Deliberate versus emergent strategy

This post is a reworked version of a post I found here. Via my twitter account (@Leyssensj) I regularly post interesting articles on entrepreneurship, innovation and management. Feel free to follow me!

In todays post I’d like to talk about planning, setting goals and predicting the future of your market. Bottom line: “You have no idea what’s going to happen to your industry”.

Long term goals vs. long term planning

Admitting you have no idea what’s going to happen may sound scary at first. Acknowledging you do not control your industry might lead to the idea you have no idea what you’re doing. This is mainly because long term goals are often mistaken for a long term planning.

People are horrible at planning stuff, if you can’t even plan 1 day properly without shifting meetings, how are you going to get a 5-year planning correct? The solution is defining long term goals. It’s OK if they are fuzzy at first, you’ve got 5 years to get more in detail. Set your goal, make it clear what your aiming for and start short-term projects that correspond with those goals.

This approach will lead you to an emergent rather than a deliberate strategy. A deliberate strategy is goal-oriented. It asks, “What do we want to achieve?” Emergent strategy is means-oriented. It asks, “What is possible, with the means we have at our disposal?”.

Emergent strategy is a strategy that emerges from all over the company, over time, as the environment changes and the organization shifts and adapts to apply its strengths to a changing reality. Emergent strategy is an organic approach to growth that lets companies learn and continually develop new strategies over time based on an ongoing culture of hypothesis and experimentation.

Start experimenting

Diversity breeds creativity–the more habitats en species overlap, the healthier ecosystems are. A company can also be approached as an ecosystem: more connections and diverse interests will lead to creativity.

An emergent strategy requires that the company continually generates new hypotheses that are tested in small-scale experiments. These experiments will make a big shift between the successful and the failed experiments. If you’re aiming for a sustainable innovative company-culture, you should have ongoing bets of all sizes –a thousand small, a hundred medium, and one or two large–at any given point in time.

Culture by strategy by experiment

Experiments will lead to emergent strategies that will feed an innovative culture which sort of resembles how ants work:

When certain ants need to find a new nest, a few scouts will head out in various directions to search for a new home. When a scout finds a suitable nest, it will spend some time evaluating it. The better the nest, the shorter the time the ant will take. Once the ant has accepted the site, it returns to the main group, where it tries to recruit another ant, whom it then leads to the site. The recruited ant forms its own evaluation, and if the site is acceptable, it will then recruit others in turn. More and more ants are recruited, in an escalating commitment to the site, until the number of ants at the new site reaches a tipping point, which triggers a new behavior. The scouts stop recruiting and begin transporting other ants until the entire colony has moved.

In this manner, an ant colony, working only with local information and without any centralized decision authority, can find the best new site and move the entire colony there in a few hours.

Culture is the result of authenticity. The easiest way to be authentic is by keeping this term from “The radical L.E.A.P.” in mind: DWYSYWD (Do What You Say You Will Do). Give people room to experiment, create a democratic rather than dictatorial structure and your company will be more likely to ride different waves of change throughout the years.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

One comment

  1. Love the ant quote – a good metaphor for how we are moving towards a more sustainable world.

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