Strategy: More Interaction More Uncertainty

20151104_145813Near the end of the last post I said that I thought good and numerous interactions regarding strategy are likely more needed now in organizations than at any other time in history. Quite simply, I think this to be true because at present we have access to more interactions than at any time in history. Interactions create complexity and strategy engages complexity.

There is an interesting paradox here however, one that is not resolvable. More interaction also means more uncertainty. So if we interact a lot for and about strategy we will be producing more of the very thing that good strategy is supposed to eliminate. At least in terms of how we typically understand ‘good’ strategy in current organization theory.

Interaction Model

Let’s look a little closer at the interaction model and specifically the gesture and response which describe the workings of our interactions. This particular part of the interaction model is based on the work of George Herbert Mead the American social psychologist.

Mead describes interaction between people as a ‘conversation of gestures’, a dynamic that is comprised of numerous gestures and responses where the dynamic between the gestures and responses creates meaning. In some ways, Mead was describing parts of systems thinking and complexity, in the realm of interaction, long before those two areas of focus were popularized!

If we move back up into the interaction model and look at the top arrows in both the left and right loops; they represent part of the complexity we as an individual bring to any interaction we may have. Basically we are bringing our entire past and intended future to bear on any present interaction. There is a lot of complexity and variability just waiting to happen in any interaction!

If we recall two of the key lessons learned from complexity science:

  1. Small disturbances in a complex system MAY produce significant changes.
  2. It is not possible to predict which disturbances may produce these changes or what these changes will actually be. The changes are not unrecognizable, but they are unpredictable.

The complexity from those top two arrows can be said to represent the ‘disturbances’ noted above. Since it is not possible to know specifically how any of these disturbances will surface or manifest themselves, interaction is firmly rooted in one key thing:

Uncertainty.

We have good science that tells us that strategy work cannot produce certainty. However, as we typically understand it today, ‘good’ strategy is supposed to eliminate uncertainty. Interaction creates uncertainty. An irresolvable paradox. Typical organization theory tries to resolve this paradox primarily in one way:

Blame – you didn’t do your strategy well enough or you didn’t implement it well enough.

OUCH!

As noted before regarding performance management this does not mean we should just give up on strategy.  It does mean we should give up on our expectations and intentions of what strategy should do.

In the last post I described strategy as ‘looking for all the dots of opportunity out there and trying to connect them with some coherent threads’. The reason interacting around strategy is so important is that now there are considerably more dots of both opportunity and danger so it is imperative that we engage with those dots in an effort to exercise some level of influence. Otherwise we are simply not actively even in the organizational game and it is better to play a game grounded in uncertainty rather than not play at all!

We, and our organizations are some of those dots of opportunity and danger. We are going to move forward with all those other dots no matter what so it makes logical sense to consciously try to influence what is emerging rather than simply go with the flow and ‘see what happens’.

This activity, this engagement to influence does not need to be burdened with the expectation of certainty. In fact, this engagement to influence is hindered by this expectation.

Imagine what this engagement to influence might be like if it were not burdened by the expectation of certainty. Shoulders drop, possibility becomes possible, judgement waits, innovation is typical as is failure and success.

Blame decreases and there is much, much less OUCH!

This is strategy unburdened by the very non scientific yoke of certainty. It is what I love most about what strategy is; in all its messiness, struggle, frustration and beauty.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. Do you love strategy?
  2. How do you define strategy?
  3. Why are you a good strategic thinker?
  4. Have you ever experienced the burden of certainty on your strategic work?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He also said the gesture had no meaning until the response was received.

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