Maybe the reality is that all strategy is emergent? Or evolving and developing? We all like to believe that things are better if we have a strategy (at work at least) and there are a myriad of quotes from the wise and the wonderful that seem to confirm this.
“Your strategy should define what you do…as opposed to what you do defining your strategy.”
At its most simplest, I have always thought as strategy being how we get from where we are today to where we want to be. But of course nothing is ever quite so simple. In most organisations, although it is vitally important to have a view of- and aspiration for – the future…it is also essential to deliver value today. So as well as getting us from where we are today to where we want to be, our strategy has to ensure we are successful along the way.
“In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.”
And it is this essential focus on implementation that makes me think all strategy is emergent. The moment we start to implement things start to happen. Good things, not so good things; Expected things, unpredictable things. Especially in research. We do research because we are investigating the unknown. No-one knows what will happen until we do the experiment. In an emergent world, the key is to be able to respond to events. To understand, adapt and adjust. Quickly and correctly. At least until the next event happens
“That should have been my strategy! By the time I’ve worked through the emotions of surprise, admiration, anger, jealousy, and frustration, I’m watching that reddish mane of hair disappear into the trees…”
Conversely, this would suggest that our overall goals or objectives would stay constant…as would our major strategic themes. We make choices about where and how we operate – for example therapeutic areas or commercial opportunities in business. But we always have to implement superbly well and we have to be adept and agile at responding.
I thought strategy this last week as I had opportunity to participate in two external meetings with colleagues from within our organisation and from our partners. In both cases it struck me just how much was happening. How may events we were all responding to today that none of us could have predicted last month let alone last year.
Some of these changes were very exciting and engaging – the energy and enthusiasm in the discussions was palpable. And others were startling and even disconcerting. Some were people…some were scientific…some were business…and some were personal.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
And what matters was what we decided to do next, and why and above all how. Success would be based on our collective opinions and ideas and how well we implement them. Not my ideas or yours, but our collective. Not a long winded open ended consensus but equally not one dominant view to override everyone else.
Everyone in both meetings understood what our objectives were and knew they were aligned – even if different groups may have had different versions of the same objectives. There was trust (of each other) and confidence (in each other) – both of which started high and have been developed further though investment in relationships. We felt good when we were able to track back to prior meetings and identify how we had previously responded to emergent events, solved problems and seized opportunities
We won’t succeed because of these discussions – we all know that…but we will fail without them – of that we are certain.
“Intended goals and emergent strategy.”