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Dispositioning Advantage: A Pervert's Guide to Strategy Design


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Strategy. The identification and exploitation of an opponent’s weakness. Before you can have Strategy Deployment (Policy Deployment, Hoshin Kanri), it tends to reason that you probably need a strategy to deploy. But how do you do that? What are the mechanisms? What are the methods? What are the principles that allow an organization to design a meaningful strategy?

This lively 45 (to 60 minute) romp will introduce you to the history of strategy in organizations (it’s dark, perverse, and full of dragons) from Porter to Rumelt, to Dettmer, and Boyd. Few will remember that in the early days of strategy, there was only one: drive down the experience curve and be the low-cost provider with a stream-lined supply chain. The talk will unpack what strategy actually is and more importantly, what it is not. It will painstakingly deconstruct how the term is ritually abused and misused, and then methodically introduce how strategy is a design problem, but too important to be left to the designers in their plaid shirts, funky glasses, and ernest but ultimately vapid proclamations about human-centered blah blah, validating blah, blah, buzzword bingo verbal diarrhea inventing flaccid constructs like ‘design strategy, content strategy, ux strategy’ and ‘strategic planning’.

The talk will introduce some conceptual frameworks used in military strategy and maneuver warfare, which dates back over 2,300 years to the time of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. We’ll explore how the time-tested principles of economic and military competition can be applied to social and commercial ventures, such as software and service delivery leading to considerable benefits in coherence, focus. and profit. We’ll then introduces a reasonable, systematic set of methods to help you translate current market uncertainty, fast changing customer needs, and ever-changing technological disruptions into a meaningful strategy and organizational capability ready for Hoshin Kanri.

