Saturday, October 4, 2014

Could a strategy be effective and not be systemic?

"Plans are nothing, planning is everything."   -Eisenhower

The new digital world is marked by ambiguity, volatility, unpredictability, and disruption. Organizations face the loss of scale advantage, systemic risk, cultural shifts, shortened decision cycles and exponential change. Technology and communication advances are delivering an open, always connected, massively networked, and real-time world in which information is ubiquitous and instantly available. So, what does this mean for those who are leading and developing strategies How are organizations developing and executing strategies for success? Could strategy be effective and not be systemic?

A view of strategy is that it is a way of accomplishing a vision and mission in a given set of circumstances. The circumstances, which are complicated, complex and inherently uncertain all at the same time, are in the present moment, but some aspects have strong implications for future circumstances.  The strategy is a coherent plan to achieve specific goals through a series of mutually supportive and integrated actions. If this definition were adhered to, then, of course, a strategy would be systematic.

It depends! If problems are tamed and validated by strategists, strategies might be designed and implemented in a systematic way. However, the more messiness is recognized and embraced, the more systemic stance should emerge. And when VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) is at its climax, then rigid System Thinking could prove insufficient, and more sense and adaptation would be needed.

All strategies fall under and are subject to systemic constraints in which they exist. As to being effective, it would depend entirely on the scale and desired outcomes within their respective system. Some (especially chaotic) situations require an "act, sense, respond" approach, and so the strategy is to act and find out what happens. But - could you view the decision to "just act," because it’s a chaotic situation, as a systemic approach to deciding the appropriate approach to dealing with the situation, so you are systemic at a "higher level?” 

The point of practical Systems Thinking is to make better decisions; and so a decision just to take effective action, if based on consideration of the situation, it is systemic. If it is instinctive, or the default approach of an individual / organization then a decision is not made in each case, and it isn't. So the flaws in the rigid thinking are the assumptions (1) that systematic strategy A will necessarily lead to desired consequence B and (2) that managers confronted with rapidly changing environments and market situations will have the time to think systematically before they act. Still, at the higher level, there’s guideline with systematic thinking to handle such situations.

"Plans are nothing, planning is everything."(Eisenhower), an effective strategy has to be crafted via both thinking fast (intuition) and thinking slow (analytics), the analytics-driven system thinking helps diagnose the problems and set up guidelines and the intuition enables talent to response to the change and adapt to the circumstance in an agile way.


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