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Strategy may mean something a little different then it is mostly (mis) understood

What is strategy?

Strategy is a widely used term that is probably widely misunderstood hence misused too. According to Porter, strategy must be distinguished and stay as such from operational efficiencies. Strategy main aim is “to do different” while operational efficiency aim is “to do it better”. Strategy is about being competitively different not by being better than the competition but by being different. As Porter suggests, an organization attempts to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage by preserving what is distinctive about her. Strategy means (1) performing different activities from rivals, or (2) performing similar activities in different ways. It is the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities.

Strategic position is focus on determining how different your organization is in serving your customers needs

How do we set strategies?

Henry Mintzberg is a well-known and internationally recognized management expert that makes the strong distinction that strategic planning isn’t strategic thinking. One is analysis, and the other is synthesis. He underlines and teaches that strategy-making is :

  • derived from synthesis
  • informal and visionary, rather than programmed and formalized
  • relies on divergent thinking, intuition and using the subconscious. This leads to outbursts of creativity as new discoveries are made
  • is irregular unexpected, ad hoc, instinctive. It upsets stable patterns
  • managers are adaptive information manipulators, opportunists, rather than aloof conductors
  • done in time of instability characterized by discontinuous change
  • results from an approach which takes in broad perspectives and is, therefore, visionary, and involves a variety of actors capable of experimenting and then integrating

Mintzberg’s 3 steps of strategy making:

Step 1: Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is about exploring options with the inputs we gathered from our competitive intelligence research for example.

Step 2 : Strategic Development

Strategy development is about making decisions from the options we explored and it’s also about setting directions.

Step 3 : Strategic Planning 

Finally, strategic planning is about making a plan of action about how to implement the strategy that was picked in our development/decision process (output).

He emphasizes that problems will arise when one of these activities is elevated to pre-eminence, rather than seen as simply a part of a necessary, and much wider, process—all three steps are logical, progressive and also iterative since this is the process that we will use repeatedly when involved in strategy making. 

It is IMPORTANT to note that a strategy process always starts with a question, always !

Strategy starts with a question then we proceed with doing the thinking, then the development and finally the planning. All the steps lead to the next one therefore they must be done in full and never be skipped in order to produce a powerful difference making strategy.

Foresight and strategy

Foresight is not a crystal ball, it is a strategy, “a structured and systematic way of using ideas about the future to anticipate and better prepare for change” (OECD).  It’s a strategic process of looking out there into the uncertain and unknown in order to seek and see how we can do something different, something new, so we have a sense of direction today forward and to/from the future.

The Voros Generic process

Dr Joseph Voros (Physicist-Futurist: Futures Intelligence & Strategic Foresight • Scanner, Analyst, Researcher, Educator, Consultant, Speaker • Various Adjunct & other positions) articuated a generic foresight process framework based on prior independent work by Mintzberg, Horton and Slaughter. The framework was developed as part of work carried out by the him during the introduction of foresight into the formal strategic planning of a public-sector university in Australia.

The framework recognises several distinct phases, leading from the initial gathering of information, through to the production of outputs intended as input into the more familiar activities of strategy development and strategic planning.

The Figure 2 to the right is from page 9 of  his academic paper titled “A generic foresight process framework” (Version Date: 12 October 2005. Copyright  © 2000–2005 Joseph Voros.) depicts the distinct phases as well as the questions to ask at each phase. 

The framework is also useful as a diagnostic tool for examining how foresight work and strategy are undertaken, as well as a design aid for customised foresight projects and processes.

It is a good “strategic” excercise to compare theses phases with Minstzberg’s 3 steps summarized above.

To your success !


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