Published in: Leadership & Management

Dispositioning Advantage: A Pervert's Guide to Strategy Design

  1. 1. W I L L E VA N S @ S E M A N T I C W I L L E D I N B U R G H S C O T L A N D
  2. 2. T W I T T E R : #LASCOT16
  3. 3. “Perversion, at its most fundamental, resides in the formal structure of how the subject relates to truth and speech. The pervert claims direct access to some figure of the big Other (from God or history or Lean/Agile Thought Leaders), so that, dispelling all the ambiguity of language, he is able to act directly as the instrument of the big Other's will.” PERVERSION
  4. 4. OUTLINE •  Assumptions •  Systems •  Strategy, WTF? •  What *is* Strategy? •  The OODA Loop(s) •  Structuring Structures, Bourdieu Remixed •  Propensities, Efficacy, and Capability •  Dispositionality •  Final Thoughts
  5. 5. ASSUMPTION 1 We all exist (beingness) with(in) system(s).
  6. 6. ASSUMPTION 2 We are all responsible for the design, development, and maintenance of purposeful systems.
  7. 7. ASSUMPTION 3 Before an organization can design a strategy, that is – how and what it can do to gain, retain, and exploit the initiative to gain a position of comparative advantage, it must decide what purpose their system serves inside a larger system.
  8. 8. From “Strategic Navigation,” William Dettmer WHAT IS A SYSTEM? “A set of interrelated things encompassed by an arbitrary boundary, interacting with one another and an external environment, forming a complex (co-evolutionary), but unitary whole and working towards a common objective or shared goal.” — William Dettmer
  9. 9. From “Organizational Leadership and Culture,” Edgar Schein ORGANIZATIONS AS SYSTEMS “Ultimately, all organizations are socio-technical systems in which the manner of external adaptation and the solution of internal integration problems are interdependent.” — Edgar Shein
  10. 10. STRATEGY Not everything is strategy, and not everyone is a strategist.
  11. 11. WHAT ISN’T STRATEGY? 1. Planning (and plans) 2. Goals 3. Objectives 4. Aspirations 5. Tactics 6. Fluff 7. Mission, vision, and values statements (The 9th waste in Lean)
  12. 12. STRATEGY, WTF? •  Most organizations don’t have strategies — they have Sunday words, buzzwords, jargon, and gibberish masquerading as strategy. •  Organizations rarely address the competitive landscape and the challenges, constraints, and obstacles that stand in the way of them pursuing a plan of action to compete against their adversaries. •  Many organizations have a set of objectives, too many in fact, some contradictory, all competing for limited resources and are therefore nothing but aspirational statements of desire. (We will be the Partner of Choice for X, Y, and Z, leveraging A, B, and C, to disintermediate our market and delivery 15% EPS growth over the next 10 years while doing ALL THE THINGS!) •  Organizations often don’t have strategies that clearly indicate what they will *not* do.
  13. 13. Strategyformseemstofolloworganizationalfunction. Companiesdeveloptheirstrategicplansintermsoftheir existingsubsystemsandsilos–betheyfunctions,divisions, ordepartments.Thismayonlybeacceptablegivenhighly stable,slowmovingenvironments. #ConwayFTW CONWAY’S STRATEGY
  14. 14. In highlydynamiccontexts,it’simportantnot justtorespondtochangebuttoalsoshapeit throughthemanagementofpropensitiesthat changethedispositionalityoftheorganization relativetothesystem.
  15. 15. Successfulstrategiestendtoemergefrom environmentalsituationsorfromwithinthe darkestbowelsofanorganizationasoftenas theyaredeliberatelyplannedfromthetop downHoshinStyle.
  16. 16. WHAT IS STRATEGY? “The most basic idea of strategy is the application of strength against weakness. Or, strength applied to promising opportunities.” — Richard Rumelt
  17. 17. SOURCES OF ADVANTAGE •  Understanding the market: is it stable and slow moving? Dynamic and tubulent? Tending towards monopolistic or highly competitive •  Having a coherent strategy: one that coordinates policies and actions aligned to purpose. (A good strategy doesn’t just draw on existing strength; it creates strength through the coherence of it’s design.) •  The creation of new strengths through subtle shifts in viewpoint (Frames). An insightful reframing of a competitive situation given the emergence of new dispositionalities of the systems at play. •  Use of techniques like Ritual Dissent to challenge existing Doctrine & Frames to allow new information to enter the system.
  18. 18. WHAT IS STRATEGY? “Strategy is a deployable decision-making framework, enabling action to achieve desired outcomes, constrained by current capabilities, coherently aligned to the existing context.” — Stephen Bungay
  19. 19. “Decisions without actions are pointless. Actions without decisions are reckless.” — John Boyd
  20. 20. Theprobleminmostorganizationsisthe learnedhelplessnessof*not*beingableto makedecisions.Thequestionweat PraxisFlowseemtobeconstantlyaskingof seniorleadersinlargeenterprisesisthis...
  21. 21. Whatdoestheflowofdecisionswithinyour organizationlooklike? Isyoursystemoptimizedformakingthose decisions?
  22. 22. STRATEGY REQUIRES 1.  A clear and unequivocal understanding of your system’s overall purpose. 2.  A complete, accurate determination of the discrete conditions, terrain, context, market – the propensities & dispositionalities – of the organization relative to the competition. 3.  A guiding policy for dealing with the current challenge. This includes both doctrine, and an overall approach to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified, modulated by efficacy, and taking into account the current dispositionality of the organization relative to the situation at hand. 4.  A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry our the guiding policy.
  23. 23. OODA LOOPING Situationally modulating dispositionalities
  24. 24. OODA LOOP
  25. 25. Boyddiscoveredthatthekeytowinningwas twofold:aneffectivepassthroughtheOODA stepsinitially,followedbyfast,successive adjustmentstothechangedenvironment throughmorerepetitiveOODAcycles. OODA
  26. 26. Totheextentthatastrategist(militaryor civilian)cannavigatethroughtheOODA cyclefasterthantheopponent,controlofthe initiatives(openingsofoptions)accruesto theOODAuser,whileconfusion, disorientation,andambiguityaccruetothe opponent.Init’sidealstate,Boydsuggested it’slikecommandingbothsidesoftheconflict. OODA
