NB: Content is being migrated

to www.openstrategy.works

– a better place to start

Nothing is new about #openstrategy … except now we will be forced to ‘do’ it! Meaning explosive uptake and new experiences. A bit like hybrid work during Covid … except this time it will not go away!

… the ultimate job of open strategy is to AVOID doing the WRONG THINGS in the possible presence of better information [knowable in the organization’s eco-system]

While working on Collaborative Lean Portfolio Management (CLPM) and writing up the book UNMESS I came to realize that in reality we are talking about Open Strategy.

Keep options open without being scared to chose

Think of ‘Open Strategy’ as ‘survival of the fittest’ – knowing when to act is more important than knowing what to act with. What you do with your strategy is more important than what you write in it. (Not that the latter is not important …)

Governance and resilience over teams and tools

Interoperability and connectedness over products and customers

Openness and adaptability over value and flow

Avoiding failure and keeping options open over effective decision making and hitting a home run on execution

(Open Strategy Manifesto)

We are in the middle of a fundamental shift in gravity that will forever change the position of strategy in most (probably all) larger organization – being more sensitive to weak signals will require much broader involvement of people (employees, partners, customers). This will force a shift from closed to open strategy. Leading to a significant power shift from people who has thrived on transporting information to people who can provide direct insight. From people of politics and bureaucracy to people with the hands on the coal face.

It is a tidal wave you can surf or be rolled over by.

Open Strategy is about actively involving people outside top management in the strategy process. Significantly increasing transparency and inclusion. Relentlessly adapting what you learn.

Open strategy is also about making yourself able to do open strategy – trim and off-set by unmessing, unlocking and uncontrolling as a distinct step.

Open Strategy does not (necessarily) require democratization, breaches of secrecy or limits the option of intentional (forced choice and direction) strategy.

Open strategy is dynamic. An approach to strategy where the process of conceptualizing, strategizing and executing become one fluid whole.

A dance of transparency (equity), inclusion and diversity where the dancing parties inform and get informed in unison and harmonic direction – constantly adapting to the ever changing signals and tensions around. Informed by the direction and informing the direction.

Disagreements are openly encouraged and form the field of steering signals for the strategic direction.

Tensions, dilemmas, and dissonance are noted and absorbed – leading to adjustments – big or small – without disturbing the directional harmony. Dynamic sensemaking. Relentless response. Necessary (but not sufficient) for resilience and adaptability at a strategic portfolio or enterprise level.

If you distinguish formulating strategy from executing strategy, then you first and foremost want to change how strategy is executed.

In this way CLPM as described in UNMESS is an aspect of Open Strategy.

Strategists often do not agree that ‘open strategy’ is a new thing and change what they are doing. And in a way they are right. Analyzing and synthesizing candidates for strategic options and objectives will remain very important. But everything else is changing and with that also the activity of strategizing. As execution becomes more collaborative and open this will reversely impact the formulation work. More people are involved more often. More clues need to be investigated more often. It shifts towards ‘strategy on demand’. From Chronos to Kairos. Most of all it cannot be a segregated and closed activity.

Why is Open Strategy – which is not a new concept – suddenly of interest?

Something is changing around the concept of strategy and the need for the strategy to be able to steer – and be steered by – the directional powers in and around an organization. Increasingly this is a game ruled by complexity – or any other VUCA sibling if you like.

We tend to talk about change, transformation and strategy as absolute (deliberate, forced) state changes. We tend to believe that future value can be calculated. We tend to believe that strategy can be coined and cashed in on through well-ordered implementation. We have hesitated to trust people and invented iron cast controls. Gates to pass. Money to beg. Scratch all of that!

In an increasingly complex world, the usefulness of that view is declining. Complex is different. Rather than a crystal ball, you need a navigator! You need a team you actually trust. You need to stay out of trouble more than sticking to your plan. Avoidance becomes a new overarching objective (stay out of the fat tail).

When to adjust becomes more important than what to adjust. Kairos becomes more important than Chronos. Causality is superseded by dispositionality. Predictability by unpredictability. Planning by navigation. Strategy by strategizing. Positional alignment (stop this; do that) by directional alignment (less of this; more of that). Learning by doing. Probe-sense-respond as #cynefin puts it. Chronos by Kairos.

A closed strategy process and the inherent ‘messiness’ in most larger organizations increasingly become a deficit and a threat to resilience and ultimately survivability. You can no longer afford to dig ‘big black holes’ for yourself; you can no longer afford to keep your windows open for ‘black swans’ and not being able to respond with power and determination.

