Roger Martin on Strategy by Discovery

Peter JonesStrategic Innovation

Roger Martin’s current post on the HBR Blog offers a brief discussion on the profound concept and method of interactive strategy. Help Leaders Be Less Useless at Strategy suggests managers (and those of us aiding them) adopt a early review of framing, strategic challenges, and priorities and options. Consistent with “Decision Design,” Roger shows how an iterative, cyclic, feedback-driven approach to strategy making would help organizational leaders build more focused and resilient strategies that avoid blind alleys, fixation, the garden path of easy approvals.

We will be well-served if the companies (and societal services) we care about take this approach seriously. The recommendations in a nutshell:

 Instead, construct a more productive series of interactions on strategy:

  • Go early with the framing of the strategy challenge that you want to tackle. Ask your leader whether there is a different way he or she would frame the challenge that you should be working on.
  • Go back with the possibilities you generate. Ask your leader whether there might be different possibilities he or she would consider or ones on your list that he/she sees as unacceptable on their face.
  • Return a third time when you have reverse-engineered the possibilities to determine what you believe would have to be true and have identified which of those things that you feel are least likely to hold true. Ask the leader whether there are additional conditions that would have to hold true and about which are they most skeptical.

I’d frame his approach as strategic discovery, as it suggests a process aligned with Gary Klein’s Management by Discovery approach to strategic decision making. We can never understand all the possible impacts and consequences of positions and choices. For complex, high-consequence environments, we should frame strategy as an inquiry of discovery, allowing a team of deeply-invested by dissimilar advisors to consider options and their influences and outcomes as a series of interactive dialogic encounters.