So what the heck is strategy anyway?

I often feel exasperated over the multitude of definitions of what strategy is. My colleague Martin just defined Strategy as that which we afterwards know was successful. Just look at all these books on Strategy, particularly among the business books at the airport. Broadly they fall into two categories, templates or methods to follow or success stories which imply that you should emulate them for success.

The most dramatic personae in the field is probably Gary Hamel, with his battle cry ”If it isn’t revolution, then it isn’t strategy”. The word strategy seems to be used for anything between that extreme position of uniqueness to the more mundane ”what is our strategy for buying a new photocopier?”. I usually claim that there are at least as many definitions of what strategy is as there are academics and consultants in the field.

Is strategy an organisation or a person thing? Organisations seem to do strategy in some sort of strategic planning process. But as Henry Mintzberg points out in the Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, it is possible, or even usual, to go through a strategic planning ”process”, without strategy actually emerging. Mintzberg focuses on how Strategic Thought emerges.

What do we want to achieve by having strategies? Creating meaning for employees? Creating new direction? Revolutionising business? Surviving? Ensuring long-term viability? Risk minimisation? Starting something entirely new?

In one of his books Tom Peters tells about Bob Eaton, when he stepped in as CEO of Chrysler. At a meeting with many managers he read newspaper cuttings about the bad times Chrysler was in. Everybody thought they were about the present. Bob Eaton read out the dates, and they were about ten years apart. He then said that his job was to ensure that the same situation did not occur after another ten years.

It did not turn out that way, but he was probably right. I use Requisite Organisation Theory, also known as Stratified Systems Theory to understand the difference in work at different levels of the organisation. One of the differences has to do with time consequence. The job of Bob Eaton was to build the structure and set stuff in motion so that the company would be successful and profitable in ten years.

If we want to call that job Strategy, so be it.

What we do know is:

  • There is no way of being certain of the outcome in ten years time, so handling uncertainty comes into it.
  • Strategy probably has to do with being able to manoeuvre through unexpected change.
  • Most probably there is a significant difference between the present state of operations and that which will be in place in 10 years. So whatever needs to be done has to be built on the existing in some sort of mix between bottom-up planning and top-down strategy/vision.
  • Some sort of balance between risk-minimisation and maximum opportunity utilisation needs to be found.
  • Strategy has different meaning for a start-up and an industrial giant with a huge investment in plants.

All these personality tests

I absolutely refuse to be one of 16 personality types. Probably my reluctance to pigeonholing people began at engineering high school, where we introduced to Kretschmers typology. There were two types of people leptosomic who were physically thin and weak with a introvert and timid disposition. The pyknik was round, happy and easygoing. Looking around at the +200 attending the psychology lectures I had my doubts that we could be sorted into two groups, if we could be classified at all.

As a management consultant I sometimes feel the need to know a bit about different personality tests. I keep reading that personality changes very little during lifetime. So various tests should be fairly consistent. But are they really?

I recently bought the Personality Code and completed the test on the web. The IDisc personality types, like Myers Briggs and all the rest of them can be very interesting and to some extent revealing. But whenever I do tests like these, my scoring gets stuck inbetween subtypes and a marginal tilt to one side declares my as being such-and-such personality.

IDisc declares that I am a Detective, but like astrology columns half of the descriptions fit extremely well, but not the rest. And there are 4-5 other personality types that I think fits as well.
And then what? Now that I ”know” that I am a Detective, what do I do with the rest of my life?

Many years ago I did Myers-Briggs and the closely related Kiersey test. They use the same scales, but label the results differently. According to MB I am Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving. Had I been in a slightly different mood that day I probably could have been Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging, as there was only one point tilting me to one category on two of the scales. Kiersey labels INTP as an idealist.

To some extent I guess that the Detective is closely related to Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving, but Idealist? At least all these tests are fairly straightforward and categorical. I am such-and-such a type. This summer I completed the Spiral Dynamics CultureScan and got a brief and very hard to understand report. I am Yellow, New Alpha, Systemic Flow, Transitional, 2nd Order Change Preference and Moderately Analog. Above all I need a 16 page handbook to decipher who I am.

I am glad that I have had supervision and therapy by some very good psychologists. I feel quite familiar with who I am and quite satisfied with who I am. I consider my personality (and those of others), as very complex and which cannot be satisfactorily revealed by a 15 minute test. But then of course this is an attitude which would be very typical of a Detective.