What is an emergent strategy?

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What is an emergent strategy?

It is common for firms to develop a strategy, only for the approach that is taken to start to change from this intended approach. There is an emergent component to the strategy – part of the strategy that is getting implement is different from what was intended in advance. This is an emergent strategy – the part of the approach that is different from what was initially intended.

Is an emergent strategy good or bad?

When we consider an emergent strategy, it is not the case that it is good or bad per se. There may be reasons why it makes sense for a firm to adapt their approach from what was intended – possibly based on learnings during the strategy implementation process.

However, strategy emergence can also occur as the firm loses sight of the strategy. Decisions may be made that are inconsistent with the strategy, and over time, the approach that the company is taking begins to creep from what was initially planned. 

The importance of being aware of how the strategy is emerging

When considering the emergent component of strategy, it is important to be aware of how it is emerging. Are these adaptations consciously made – purposefully adjusting the strategy taken based on experiences during the implementation process? If so, the emergent component may be beneficial – it is hard to predict everything from the outset, and there may be reasons to pivot the approach.

That said, monitoring of the strategy implementation is also important because not all emergent strategies are beneficial. Some changes may be unconscious, causing the firm to deviate from the strategy for not good reason.

Final thoughts: Incorporate learning, but be careful about deviating

Overall, an emergent component to strategy can be a good thing. But it is important to be aware of the changes – ensuring that the emergent component is due to learnings, rather than simply gradual creep and deviation to the strategy. 

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