The Science of Muddling Through - Sample Essay

Enz (2010) argue that in order to sustain a competitive advantage, companies should implement innovative ideas rather than limit their actions to what is already known. Successful strategies can emerge in changing times from employees at lower levels of the organization. A strategy is emergent in absence of intentions (Segal-Horn 2004). It is a more intuitive process. Letting strategies emerge means that strategies must evolve incrementally over time, allowing flexibility in the organization, ensuring they are not forced in to specific pre-set action (De Wit and Meyer 2005).

“The Science of Muddling Through” written by Lindblom (1959) initiated this train of thought, suggesting that government policies are not written in a controlled or orderly manner. Further implying policymakers attempt to cope with issues out with their ability. Mintzberg describes strategy as a “pattern in a stream of actions and decisions” (Mintzberg and Waters 1998, p. 1). He uses the word “pattern” to explain the fact that strategies do not always follow a chosen plan but may emerge, as a result of the strategists’ intuition and insight.

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Furthermore individuals throughout the organization are involved in the emergence of strategy indicating that within the strategic process there are multiple contributors. A lot of emergent theorists argue that strategy does not come from the top. Mintzberg found that the strategy is formed informally, when employees interact with each other (at the coffee machine for example) about the needs of clients. Over time, patterns of behavior can be created in various parts of the organization and will be formalized later (Sloan 2006).

Employees, whatever their rank in a business can contribute to strategy process. For example, a group of saleswomen who decide to sell one product in particular can change the firm’s market position (Segal-Horn 2004). Spender and Strong (2010) also argue that most great ideas for the corporate growth come from the persons who serve the customers and daily fight for the company’s success: the employees. Companies that have managed in making innovation part of their strategy did so by using the knowledge and ideas of their employees, whatever the ranks.

They did that through what Spender and Strong (2010) call ‘innovation communities’. Innovation communities grow from an idea, a desire (for a new product, market and so on) from top management and then a forum of employees work together to implement the project. Many writers, as Spender and Strong (2000) or Thompson and Strickland (2004), believe that it is essential to involve as many people as possible of different ranks and positions, in order to aid adherence for future projects.

For example, Eisai Co, the Japanese pharmaceutical company, has organized many innovation communities to consider a new structure of medicine for Alzheimer’s disease (jelly-like substance, easier to swallow) and devise social programs for the families of Alzheimer’s victims. All employees participated in this project and spent time with patients because the company believes that it can inspire employees and be at the origin of creative ideas. But the most important and difficult thing is to establish a dialogue where everyone says freely what he thinks, without concerns about hierarchy or fear of being judged.

That is why certain measures are taken; for example, ensure that group leaders do not have direct control over wage and promotions of the participants (Spender and Strong 2000). In short, collaborative efforts are very helpful to the implementation of emergent strategy. Peng (2009) also argues that emergent strategy is based on a flow of small decisions from the “bottom up”. Enz (2010) and Mintzberg et al (1998) believe that top managers need to consider and learn from past mistakes to implement a strategy. This way, the company can avoid making the same mistakes than in the past.

Stettinius et al (2005) argue that a strategy, in every organization, should evolve over time in responses to events and learning from experiences. It is a crafting process where lessons are learned from the past which influence the new decisions. Mintzberg (1987) used the metaphor of the “potter working the clay” to illustrate the process of strategy. In his metaphor, managers are craftsmen and strategy is their clay. The crafting image allows a better understanding of how effective strategies are developed. The potter (and so, the manager) feels things rather than analyze them.

Indeed, according to Mintzberg, the potter works the clay to discover new opportunities and has an intimate knowledge of her work. The work of the mind and hands cannot be separated: there is a vital link between think and act (which is different from the design school). Creative strategies evolve through a process of learning (Mintzberg 1987). The danger with that emergent approach is that the objectives lack clarity, they are not well defined. Thus, it is more difficult to evaluate and measure performance (Campbell et al 2002; Mintzberg et al 1998).

