Evolution or Intelligent Design; perhaps a unifying theory?

28 03 2009

One of the recent tasks on my course has been to study, in a little more detail, some of the work of a leading individual author on strategic thinking. I have blogged previously about Henry Mintzberg, a man with an engaging writing style, insightful thinking and what appears to be an honest approach to challenging the establishment view of his subject despite actually being part of its foundations.

In his monologue, “The Illusive Strategy…25 Years Later” (1993) Mintzberg references his first article, written as a doctoral student, way back in 1967 in which he highlights ideas that have spanned and defined his academic career; a comparison of deliberate and emergent strategy.

He wrote:

“Man’s beginnings were described in the Bible in terms of conscious planning and grand strategy. The opposing theory, developed by Darwin, suggested that no such grand design existed but that elemental forces gradually shaped man’s evolution. The disagreement between the Biblical and darwinian theorists is paralleled on a more mundane level in the study of strategy-making. There are those who envision grand calculated designs for the corporate entity, and there are those who cite current practice to argue that organisational strategy evolves, shaped less by man than by his environment.” (1967:71)

As we have worked through these concepts on our course I have gained some small insights into the complex world of strategic planning. As discussed in the earlier blog there is clearly a significant interplay in the set out and recorded, deliberate strategy and the final, outworked, emergent strategy. I wonder if the distinction between the two, as with concepts of evolution, might actually be an artificial construct of  the two theories each suggesting its own mutual exclusivity. Whereas the reality may more reasonably a combination of the two.


In discussion around evolution, darwinists are unable to explain without the use of hypothesis and teleology exactly why human kind, above all others, should have become pre-eminent whilst supporters of intelligent design struggle with ideas such as the extinction of dinosaurs. Neither of these facts negates the contrary theory.

In strategic theory it is clear that deliberate strategy is essential for the corporate entity, as Mintzberg put it, but it seems unlikely the emergent strategic result is totally independent of this and purely a result of the environment. The original plan, the effectors of it and the environment all bring about the eventual result.

Back to analogies- intended versus realised strategies on the football pitch

15 03 2009

emergent-strategyThe 1998 paper Mintzberg, Quinn and Ghosal (1998) looked into organisations with and without explicit strategic plans, the effect of this on the staff within the organisation and the ultimate outcome. Importantly, and intriguingly, the principal finding was that the realised strategy of the organisation was not directly related to the intended, deliberate strategy, the precise and explicit plan of the organisation, but more an outworking of the non deliberate and hugely variable strategies of the work force; emergent strategy.

This all sounds very complex until you put it into an analogy, once again I have returned to the football pitch.

The current manager of Albion Rovers is Paul Martin. Before a match he will gather information about his team, the opposition and their usual tactics, possibly even the weather and the referee, to come up with his intended strategy. His team will be briefed with this, given explanations about pressing plays and the mid-field width, the role of wingers and the man to man defence. This deliberate strategy is inculcated into the team right up to the point where they cross the white line.

courtesy Paul Reilly

courtesy Paul Reilly

And then it all falls to bits as Forfar change to the long ball game as the weather turns, worse still four players on the Rovers team get booked and with the  midfield failing to deliver their expected dominance, all this brings about the realised strategy of a 4 nil humping the likes of which they haven’t seen for a while.

The manager sets out an intended strategy, the team play out their own individual strategies, some in the knowledge and direction of the manager’s deliberate strategy, some not, and the realised outcome is a combination of all these; emergent strategy.

Sadly, the reality wasn’t what was the intended strategic goal!

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