Of strategies, deliberate and eme...
Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 6, 257-272 (1985) Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent HENRY MINTZBERG Faculty of Management, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada JAMES A. WATERS Faculty of Administrative Studies, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada Summary Deliberate and emergent strategies may be conceived as two ends of a continuum along which real-world strategies lie. This paper seeks to develop this notion, and some basic issues related to strategic choice, by elaborating along this continuum various types of strategies uncovered in research. These include strategies labelled planned, entrepreneurial, ideological, umbrella, process, unconnected, consensus and imposed. How do strategies form in organizations? Research into the question is necessarily shaped by the underlying conception of the term. Since strategy has almost inevitably been conceived in terms of what the leaders of an organization 'plan' to do in the future, strategy formation has, not surprisingly, tended to be treated as an analytic process for establishing long-range goals and action plans for an organization that is, as one of formulation followed by implementation. As important as this emphasis may be, we would argue that it is seriously limited, that the process needs to be viewed from a wider perspective so that the variety of ways in which strategies actually take shape can be considered. For over 10 years now, we have been researching the process of strategy formation based on the definition of strategy as 'a pattern in a stream of decisions' (Mintzberg, 1972, 1978 Mintzberg and Waters, 1982, 1984 Mintzberg et al., 1986, Mintzberg and McHugh, 1985 Brunet, Mintzberg and Waters, 1986). This definition was developed to 'operationalize' the concept of strategy, namely to provide a tangible basis on which to conduct research into how it forms in organizations. Streams of behaviour could be isolated and strategies identified as patterns or consistencies in such streams. The origins of these strategies could then be investigated, with particular attention paid to exploring the relationship between leadership plans and intentions and what the organizations actually did. Using the label strategy for both of these phenomena���one called intended, the other realized���Qucomeiged that exploration. (Indeed, by this same logic, and because of practical necessity, we have been drawn into studying strategies as patterns in streams of actions, not decisions, since the latter represent intentions, too. A paper explaining this shift more fully is available from the authors.) 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. These two concepts, and especially their interplay, have become the central themes in our research, which has involved 11 intensive studies (as well as a larger number of smaller ones), 0143-2095/85/030257-16$01.60 Received 28 March 1983 �� 1985 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Revised 4 June 1984
258 Henry Mintzberg and James A. Waters INTENDE D \ = - . ^It^.ill^. STRATEGY ^ N ^ j^ STRATEGY ^ DELIBERATE /"^- STRATEGY / UNREALIZED EMERGENT STRATEGY STRATEGY Figure 1. Types of strategies including a food retailer, a manufacturer of women's undergarments, a magazine, a newspaper, an airline, an automobile firm, a mining company, a university, an architectural firm, a public film agency and a government fighting a foreign war. This paper sets out to explore the complexity and variety of strategy formation processes by refining and elaborating the concepts of deliberate and emergent strategy. We begin by specifying more precisely what pure deliberate and pure emergent strategies might mean in the context of organization, describing the conditions under which each can be said to exist. What does it mean for an 'organization'���a collection of people joined together to pursue some mission in common���to act deliberately? What does it mean for a strategy to emerge in an organization, not guided by intentions? We then identify various types of strategies that have appeared in our empirical studies, each embodying differing degrees of what might be called deliberateness or emergentness. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of this perspective on strategy formation for research and practice. PURE DELIBERATE AND PURE EMERGENT STRATEGIES For a strategy to be perfectly deliberate���that is, for the realized strategy (pattern in actions) to form exactly as intended���at least three conditions would seem to have to be satisfied. First, there must have existed precise intentions in the organization, articulated in a relatively concrete level of detail, so that there can be no doubt about what was desired before any actions were taken. Secondly, because organization means collective action, to dispel any possible doubt about whether or not the intentions were organizational, they must have been common to virtually all the actors: either shared as their own or else accepted from leaders, probably in response to some sort of controls. Thirdly, these collective intentions must have been realized exactly as intended, which means that no external force (market, technological, political, etc.) could have interfered with them. The environment, in other words, must have been either perfectly predictable, totally benign, or else under the full control of the organization. These three conditions constitute a tall order, so that we are unlikely to find any perfectly deliberate strategies in organizations. Nevertheless, some strategies do come rather close, in some dimensions if not all. 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.) It is difficult to imagine action in the total absence of intention���in some pocket of the organization if not from the leadership itself���such that we would expect the purely emergent strategy to be as rare as the purely deliberate one. But again, our research suggests that some patterns come rather close, as when an environment directly imposes a pattern of action on an organization. Thus, we would expect to find tendencies in the directions of deliberate and emergent strategies rather than perfect forms of either. In effect, these two form the poles of a
Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent 259 continuum along which we would expect real-world strategies to fall. Such strategies would combine various states of the dimensions we have discussed above: leadership intentions would be more or less precise, concrete and explicit, and more or less shared, as would intentions existing elsewhere in the organization central control over organizational actions would be more or less firm and more or less pervasive and the environment would be more or less benign, more or less controllable and more or less predictable. Below we introduce a variety of types of strategies that fall along this continuum, beginning with those closest to the deliberate pole and ending with those most reflective of the characteristics of emergent strategy. We present these types, not as any firm or exhaustive typology (although one may eventually emerge), but simply to explore this continuum of emergentness of strategy and to try to gain some insights into the notions of intention, choice and pattern formation in the collective context we call organization. THE PLANNED STRATEGY Planning suggests clear and articulated intentions, backed up by formal controls to ensure their pursuit, in an environment that is acquiescent. In other words, here (and only here) does the classic distinction between 'formulation' and 'implementation' hold up. In this first type, called planned strategy, leaders at the centre of authority formulate their intentions as precisely as possible and then strive for their implementation���their translation into collective action���with a minimum of distortion, 'surprise-free'. To ensure this, the leaders must first articulate their intentions in the form of a plan, to minimize confusion, and then elaborate this plan in as much detail as possible, in the form of budgets, schedules and so on, to pre-empt discretion that might impede its realization. Those outside the planning process may act, but to the extent possible they are not allowed to decide. Programmes that guide their behaviour are built into the plan, and formal controls are instituted to ensure pursuit of the plan and the programmes. But the plan is of no use if it cannot be applied as formulated in the environment surrounding the organization so the planned strategy is found in an environment that is, if not benign or controllable, then at least rather predictable. 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) planning thus becomes programming, and the planned strategy finds its origins in one of the other types of strategies described below. Although few strategies can be planned to the degree described above, some do come rather close, particularly in organizations that must commit large quantities of resources to particular missions and so cannot tolerate unstable environments. They may spend years considering their actions, but once they decide to act, they commit themselves firmly. In effect, they deliberate so that their strategies can be rather deliberate. Thus, we studied a