Let strategy choices evolve in The Emergent Approach to Strategy

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Quantitative decision matrices hide richness needed to develop and select winning strategies. The Strategy Alternatives Matrix (SAM) addresses this critical flaw, where possible choices are allowed to evolve over time enabling the emergence of a favoured strategy – hence “The Emergent Approach to Strategy™ ”.  The SAM can be thought of as an ecosystem where strategy alternatives are species competing for survival.

Mark Blackwell, Arkaro

“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”  Charles Darwin

In one form or another strategy processes are typically a linear and annual (and very often less frequently) covering some, or all, of the following elements:

Aspirations – Diagnosis – Strategy – Plans – Metrics

Perhaps this was thought to be useful when it was believed that the world could generally be predicted in a in a LAMO (linear – anthropocentric – mechanistic – ordered) manner. However, such a linear approach is not appropriate in a world we increasingly perceive as VUCA (volatile – uncertain – complex – ambiguous). An iterative approach, where clarity for the components, including aspirations, emerges over time is required. More precisely the components of the framework adapt to the increased understanding of the situation.
If the deterministic view of the world is obsolete, then recognise that early drafts of goals may be little more than directional to the vision. Perhaps the following image conveys the emerging clarity (though of course the components may not become clearer at the same rate)?

Let strategy choices evolve in The Emergent Approach to Strategy
Emerging Framework for Strategy

An agile like process is required. The development of the framework for strategy should be good enough to move forward in “sprints” and allow for feedback signals to inform.

Especially as strategy development is working on a complex adaptive system, it is critically important that those involved in the system, and therefore being part of the system, are involved in the strategy design process. Of course, the power of the “wisdom of crowds” promotes better design – as long as there are necessary safeguards to avoid the dangers of groupthink. This can include individual internalisation before group discussion, “Black hat thinking”, “project pre-mortem” techniques, safe-to-fail experimentation, expert facilitation – and powerful collaborative visualisation. Particularly on the latter, the Emergent Approach to Strategy™ proposes the Strategy Alternative Framework (SAM)

The SAM should be thought of as a species interacting in an ecosystem. Some of its members will not survive, and over time, one alternative shall emerge.

Strategy Alternative Framework (SAM)

Strategy Alternative Framework (SAM)

Readers familiar with the Framework for Strategy article will recognise the top of the table, with the current framework compared against alternatives.  The additional components are the fitness criteria, to judge the framework alternatives and assessments, to evaluate frameworks against the fitness criteria.

Consistent with the “there is no such thing as a bad idea” ideation thinking, one draft framework may contain the seed for a killer idea when combined with another. Suspend judgement in creating alternatives, and avoid sense of individual ownership, in this divergent phase allowing a number to develop. Later, in a convergent phase of making assessments against fitness criteria it will become clearer about “what must be true” for any framework to survive the process. Indeed, in practice this is an iterative, even messy process as all components of the SAM (excepting values) are liable for change as the options are internalised.

‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’ Albert Einstein

In choosing fitness focus on what matters as opposed to that which might be measured with relative ease – and certainly do not worry if assessment is more qualitative than quantitative.

Strategy Choices - Arkaro B2B Business Consultants, Geneva

From Darwin’s quotation starting this article, the species that survives depends on more than just simply being the strongest. The species that survives has more complex characteristics.  It has more nuance. Therefore, resist the temptation that invariably arises to give a numerate score to each criterion, and select the framework with the highest total score. Worse than that, do not try to weight each of the criterion, as this does no more than add another layer of estimation.

Think of the Influence Diagram. It is important to move left of the right-hand side, focussing on the aspiration, or the Y is Six Sigma terms, and reveal the richness of the individual critical x’s. An NPV amount cannot reveal the dimensions of phasing of absolute investments and returns and associated risk between simple choices – and that is before we even think of the drivers creating these differences (e.g. technology risk, regulatory environment, market trends, competitor activity).

Strategy choices - Geneva Business consultants, Arkaro
Influence Diagram

… but if you have to use numbers, give focus to relative comparisons for the numbers in the row, more than too much focus on absolute accuracy. Whilst the SAM initially looks like quantitative tools such as the Pugh Matrix, it is importantly different by avoid the beguiling trap of the apparent precision offered from summed totals.

As the team “evolves the SAM” the visualisation of having all decision criteria together provides the needed holistic view.   It avoids too much focus on one outcome, or assessment, independent of others. Therefore it is critical to keep the SAM on one page – the double click method can be used to reveal drill down detail as required

SAM evolves in strategy choices

The overall assessments should be internalised not summated. Weaker alternatives will be judged not to be able to survive and a dominant framework shall emerge after generations of “letting it evolve”.

Here is an imaginary early-stage SAM from Oceania Biological Therapies Inc.



Strategy Framework alternatives

In these early stages, note the emphasis on qualitative assessment over quantitative assessment bringing visibility, and therefore team discussion, to the assessment uncertainties and assumptions. This contrasts with the all too often seen “Black Box” excel file, with its inner workings (and faults) known only to its owner. … and this is before the team thought about scenarios. Where do you think this might develop? What alternatives would you consider? Should the team evaluate the possibility of cross- licensing?

By working with your team in Agile-like sprints Mark Blackwell helps your team create strategy alternatives, choose the best strategy and establish a dashboard of metrics and triggers to drive execution.

Instead of the “do it for you” approach, Arkaro takes the “do it with you” method ensuring the team has ownership of the strategy but guided by experienced expertise and external objectivity to secure a quality outcome.

The efficient agile methodology allows Arkaro to support as a trusted partner while the strategy evolves and is implemented. Please contact Mark to learn more, meanwhile follow Strategy Insights blog posts on Arkaro’s LinkedIn page for regular updates on The Emergent Approach to Strategy™

“Mark and I worked together in DuPont. We share the ambition to help businesses with strategy methods that quickly engage the minds of the people. He wants strategy that drives organisations with straightforward and down-to-earth guidance that brings harmony and efficiency to the organization in meeting its aspirations. This is why Mark is a natural partner to deliver the Emergent Approach™.”

Dr Pete Compo, Author of the Emergent Approach to Strategy

Dr. Peter Compo author of The Emergent Approach to Strategy
Dr. Peter Compo author of The Emergent Approach to Strategy

Dr. Peter Compo, author of the Emergent Approach to Strategy™ —scientist, engineer, and corporate veteran—spent twenty-five years at E.I. DuPont in a wide range of positions in R&D, product management, supply chain leadership, and business management—including director of DuPont Display Materials and Director of Corporate Integrated Business Management. Coupled with a background in music, Dr. Compo began to see the same adaptive patterns of innovation and successful change in all these areas. He also saw the need for a new approach to strategy and spent seven years integrating the science of complex adaptive systems with strategy theory and practice. The Emergent Approach to Strategy™ is the book he wished he had had at the start of his career.

Mark Blackwell - independent consultant Arkaro
Mark Blackwell

Mark Blackwell founded Arkaro in 2016 following a career in both large and small organisations, covering a wide range of industries across agriculture, food and chemicals. As Global Sales and Marketing Director Mark led the growth of the animal health company Antec International to its acquisition by DuPont. Leadership positions in DuPont developed expertise in Business Development, Innovation, Product Line Management, Integrated Business Planning, Business Productivity and Six Sigma Black Belt Project Management. At DuPont Mark worked with Pete Compo as the ideas forming the Emergent Approach to Strategy™ were developed.  In recent years Mark has been involved in the preparation of the Emergent Approach to Strategy and is the first affiliated partner to deliver to help product line and business teams design and implement adaptive strategies.