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An interesting discussion about emergent strategy came out of a presentation I did last night, for a group of Directors, about thinking strategically in the current economic climate.

Early on I made a clear distinction between deliberate strategy and emergent strategy.  Deliberate strategy is where you have a goal and your plans are focused around driving towards that goal.  The planning is very deliberate and systematic against that goal.

Emergent strategy you have more of a purpose and are testing the environment looking for opportunities to attain that purpose, refining as you go.   In essence, feeling your way towards the goal and refining your approach as you learn more.

A lady was saying that a colleague insisted she have objectives and plans  (deliberate strategy) but that she liked to take a more “emergent” approach.  Having seen the distinction she now had a way of countering her colleague’s desire for objectives and plans.

However what she might have been confusing was the difference between emergent strategy and ad hoc strategy (or having none at all).

In fact, emergent strategy requires you to be even more systematic in your approach than for a deliberate strategy approach.  Emergent strategy relies on not only planning towards a goal (a purpose) but also monitoring the external environment thoroughly for opportunities, systematically testing ideas and systematically replanning.  The testing process includes assessing opportunities, sifting them, putting effort into them, deciding whether to refine them or cut them.  The replanning process involves a rolling plan of a long term horizon together with shorter term plans that are refined and updated more often.  It is effectively rolling budgets and plans.

Ad hoc strategy is not having a strategy or plan at all.

So do not treat emergent strategy as lazy ad hoc strategy or planning.  It actually requires a greater discipline than deliberate strategy.

Phil Jones