A strategy can be thought of in two different ways (Enz 2010, Grant 2010, Peng 2009, Lynch 2009): As a long term set of goals designed as an organizational plan which are adhered to or a more adaptable strategy where decisions are made over time in or in conjunction with changing circumstances. However, these two views are not mutually exclusive. The Umbrella Strategy, defined by Mintzberg and Waters (1985), is not only deliberate and emergent but also “deliberately emergent” because the central leadership creates conditions that allow strategies to emerge.

Indeed, leaders have only partial control over the members of the organization. General directives for behavior are defined, but the actors in the organization can operate within these limits: strategies can emerge within these boundaries. Thus, the outlines are deliberate (for example to diversify) but the details can emerge afterward (how, when and so on). The following example, described by Enz (2010) shows how strategic analysis can guide a firm and how emergent strategy leads to creative solutions and new ideas.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts (Westin brand) began its strategic process by leading a marketing study (600 business executives who travel often were interviewed). The results mainly showed that over 60% believe the most important service a hotel can provide is a good night’s sleep. 84 percent said that a luxurious bed would make the room more attractive. Westin then tested the beds from 35 hotel chains and they finally developed its own prototype: the “Heavenly Bed” (five designed pillows, mattresses and goose down comforter… ). The beds, once designed and tested, were introduced with a well-planned marketing strategy.

An American daily newspaper published an article on this subject and the same day, 20 “Heavenly Bed” were lined up on Wall Street. The general manager of Starwood Hotels & Resorts invited passersby to try them by proclaiming: “Work like the devil, sleep like an angel”. During the first week of launching, 32 people called Starwood to ask where they could buy the bed. Westin realized that there was an opportunity. They then put catalogs and order cards in each room, and created a website. 5 years after the launching of “Heavenly Bed”, 20 000 pillows and 3500 beds ($ 2,965 each) were sold.

When Starwood launched this concept the strategy was first deliberate, but the ability to provide retail sales was unexpected. This opportunity led to an emergent strategy and a successful retail strategy. As the example demonstrates, injecting strategic thinking into the strategic planning process is very effective. Strategies are often a mix of deliberate and emergent strategies (Grant 2010, Enz 2010, Peng 2009, Lynch 2009). As Mintzberg and Waters (1985) argue, the purely emergent strategy is as rare as the purely deliberate one.

The merely emergent strategy implies that the strategy is made without any control (which can be really risky for a firm) while no learning would take place in a merely deliberate strategy. In every company, these two simultaneous processes are always operating (Stettinius et al 2005, Campbell et al 2002, Grant 2010, Mintzberg and Waters 1985). Basically, strategic management is all that is required to position an organization in order to guarantee its long-term survival. The creative process is an intuitive approach that can lead to a new idea, product, and so one.

The strategic management and the creative process, contrary to what we might think, are similar. Indeed, they are consisting of the same four major phases: analysis, creation of objectives, a moment of pure creativity where ideas arise, and control. Finally, strategic management is a creative process (where creativity and analytical thinking are complementary) through which strategy can emerge in response to an evolving situation and, at the same time, can be calculated. In the strategy process, systematic analysis is crucial (within deliberate or emergent strategy).

Indeed, for stakeholders, it would not be acceptable to say that the strategy simply emerges. On the other hand, theories and analysis tools cannot be substituted to experience and creativity, which are essential to implement a successful strategy (Grant 2010). However, one strategy could be favored over the other one depending on the market, but both approaches are necessary if an organization wants to succeed: “We shall get nowhere without emergent learning alongside deliberate planning” (Mintzberg 1996, cited in Enz 2010 p. 158).

Reference list

Bilton, C. and Cummings, S. 2010. Creative Strategy: Reconnecting Business and Innovation. 3th ed. Sussex: John Wiley & Sons. Campbell, D. , Stonehouse, G. and Houston, B. 2002. Business Strategy: An introduction. 2nd ed. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. De Wit, B. and Meyer, R. 2005. Strategy Synthesis: Resolving strategy paradoxes to create competitive advantage. 2nd ed. London: Thomson. Dess, G. , Lumpkin, G. T. and Taylor, M. L. 2005. Strategic Management: Creating Competitive Advantages. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.



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