George Nemeth got riffing on my post about project management as jazz and a really cool conversation evolved in his comments (scroll down). One of the comments from John Galt challenged the idea that strategy can be created in an emergent and improvisiational framework:
The jazz metaphor is apt for improvisation. Not for strategy as we are speaking about it. One nice definition of improvisation in strategy is the act of ï¿½creating strategy as it is being implementedï¿½ or making it up as you go along. Now, classic strategy is a process for thoughtful managers in mindful organizations. Mindful ï¿½ is a phase that Karl Weick, a strategy guru at U of M has discussed at length. In fact, Weickï¿½s article outlining lessons for organizational strategy from high-performance firefighters in HBR may be a good read in the present context.
Nonetheless, a key point I would suggest is to keep straight that the improvisation idea is great for implementing strategy NOT for developing strategy. Two separate processes ï¿½ currently there is no strategy for implementing, it appears.The new organization and its projected final shape appears to fit some of the criteria laid out in earlier comments ï¿½ strong nodes, intersections of energy and resource networks, proven leaders rather than retreads, midsize and large corp. players who will not tolerate chatter masquerading as action, etc. So, it appears to have the right make up to finally help strategy development happen, with or despite the local political leadership.
Also, strategy cannot be a networked concept or a movement based idea. No matter how flat an organization is, it needs a head ï¿½ a leader ï¿½ to ultimately forge strategy ï¿½ a direction ï¿½ and lead the rest of the organization. It cannot be a multi-headed hydra or a shapeless amoeba. Sure, individuals and all-comers may ï¿½feel includedï¿½ but it will not go anywhere soon.
Organization-wide exercises in appreciative inquiry, for example, have not taken off after years of pushing the idea, in comparison to classic strategic planning (or its cousin, contingency planning). Appreciative inquiry may be best for pushing organizations – who have reached a steady state of ï¿½goodï¿½ ï¿½ to higher planes of ï¿½excellence.ï¿½
This is an interesting post on several levels. I want to instincively challenge the notion that traditional strategic planning has actually worked. I mean it’s probably fine for actually making a building, but the moment there are self-organizing processes involved (markets, networks, groups) then rigid top-down strategic planning goes out the window. I might not be giving John enough credit here, but I feel like strategy for process, like the plan for a city, could stand to incorporate a lot more improvisation.
In the context of a city, the thing about having someone “in charge” of developing strategy is that it’s kind of a mug’s game. For one thing, the basic fact that 2.5 million people will improvise its implementation should be enough to make planners give up the notions of tight control of its development. Howdo you anticipate the hive mind of 2.5 million people? You can’t do it by decree, not in a democracy at least (and not truly in a dictatorship either, or so says Jonathan Schell). Instead, you need to create spaces where improvisation can flourish and thereby invite the citizens create their own city.
The same goes for organizations too by the way. This is not a case of the “lunatics running the asylum” either. It simply acknowledges that self-organization and improvisation are critical to success and incorporating these dynamics into planning anticipates the kind of outcomes that create and sustain robust enterprises.
Strategy is usually very vague, especially for big cities, and that’s not necessarily a problem. Citizens will claim space, enterprises will emerge, residential units will get developed, markets will spring up and disappear. For sure some people in local government have the power to set parameters, be it by zoning or by laws or taxation, but I don’t think of this a classical strategic planning. If an area next to an industrial area is zoned residential to improve its character and developers don’t want to touch it and the market stays away, then all the strategy in the world isn’t going to get housing built there.
So now you need to think about including many more people in the development of strategy so that you can make good decisions based on the values of those that actually control things: the citizens. Power acting alone is dumb power. Power acting with heart, as represented by the values and meaning that citizens bring to a place is smart power. And that informed power can rely on good planning to help it make the smart move in one direction or another, so that power, plan and people are moving together.
When you start tipping in that direction, then strategy development starts to get quite imnprovisational, and that is not a bad thing. In fact it seems to me that it makes the whole project more robust because it acknowledges right off the top that there are deep self-organizing principles that will come into to play whether they are built in or not. So better to build them in in the beginning.