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In a learning organisation, there are three ways to look at your strategy: one is to consider your strategy as a habit. First let us explore :

  1. Strategy as a persistent pattern of behaviour
  2. Strategy as a habit (or even an addiction)
  3. Humble, yet persistent, strategy

Three ideas that any organisation, seeking to be a learning organisation, will face with its strategy.

1) Strategy as a persistent pattern of behaviour.

If someone says they do not have a strategy, I will ask, “So what has been the persistent pattern of behaviour of the organisation over the past few years?” What I am looking for is “Strategy in action” as opposed to the “Strategy in plans, or as talked about” (Strategy as espoused).

‘Strategy as persistent behaviour’ is one of the most useful questions to tease out change, because you can then ask, “How should the/our persistent behaviour change over the next few years?”

A question to reflect on: What has been your organisation’s persistent pattern of behaviour? Is that persistent pattern of behaviour action, consistent with the strategy as talked about, and that intended over the next few years?

2) Strategy as a habit (or even an addiction)

The flipside of ‘strategy as a persistent pattern of behaviour’, is that the strategy behaviour becomes a habit. It is what we are used to doing, so we persist in it. It becomes habitual. We do it without thinking (or perhaps even realising).

To provoke thought I usually show this with an ash-tray (smoking as a habit). Recently a client suggested that smoking was more than merely a habit: it was an addiction. It made me realise that that some organisations might have a mere habit, but an addiction to their chosen strategy. Being so obsessed with your strategy being right, being so dependent on it, that the choice is never questioned or changed.

A though to reflect on: I trust your strategy is a good habit, not a bad habit, (and certainly not an addiction).

What is the difference between strategy as persistent behaviour and strategy as a habit?

When i first posted this a reader asked, what is the difference between a persistent behaviour and a habit. In a way there is no difference, except how we percieve them and notice them.  

Something can be habitual, (regularly carried out as a pattern of behaviour).  Habits are one way to label some of our persistent patterns of behaviours, that are more fixed and done without thinking or even awareness.  I might persistent do something and eventually I do it without thinking – it has become habitual – a habit.  

The question is ‘have we noticed that we no longer are thinking or so aware that we are doing that?’.   Is it a pattern of behaviour that we need to change, potentially one that is doing us harm, yet we have failed to be aware of that pattern or notice it. 

Here is a simple example, when I learnt to drive I put a key in the igniton and started the car by turning the key.  Later, it took me a while to get used to a car that has a key on the left of the steering column and a separate starter button.  More recently, I was completely thrown by a hire car when I could not find the place to put the key in… because there was not one.  There was a proximity sensor which meant the key could stay in my pocket. However, I was completely stuck with the idea that I needed to insert the key in the ignition before I pressed anything that said “Start”.  Inserting a key, somewhere, was habitual. And I was unaware on my habit.

3) Humble strategy

On the radio last week, an economist saying how economists should be more humble, and less absolutely certain, about their economic forecasts. It occurred to me that the same applies to those developing, and espousing, a strategy.

Of course we have a dilemma. We want to create enthusiasm and certainty an confidence on our teams. At the same time, we know that there are uncertainties and assumptions in our strategy – and that stuff happens. The challenge is perhaps, to recognise and acknowledge the uncertainties. Yet, at the same time progress clearly down a path that will uncover and expose them as certain or not.

I quite like the idea of humble strategy. Read more on how to achieve a humble strategy.

Strategy is a learning process

Of course, from a ‘strategy is a learning process’ perspective, there are three pieces here:

1) How do we learn whether our strategy is working? (First order learning)

2) How do we learn when it is time to change the strategy? (Second order learning)

3) How do we learn when to change how we think about our strategy and our strategy process (Third order learning)

This thinking is appropriate, whether you have a deliberate strategy or an emergent strategy, or a blended combination of deliberate and emergent strategy.

You can read more about strategy, and strategy as a learning process, in The Strategy Zone.