If you have challenges with strategy and strategy execution you are not alone. Most agree that it is important and that they could get better.

Many have difficulty finding effective solutions. The challenges (lack of clarity; overload; messiness … ) are almost synonymous with larger organizations. Too lose and autonomous or too tight and bureaucratic. But never quite right.

The pressure is increasing – you need the steering power from the strategy to navigate complexity – almost like double trouble – the steering is broken when you need it the most.

We believe that most would benefit from a more open process – and probably will be forced in that direction sooner or later. It is a big wave coming which you can surf or try to swim against.

Watch out for it – don’t go for the easy solution – take time and think it through (you probably have things you need to figure out).

Start wondering about what is holding you back and why?

(Also watch out for ‘pseudo certainty’. Be vary of the tempting ‘calls to order’. You can use the story of Vilma and Pelle. Look for the ‘hand of God’ – places where miracles are needed for plans and business cases to carry home – we are not all blessed like Maradona in 1986.)

everything is not strategic – the art is to figure out what is and only spend time on that

false complexity – like in false positive – when you get surprised by something that should not have been a surprise

=== Questions (ask why? for each)

  • What keeps you awake at nights?
  • Where does opportunity come from?
  • Where is disruption coming from?
  • What do others do?
  • What are you impressed by?
  • Who do you impress?
  • What is holding you back and/or influencing your performance?
  • How can you influence that?
  • What is the worst that could happen?
  • Do you encourage disagreement?
  • How open/closed is your process? How has that balance been found? Could it be more open?
  • Are objectives decided before or after money is allocated? How does that look in a horizon view? Who decides what and how?
  • Do you often feel that you could have acted earlier?
  • If you asked your worst competitor to collaborate, would they laugh?

Personal questions

  • If your are a boardmember and experience a closed strategy process – ask why?
  • If as an employee you experience a lack of openness (transparancy and inclusion) – ask why not?
  • If you are a CxO – ask both!

=== Sources

Open Strategy is not new. Most authors assume (implicitly or explicitly) and ordered world view. If you put on your Cyno-glasses it become clearer that openness requires not only a different set of activities at segregated times, but fundamentally change how we govern and operate.

This is what we explore on this page and in the book UNMESS.

  • Adaptive strategy: https://polgovpro.blog/2020/07/27/adaptive-strategy/
  • Open strategy: (a lot of research)
  • Open Strategy – book by Stadler, Hautz, Matzler and Von Den Eichen (2021, 2023). A book full of solid logic and examples. A bit weak on ‘execution’ and overlooks the shift of gravity that will force organizations to go this way (need Cyno-glasses). UNMESS is a good complement.
  • Estuarine mapping: (see Snowdens blog)
  • UNMESS – my book – see www.tinyurl.com/unmess – or get directly from www.tinyurl.com/unmesspdf (UNMESS in retrospect is a very important piece and in many ways the catalytic element in shifting towards Open Strategy. However, it is only an element. The real change is the need for a more open approach to strategy. Which – paradoxically – is difficult to see from the strategy formulation perspective.)
  • See: www.openstrategy.works (collaboration with Iben Stjerne)

=== Public presentations (presentations from #Downloads)

=== Debate and feedback – LinkedIn and Twitter: #openstrategy #42stc

=== Alternative names

Agile strategy; collaborative strategy; inner strategy; adaptive strategy; servant strategy; strategy on demand; just in time strategy; strategy as practice, …

Most using the phrase open strategy focus on the process of crafting the strategy; our view is that execution becomes the dominating act and turn things around when complexity become a dominating force. (You can say that decorating a Christmas tree with openness does not change the tree, now the tree will have to change).

=== Shift in basic needs (Maslow from Wikipedia and popular tweet)

Most research and writing about open strategy present it as an exotic extra.

Complexity will force a profound change to governance to accommodate the need for openness, connectedness and interoperability.

Increased complexity calls for a different approach.

Interoperability, connectedness, and openness increasingly become basic needs.

Sensing weak signals calls for broader involvement.

Power shifts from transporting information to offering access to insights.

Strategy shifts from closed to open.

Large political and bureaucratic organizations will increasingly feel the tension for more openness – it is a shift of gravity – not a choice or a process of democratization.

The biggest barriers are the prevailing (political and bureaucratic) power structures.