The Chronic Problems with Strategy – and how the Emergent Approach aims to fix them

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by Mark Blackwell & Pete Compo 

Have you ever tried a strategy process, but found yourself disappointed with the results?
Has a change or innovation project failed to meet expectations?
There are many problems with strategy to drive change and innovation. Have you ever experienced any of the following?

Beliefs about strategy 

  • A yearly exercise of budgeting and goal setting to be negotiated with the boss.
  • Confusion amongst colleagues, and even “experts”, about what strategy is leaves many disengaged during design, and others not understanding the output.
  • Strategy processes and advice that promise easy transformations when in fact, trasformations are very hard.

Process of strategy

  • Strategy designed by “ivory towers,” often marginalizing, and sometimes alienating, those who best know the business or the function. 
  • Linear sequential strategy recipes that lead to huge slide decks sitting on the electronic shelf collecting electronic dust. 
  • Uncertainty either ignored, or considered as an afterthought.
  • Rushing to the usual suspects (SWOT, PESTEL etc) without focus on the challenge, or understanding stakeholder views of what generates value.

Outcomes of strategy 

  • Strategies that are no more than long lists of initiatives and plans, or worse, clichés that could apply to any business on earth.
  • Strategies in silos that don’t connect across an organization. 
  • Execution divorced from strategy and defined as nothing more than “get good results.” 

The Emergent Approach to Strategy

The Emergent Approach to Strategy - Dr. Pete Compo

The Emergent Approach to Strategy is a new theory and practice of strategy built on an adaptive view of change and innovation in contrast to “planning” the future. Change and innovation are not wholly planned but emerge from the myriad interactions of the players involved – some by design, many not.  

The science of complex adaptive systems must be the bedrock on which strategy is built. The Emergent Approach is the first book to derive strategy definition, theory and practice from adaptive systems.  

What can be learned from the Emergent Approach theory? 

  • Clarity on the definition and function of strategy; it is a rule for busting bottlenecks, not a plan or any of the many other common definitions. 
  • How the function of strategy is derived from complex adaptive systems where predicting and planning the future does not enable change and innovation. 
  • How the difference between strategy and tactics is scope, not time horizon  
  • How good execution must be a real-time concept, not outcomes that can only be known in hindsight, such as “getting good results” or “seizing opportunities.”  

What can be learned from the Emergent Approach practice? 

  • How to analyse a strategy using the five disqualifiers, new more adaptive tests of strategy that require less interpretation and prediction than most traditional tests.  
  • How to design a strategy framework using a new agile-adaptive method without having an “expert” do it for you (or to you). 
  • How to diagnose bottlenecks. 
  • How to avoid the many pitfalls in designing scenarios. 
  • How to address uncertainty directly in the process as opposed to thinking about it as an afterthought. 
  • How to modify metrics to bring more clarity to leading indicators. 
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.