Non-linear strategy

Complexity theory, chaos, self organizing systems, complex adaptive systems, and many other ideas/concepts that are being tossed around when it comes to strategy.  All of these, at the core, reflect that realization that businesses cannot be thought of in a linear fashion.  We are no longer in the safe world of Isaac Newton, Frederick Taylor, or Henry Ford.  1+1 may or may not equal two and cause and effect are no longer cleanly linked.  We have moved into the era of quantum business management.  Where we begin to accept that we cannot control things and accurately predict what will happen in the next 30 days (let alone the next 12-18 months.  The challenge now becomes, what do we do?  Do we simply keep our heads down, stay busy, and hope for the best?  Do we ignore reality and continue on with planning exercises that lull us into some disconnected sense of control and begin to believe that if we really believe something will happen that it might?

I think we must now look for new inspiration and new ideas to survive this ever shifting reality.  There are plenty of people out there with interesting ideas and here are just a few:

These individuals are taking a new look at how organizations could work and what can take us to that next phase in human performance.  After all, that is really what we are talking about because an organization is the collective efforts of the those who work there.  It makes no difference how brilliant a strategy is devised if no one buys in and makes it happen.  The real work of strategy is the implementation.  Which, by the way, is usually left to the those in the middle on down.  Kind of ironic that there is a misconception that coming up with the ideas is the hard part and must be left to the really smart people.  Problem is that many times, these people have never performed the work they are redesigning and simply creating a plan that will theoretically cut costs/increase revenues/add your goal here.

We now must figure out how to ensure that everyone in an organization understands the “commander’s intent” since the operational environemnt can shift dramatically in a short period of time.   I apologize for the military vernacular but that is the genesis of the strategic management and, quite frankly, where much of the best thinking is still done.  Another great example is the concept of the “strategic corporal” by  General Charles Krulak.

Finally, I will leave you with the most effective strategic planning model for moving quickly in a challenging environment.  It is the OODA Loop developed by Colonel John Boyd.  If you are interested, Fast Company did a great short article on it that summarizes the theme.  I have also  provided the diagram below.  The reason I am so fond of this particular model  is the “orientation” piece that is missing in so many strategic tools.  Being a fighter pilot, Colonel Boyd clearly understood the value of constantly scanning the enviornment and re-orienting yourself based on these observations.

I think we can all agree that things have fundamentally changed and may never return to the way they were.  If that is true, then we must also adapt and develop new models for developing strategy that enable to move effectively and efficiently in order to survive and prosper.

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