
“It is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power.”
Both quotes highlight the central role of other stakeholders. This is often ignored in corporate “strategy”, resulting in strategies being no more than plans.
The review also quotes Mike Tyson who has a pithy update of von Moltke’s comment that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Tyson’s version is
“Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”
The article ends by saying that Freedman concludes,
“it may be better to look at strategy as a form of script […] which attempts to anticipate the interactions of many players over a long time and which is open-ended.”
This fits well with one of my own interests—confrontation analysis. Confrontation analysis sees strategy as changing intentions to resolve sequences of (potentially endless) confrontations between stakeholders. Confrontations are “both dynamic and contested”, as they involve multiple stakeholders with potentially conflicting objectives who transform confrontations in pursuit of their own goals.
One of the major flaws in corporate “strategic planning” is the idea that it is a one-off activity. Annual strategy meetings and crisis meetings mistake plans developed in a the context of a single moment, often ignoring the likely reaction of other stakeholders, for strategy. Strategy needs to be an ongoing activity and, as such, tools designed to support it need to be lightweight and flexible, allowing existing work to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
Strategy tools that require senior staff to “down tools” for a few days are fundamentally incompatible with the maintenance of an organization’s strategy. Hence the tendency for managers to update strategy “on the fly”. Tools like confrontation analysis, on the other hand, are designed to support regular, rapid reviews and focus attention on the key strategic challenges.
Of course, all this means that I’ll now actually have to read the book.