I’ve just started an Open University course (B301) titled “Making Sense of Strategy” in an attempt to show that I understand the theory as well as having practical experience of developing Strategy. The latter is a matter of record (on my CV at any rate). Mostly I’ve done it using central government’s policy perspective, which isn’t terribly good at acknowledging various academic theories. I’ve also got a strong pragmatic streak, so I’ve never really held much stock by other people’s formal methods. Nevertheless Making Sense of Strategy will marry up my practice with the theory.

Making Sense of Strategy

What my experience does is make me highly sceptical of the various models being held up. That is probably a good thing. Making Sense of Strategy is mostly about making people think for themself. While still showing that we understand the competing theories.

I’ve been looking at Henry Mintzberg‘s five P’s (Plan, Ploy, Pattern, Position, Perspective). Richard Whittington‘s 3 P’s (Practitioners, Practice & Praxis). It looks like Strategy theorists just love P’ing! Not only that, but at work we sometimes talk about the 4 Ps (Picture, Purpose, Plan & Part to Play). Although my favourite collection is the 7 Ps (Prior Planning & Practice Prevents Piss Poor Performance).

So far the contrast is between the more economic (or harder/quantifiable) approach (typified by Mintzberg and common in the US) and the more social (typified by Whittington and allegedly more common in Europe). I can see something in both of these. I prefer evidence based approaches, but my experience gives a lot of value to the social parts too.

Entirely logical arguments aren’t great when you are faced by irrational humans (see Dan Areily’s book). Although I want the pragmatic deliverable option, I find Mintzberg a more convincing theorist than Whittington. That could be because I’ve seen Mintzberg’s sense of humour in his book ‘Strategy Bites Back’. By contrast the extract I’ve just read on Whittington’s ideas was full of the worst sort of academic bullshit. It took a good idea and did its best to make it unintelligible. (It failed because I think I understood before the descent into gibberish).

I think I’m going to enjoy Making Sense of Strategy.

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