Mintzberg’s Crafting Strategy

25 01 2010

We must form strategies like a potter molds clay; looking at past successes and failures and learning from them.

1. Traditional Strategy Vs. Crafting Strategy

  • Traditional Strategy is all about reason and control.   The goal isn’t necessarily to win the customer, but to win the competition.
  • Crafting Strategy, however, is about skill, dedication, and perfection, as well as involvement and experience.  It is important to understand that the perfection of strategy does not come natural, and we have to learn from our experiences.  To explain his theory that crafting strategy provides a better process of developing an effective strategy, Mintzberg refers to his wife, who is a potter.

2. The Potter Parallel

  • Just like the potter senses her abilities and knows what works and what doesn’t, organizations should craft their own strategies based on the same principles.  They need to be flexible in the direction they are heading and have an open mind.  You see, the potter knows, based on experience, what methods are effective and which ones simply fall apart.  So, when she starts her next project, she knows exactly what to stray away from.  Organizations should be the same way.  Organizations can avoid making critical mistakes if they learn from their past.  This theory, however, assumes one thing; you have to make a mistake to learn from it.  Mintzberg suggests that organizations shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. In fact, they should embrace them!  This trial and error process leads us to emergent strategies that can be much more effective.

3. Deliberate and Emergent Strategies

  • In an emergent strategy, action should drive thinking, rather than thinking drive action.  While organizations should plan their future, they should do so with flexibility designed in it.  When we start our journey to strategy, we need to have the flexibility to change the aspects that do not work. A strategy can emerge in response to a difficult situation.  Smart strategists enjoy the fact that they aren’t smart enough to plan out everything in advance.  Rather, they let their strategies be molded and formed based on the situations at hand.

So, creating strategy requires that you have two feet; one deliberate and one emergent.  It is impossible for a company to be purely one or the other.  This is what Mintzberg calls deliberately emergent (process strategy).  The best strategies that work are those that are a combination of planning deliberately and being emergent with flexibility and learning.

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