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I want to make the case for humble strategy.  There is a danger that we can own and become too attached to our strategy because we have researched it, created it and eulogised about it.  However we need to be dispassionate about it and even humble.  This short thought provoker explains the three pieces of strategic thinking that leads to this idea….  and a way to achieve that humble strategy approach…

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?”

Two questions to reflect on:

  1. What has been your organisation’s persistent pattern of behaviour?
  2. Is that persistent pattern of behaviour action, consistent with the strategy as talked about, and that intended over the next few years?

Strategy as a habit (or even an addiction)

The flip side of ‘strategy as a persistent pattern of behaviour’, is that the persistent strategy behaviour can become 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).  (I am sure you can think of organisations that have persisted in a strategy that really should have changed).

To provoke thought about strategy as a habit, 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 it being right, being so dependent on it, that the choice is never questioned or changed.

I trust your strategy is a good habit, not a bad habit, (and certainly not an addiction).  This is where humble strategy comes in.

The case for Humble Strategy

Strategy should be humble

Be confident, but also be humble and willing to learn

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 a strategy.  How do we be humble about our strategy?  How can we be less certain, yet also committed?

Of course humble strategy creates 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.  We realise that we want commitment, but that things might need to change. It is not that the strategy is necessarily wrong, though it might be. However, it might become wrong.

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.

Humble Strategy requires a learning process, that is humble and open to learning

Of course, when ‘strategy is a learning process’ perspective, there are two 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)