Tuesday, April 19

Cracks in the Crystal Ball

I’ve been musing on strategy this week, inspired by a couple of articles on IT strategy which I think have wider applicability, but which also have quite worrying implications for creativity:

David Chan wrote in the Spring 2011 edition of “CIO Connect” about the weakening position of strategic planning, as external influences continually shorten our effective planning horizons.

And this reminded me of a book I read a few months ago on the recommendation of a customer:  In “FruITion”, Chris Potts questions the need for IT strategy.  His point is that IT’s only destiny is to become an investment portfolio which returns to the business, so if anyone writes an “IT Strategy” then that’s the journey it should prescribe.  Having tripped around in the darkness for a few months beforehand wondering how traditional IT strategies could possibly deliver value, I became an instant convert to that point of view, and now consider any other subject matter masquerading as “IT Strategy” to be deeply sinister!

So why shouldn’t I tolerate strategists, if that’s the kind of work which makes them happy?  (After all, I used to do a bit of it myself.)

Usually I do, but there comes a limit.  Some organisations have yet to recognise their shortened planning horizons, and continue to strategise in a top-down fashion in support of inflexible long-term plans. For the majority of the time, exponents of this kind of rigid behaviour consider creativity to be some kind of intemperate animalistic force which pops up at all the wrong times armed with unpleasant and peculiarly-shaped weapons.  For as long as we to plan in five-to-ten year cycles, we’ll continue to mistrust creativity, fail to lure it from its hiding place when we do want it, try to hire it from outside organisations, and run out of money just before we see its results.

So should we abandon strategy activities in general?

Or should we abandon strategy only when we perceive that it restricts us?

Here’s my suggestion, to which I’d welcome robust comments …

Let’s continue strategising for a sense of common direction, but demote strategy so that it’s always subservient to the emerging reality.  (Indeed this may be the only way for strategy to maintain a modicum of self-respect.)

Let’s consider strategy to be a “living exercise”, so that it can always be influenced.   Let’s abandon our fixation on strategy baselines (we can always create a snapshot called “five year view” if someone wants yesterday’s agenda).

And most importantly … let’s be receptive to new ideas at any time.  No improving organisation can afford to lock itself into a plan which is suboptimal upon reflection.

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