Crafting a Strategy

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Crafting strategy
Henry Mintzberg

Back to basics, we've (^omo full circle. When I first learned about strategy many years ago, it was all relatively simple: Find out what customers' needs are and then figure out a way to satisfy these needs hetter than your competitors. (gradually, with the help of "strategy specialists," things got more; complicated, like the evolution in art from classic to baroque. (Companies" ability to gather and analyze ever-increasing amounts of quantitative data led to increasingly complex strategic concepts focusing more and more on achi(;ving competitive advantage and less and less on understanding and meeting customers' niK^ds. Defeating the competitor became more important than winning the customer. Like the evolution from vSun Tzu, whose objective was to win the war without fighting the hattlo, to von Clausewitz, who focused on elaborating winning hattle strategies. Von (Uausewitz was th\ arkieie'=.: t)!i!>l i s h e d P r o i ( ; s s o } - M jntzbsM\!.r - ~"'l1u' M a : v ! ! . i e r " s J o h : l - ' u l k l o r c a n d (•'aci in I h e Nprinu

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great challenges the corporate strategist faces: knowing the organization's capabilities well enough to think deeply enough about its strategic direction. By considering strategy making from the perspective of one person, free of all the paraphernalia of what has been called the strategy industry, we can learn something about the formation of strategy in the corporation. For much as our potter has to manage her craft, so too managers have to craft their strategy. At work, the potter sits before a lump of clay on the wheel. Her mind is on the clay, but she is also aware of sitting between her past experiences and her future prospects. She knows exactly what has and has not worked for her in the past. She has an intimate knowledge of her work, her capabilities, and her markets. As a craftsman, she senses rather than analyzes these things; her knowledge is "tacit." All these things are working in her mind as her hands are working the clay. The product that emerges on the wheel is likely to be in the tradition of her past work, but she may break away and embark on a new direction. Even so, the past is no less present, projecting itself into the future. In my metaphor, managers are craftsmen and strategy is their clay. Like the potter, they sit between a past of corporate capabilities and a future of market opportunities. And if they are truly craftsmen, they bring to their work an equally intimate knowledge ofthe materials at hand. That is the essence of crafting strategy. In the pages that follow, we will explore this metaphor by looking at how strategies get made as opposed to how they are supposed to get made. Throughout, I will be drawing on the two sets of experiences I've mentioned. One, described in the insert, is a research project on patterns in strategy formation that has been going on at McGill University under my direction since 1971. The second is the stream of work of a successful potter, my wife, who began her craft in 1967. Future plans and past patterns Ask almost anyone what strategy is, and they will deflne it as a plan of some sort, an explicit guide to future behavior. Then ask them what strategy a competitor or a government or even they themselves have actually pursued. Chances are they will describe consistency in past behavior - a pattern in action over time. Strategy, it turns out, is one of those words that people deflne in one way...
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