Henry Mintzberg and James A. Waters wrote a 16-page article for Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1985), titled Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent.

« We have been researching the process of strategy formation based on the definition of strategy as ‘a pattern in a stream of decisions’ »

« Comparing intended strategy with realized strategy, as shown in Figure 1, has allowed us to distinguish deliberate strategies—realized as intended—from emergent strategies—patterns or consistencies realized despite, or in the absence of, intentions.  »

« For a strategy to be perfectly emergent, there must be order—consistency in action over time—in the absence of intention about it. (No consistency means no strategy or at least unrealized strategy—intentions not met.)  »

« We would expect to find tendencies in the directions of deliberate and emergent strategies rather than perfect forms of either. …  We introduce a variety of types of strategies that fall along this continuum  »

  • Planned Strategy: « Some organizations, as Galbraith (1967) describes the ‘new industrial states’, are powerful enough to impose their plans on their environments. Others are able to predict their environments with enough accuracy to pursue rather deliberate, planned strategies. We suspect, however, that many planned strategies are found in organizations that simply extrapolate established patterns in environments that they assume will remain stable. In fact, we have argued elsewhere (Mintzberg and Waters, 1982) that strategies appear not to be conceived in planning processes so much as elaborated from existing visions or copied from standard industry recipes (see Grinyer and Spender, 1979); … (Note the distinction here between unrealized strategy—that is, intentions not successfully realized—and realized strategy that is unsuccessful in its consequences. »
  • Entrepreneurial Strategy: « In this case, the force for pattern or consistency in action is individual vision, the central actor’s concept of his or her organization’s place in its world. This is coupled with an ability to impose that vision on the organization through his or her personal control of its actions (e.g. through giving direct orders to its operating personnel)… In two important respects, however, that strategy can have emergent characteristics as well. First… vision provides only a general sense of direction. Within it, there is room for adaptation: the details of the vision can emerge en route. Secondly, because the leader’s vision is personal, it can also be changed completely… It is this adaptability that distinguishes the entrepreneurial strategy from the planned one. »
  • Ideological Strategy: « Vision can be collective as well as individual. When the members of an organization share a vision and identify so strongly with it that they pursue it as an ideology, then they are bound to exhibit patterns in their behaviour, so that clear realized strategies can be identified.  »
  • Umbrella Strategy: « When an environment is complex, and perhaps somewhat uncontrollable and unpredictable as well, a variety of actors in the organization must be able to respond to it. In other words, the patterns in organizational actions cannot be set deliberately in one central place, although the boundaries may be established there to constrain them. From the perspective of the leadership (if not, perhaps, the individual actors), therefore, strategies are allowed to emerge, at least within these boundaries. In fact, we can label the umbrella strategy not only deliberate and emergent (intended at the centre in its broad outlines but not in its specific details), but also ‘deliberately emergent’ (in the sense that the central leadership intentionally creates the conditions under which strategies can emerge).  »
  • Process Strategy: « Divisionalized organizations of a conglomerate nature commonly use process strategies: the central headquarters creates the basic structure, establishes the control systems and appoints the division managers, who are then expected to develop strategies for their own businesses »
  • Unconnected Strategies: « One part of the organization with considerable discretion—a subunit, sometimes even a single individual—because it is only loosely coupled to the rest, is able to realize its own pattern in its stream of actions… unconnected strategies may be deliberate or emergent for the actors involved (although always emergent from the perspective of the organization at large). »
  • Consensus Strategy: « The next type is rather more clearly emergent. Here many different actors naturally converge on the same theme, or pattern, so that it becomes pervasive in the organization, without the need for any central direction or control… The convergence is not driven by any intentions of a central management, nor even by prior intentions widely shared among the other actors. It just evolves through the results of a host of individual actions. Of course, certain actors may actively promote the consensus, perhaps even negotiate with their colleagues to attain it (as in the congressional form of government). But the point is that it derives more from collective action than from collective intention. »
  • Imposed Strategy: « But strategies can be imposed from outside as well…. We saw this in our study of the state-owned Air Canada, when the minister who created and controlled the airline in its early years forced it to buy and fly a particular type of aircraft. Here the imposed strategy was clearly deliberate, but not by anyone in the organization.  »


« In our view, the fundamental difference between deliberate and emergent strategy is that whereas the former focuses on direction and control—getting desired things done—the latter opens up this notion of ‘strategic learning’.  »

« Emergent strategy itself implies learning what works—taking one action at a time in search for that viable pattern or consistency. It is important to remember that emergent strategy means, not chaos, but, in essence, unintended order. It is also frequently the means by which deliberate strategies change.  »

« Of course, unrealized strategies are also a source of learning, as managers find out which of their intentions do not work, rejected either by their organizations themselves or else by environments that are less than acquiescent.   »

« Emergent strategy does not have to mean that management is out of control, only… that it is open, flexible and responsive, in other words, willing to learn. Such behaviour is especially important when an environment is too unstable or complex to comprehend, or too imposing to defy. Openness to such emergent strategy enables management to act before everything is fully understood—to respond to an evolving reality rather than having to focus on a stable fantasy.   »

« Our conclusion is that strategy formation walks on two feet, one deliberate, the other emergent. As noted earlier, managing requires a light deft touch-to direct in order to realize intentions while at the same time responding to an unfolding pattern of action. The relative emphasis may shift from time to time but not the requirement to attend to both sides of this phenomenon.   »

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