Tom Critchlow

Strategy is the organic flow of ideas and people

Some links to chew on...

March 8, 2018

I’m currently reading the wonderful book Seeking like a state about how top-down ideas for change inspired by high modernism often fail because they don’t accurately reflect the organic nature of networks and people.

I can’t help but feel that most top-down strategy fails for the same reason.

Here’s some things I’ve read recently on that topic but I’m eager for more so please share other interesting links in the comments!

Strategy as an Unfolding Network of Associations

This paper from Stripe Partners is wonderful. They first run a strategy session for a client then, since they’re an ethnographic research agency, they go back to the client a year later and try and understand “what happened” to the strategy and ideas that came from that session. Wonderful stuff:

Strategic thinking with blog posts and stickers

This post from Giles is short but really cuts to the heart of how strategy actually functions - small ideas reinforced and deliberatly shared by the folks in the thick of it…

And be sure to check out his archive of posters at the GDS too…

Small groups and consultancy

I’ve linked to this piece many times from Matt Webb because I think of it often:

My hunch is this: To answer a business’s strategic questions, which will intrinsically involve changing that business, a more permanent solution than a visiting consultant might be to convene a small group, and spend time with it, chatting informally.


Still trying to find a way to bring this into my own consulting work….

Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent

This paper from 1985 feels very relevant today and really gets to the heart of the matter:

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.

Surfing the edge of chaos

My friend Paul Millerd shared this one that fits the theme perfectly:

Is complexity just interesting science, or does it represent something of great importance in thinking about strategic work? As these illustrations suggest, treating organizations as complex adaptive systems provides useful insight into the nature of strategic work. In the following pages, I will (1) briefly describe how the four bedrock principles of complexity occur in nature, and (2) demonstrate how they can be applied in a managerial context. In particular, I use the efforts underway at Royal Dutch/Shell to describe an extensive and pragmatic test of these ideas.

What else do you have?

This blog is written by Tom Critchlow, an independent strategy consultant living and working in Brooklyn, NY. If you like what you read please leave a comment below in disqus or sign up for my Tinyletter.