  27. 27. FEEDBACK LOOPS 1.  Feedback is self-generated, an individual or system notices whatever they determine is important for them and they ignore everything else (Framing). 2.  Feedback depends upon the context; the critical information is being generated right now. 3.  Feedback changes; what an individual or system chooses to notice will change depending on the past, present, and the future. 4.  New and surprising information *may* get in, the boundaries are permeable, but there are various social and cognitive biases that make it difficult for new information to enter the system. 5.  Feedback is self-sustaining, it provides essential information about how to maintain one’s existence, it also indicates when adaptation and growth are necessary. — Margaret Wheatley
  28. 28. AUTOPOIESIS “Feedback is absolutely necessary for a system to maintain itself and to recreate itself.”
  29. 29. FRAMING “A frame is, simplistically, a point of view; often, and particularly in technical situations, this point of view is deemed ‘irrelevant’ or ‘biasing’ because it implicitly references a non-objective way of considering a situation or idea. But a frame – while certainly subjective and often biasing – is of critical use to the designer, as it is something that is shaped over the long-term aggregation of thoughts and experiences.” — Jon Kolko
  30. 30. OBSERVE You can’t outsource competitive research
  31. 31. OBSERVE
  32. 32. ORIENT Sensemaking in Competitive Environments
  33. 33. ORIENT
  34. 34. ORIENT Orientation is: the worldview, the schemata, the mental models, the views of reality, the insights, intuitions, hunches, beliefs and perceptions of the various participants shaped by Culture and guided by Doctrine.
  35. 35. WHAT IS CULTURE? “A pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration (…) A product of joint learning.” – EDGAR SCHEIN Organizations are socio- technical systems in which the modality of external adaptation and the solutioning of internal integration problems are interdependent, co- evolving, and complex.
  36. 36. DOCTRINE “ Doctrineisdefinedasthefundamentalprinciplesby whichsocialsystemsorelements(organizationsand teams)guidetheiractionsinsupportofobjectives.”
  37. 37. “Principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference. ” — Carl von Clausewitz
  38. 38. DOCTRINE
  39. 39. Principlesarenotsupposedtobechecklistsor constrainingsetsofrules.Theyaremeantto fostertheinitiativeneededforknowledge workerstobeadaptive,creativeproblem solvers.Theyprovideabasisforincorporating newideas,technologies,andorganizational designs.
  40. 40. Doctrineactsasanenablingconstraint allowingknowledgeworkerstomake decisionsunderconditionsofextreme uncertainty.Establishingandusingjargon, commandlanguageandsymbolswith commonmeaningsenhancecommunication totakeaction.
  41. 41. Four Elements of Doctrine 1.  Fundamental principles 2.  Tactics, techniques, and procedures 3.  Frames for sensemaking and decisioneering 4.  Symbols, command language and jargon
  42. 42. DISPOSITIONALITY What it isn’t, and what it might be
  43. 43. Anyactiontoexecuteastrategy,however minimal,changesthestrategicenvironment. Andinachangedenvironment,theoriginally conceivedstrategymaynolongerbe optimum,whichgeneratestheneedtoadjust theoriginalstrategyandre-execute.
  44. 44. PROPENSITIES “PROPENSITIES are aspects of the system which can be known and managed in various ways which then influence the overall dispositionality of the system as a whole.” — DAVE SNOWDEN
  45. 45. DISPOSITIONALITY Potential(asitrelatestopowerrelationsbetween adversaries)isbornofdispositionality.   Disposition includes the particular shape of the object (round or square), as well as the situation at hand (on level or sloping ground), the relations to other things and their position. Maximum potential is conveyed by the differing nature of the gradient so it’s both static (the things, materials, places at hand, 6 forces, 5 constants), as well as dynamic (the opportunity, directionality which may be influenced by intendings).  
  46. 46. Wardley, Simon, “On Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners and Theft.” DISPOSITIONALITY
  47. 47. BOURDIEU’S HABITUS “The relation to ‘what is possible’ is ultimately a relation to power.” — Pierre Bourdieu
  48. 48. Ingeneral,then,strategyaims,throughaseriesof repertoiresandroutines,todeterminethe principleswithinthestructuringstructuresof habitus,throughwhichoneevaluatestheprevailing dispositionalities,powerrelations,andplansof operationsinadvancetogenerateadvantagesand realizethestrategicobjectives.
  49. 49. FINAL THOUGHTS •  Start with the current situation, context, and dispositionality of the systems at play; •  In highly stable, slow moving environments, Hoshin Kanri/strategic planning is fine (and so is waterfall and Six Sigma); •  In turbulent, quickly evolving, dynamic contexts, you need to cycle through your OODA loop at an accelerating pace; •  While getting inside the OODA Loop of your opponent (disrupting their Observe/Orient); •  To create a greater set of potential options of dispositional advantage relative to your competition.
  50. 50. REFERENCES Bourdieu,P.(1980).TheLogicofPractice.Stanford,Stanford UniversityPress. Bourdieu,P.(1984).Distinction:ASocialCritiqueoftheJudgemen ofTaste.London,Routledge. Bourdieu,P.(1986).‘TheFormsofCapital’.HandbookofTheory andResearchfortheSociologyofCapital.J.G.Richardson.New York,GreenwoodPress:241-58. Dettmer,William(2003)“StrategicNavigation:ASystems ApproachtoBusinessStrategy,” AmericanSocietyofQuality Foucault,Michel."TheSubjectandPower."InMichelFoucault: BeyondStructuralismandHermeneutics,editedbyH.Dreyfusand P.Rabinow,pp.208-226.2nded.Chicago:TheUniversityof ChicagoPress,1983. Gaventa,J.(2003).PowerafterLukes:Areviewoftheliterature, Brighton:InstituteofDevelopmentStudies.Jullian,Francois (1977),ThePropensityofThings:TowardaHistoryofEfficacyin China,MITPress Juarrero,Alicia(2002).DynamicsinAction,MITPress, Cambridge,Massachusettes Snowden, Dave,“Propensities,”CognitiveEdgeBlog Moncrieffe,J.(2006).“ThePowerofStigma:Encounterswith ‘StreetChildren’and‘Restavecs’inHaiti.”IDSBulletin37(6): 31-46. Rumelt,Richard,(2012)“GoodStrategyBadStrategy:The DifferenceandWhyitMatters,”ProfileBooksLtd VeneKlasen,L.andV.Miller(2002). ANewWeaveofPower, PeopleandPolitics:TheActionGuideforAdvocacyandCitizen Participation.OklahomaCity,WorldNeighbors. Wardley,Simon,“OnPioneers,Settlers,TownPlannersand Theft.” Wardley,Simon,“AnintroductiontoWardley(ValueChain) Mapping”
  51. 51. COLOPHON This talk was conceived and designed based on conversations and work done with Jabe Bloom from 2011 – 2016. All typefaces are from Heoffler & Jones. •  Header Text is in Vitesse Black •  Body Text is in Quarto Light •  Quotes are in Quarto Light Italic •  Labels and Body Text are in Open Sans
  52. 52. W I L L E VA N S @ S E M A N T I C W I L L E D I N B U R G H