According to Henry Mintzberg (1987), strategists should be akin to craftsmen who are dedicated, attentive to and experienced in their work and should occupy a position between their past organizational capabilities and future market opportunities. In his article, ‘Crafting Strategy’, Mintzberg objects the notion that strategy should be solely seen as a plan which has been formulated in advance by the strategist. The author argues that strategies can not only be brought up deliberately but can also emerge from circumstances. This work will utilize wider academic literature in the field of strategy to critically review the article ‘Crafting Strategy’ by firstly positioning the piece in the broader debate and then outlining and evaluating its main strengths and weaknesses.
The article positions itself in the opposing prescriptive and emergent forms of strategic process. Prescriptive strategies refer to strategies that have a clear and specific planning dimension and with a well-defined objective (Lynch, 2009). On the other hand, the emergent framework for strategy states that strategy is dependent on the circumstances that the organisation faces and is based around improvisation and creativity (Hamel, 2000). In ‘Crafting Strategy’ Mintzberg connects strategic planning with the deliberate process approach to strategy, seeing it as mechanistic, analytical and systematic and surmises that it separates thinking from acting. The term ‘crafting’ strategy is used when describing the emergent process approach as well as to explain a more natural, intimate and dedicated way of creating strategy, one in which “formulation and implementation merge into a fluid process of learning” (Mintzberg, 1987, p66). Mintzberg asserts that “strategic planning isn’t strategic thinking. One is analysis and the other is synthesis” (Mintzberg, 1994). In fact, it has been shown by psychologists such as Kiesler (1971) that the articulation of strategies discourage flexibility, adaptation and the willingness to change, leaving the organisation without the creative and reactive abilities to answer to environmental alterations. Therefore Mintzberg sees much more potential in an emergent strategy it terms of adaptability especially in a more difficult business climate. Gary Hamel, one of the most influential and iconoclastic business strategists, shares the same views on strategic planning as Mintzberg, stating “The essential problem in organisations today is a failure to distinguish planning from strategizing. Planning is about programming and not discovering. Planning is for technocrats, not dreamers. Giving planners responsibility for creating strategy is like asking a bricklayer to create Michelangelo’s Pieta” (Hamel, 1996, p71)
Even though the article delivers the point that the emergent framework “better captures the process by which effective strategies come to be” (Mintzberg, 1987, p66), Mintzberg does not fail to notice that in reality “all strategy walks on two feet, one deliberate, the other emergent” (Mintzberg, 1987, p70). The two strategies do not exclude one another but instead provide two extremes with “reality” locating itself somewhere in-between (Kipping & Cailluet, 2010, p80). Mintzberg states that an organisation should not find itself in either end as a purely deliberate strategy is one which prevents learning, whereas a purely emergent strategy is one which prevents control. The most successful strategies are a combination of the control of deliberate strategies and the flexibility and responsiveness of emergent strategies. An example of such a middle ground is the umbrella strategy which “puts limits on the actions of others and ideally provides a sense of direction” (Mintzberg and Waters, 1985, p263) by having senior management establish broad guidance and allowing employees lower down in the organization to determine the specifics. Such type of strategy is defined as deliberately emergent (Mintzberg, 1987, p71). Another deliberately emergent strategy is the process strategy, which has leadership control “the process of strategy making while leaving the content of strategy to other actors”(Mintzberg and Waters, 1985, p264). Through these strategies Mintzberg aims to point out that deliberate strategies should not be automatically seen as good and emergent ones as bad. Instead he underlines that viable strategies most likely have both types of qualities. The lack of one implies an unwillingness to learn as behaviours unfold, just as the lack of the other implies an unwillingness to think before those behaviours take place” (Mintzberg, 1994, p25).
Strengths and Weaknesses
Hamel, G. 1996. Strategy as revolution. Harvard Business Review, July-August, 69-71
Kipping, M., & Cailluet, L. (2010). Mintzberg’s Emergent and Deliberate Strategies: Tracking Alcan’s Activities in Europe, 1928-2007. The Business History Review, 84(1), 79-104. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20743868