Deliberate vs emergent vs realized strategies: Explaining the differences

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What is a deliberate strategy?

The deliberate strategy is the intended strategy that the company plans to implement. This may be formally developed as part of an annual strategy planning process or could be the strategy that a founder intends to pursue when the launch a business.

What is a emergent strategy?

An emergent strategy is the component of a firm’s strategy that forms during the implementation stage. These are changes that the firm makes during implementation.

There are two different forms of emergent strategy:

  • Adaptations made in response to environmental changes, differences between expectations and reality, or learning
  • Unconcious changes, made without potentially realizing the deviations. For example, if the firm intends to develop certain features or target certain customers, however, due to other demands never gets round to this. 

What is a realized strategy?

The realized strategy is the strategy that results due to the combination of the deliberate strategy and the emergent strategy. It is how the firm ultimately ends up competing, including the parts that were intended from the outset as well as adaptations that were consciously/unconsciously made during the implementation stage. 

Final thoughts: Recognize that strategies evolve, but be aware of the process

Adapting the strategy during implementation is not necessarily a bad thing – there may be reasons why it makes sense to pivot the strategy. However, it does raise the danger that the firm will start to move in a direction that it did not intend to take. Thus, while there may be a need to adapt your strategy, be aware of how these changes impact your strategy and the basis on which you compete.