Strategy without Design: The Silent Efficacy of Indirect Action

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Strategy exhibits a pervasive commitment to the belief that the best approach to adopt in dealing with affairs of the world is to confront, overcome and subjugate things to conform to our will, control and eventual mastery. Performance is about sustaining distinctiveness. This direct and deliberate approach draws inspiration from ancient Greek roots and has become orthodoxy. Yet there are downsides. This book shows why. Using examples from the world of business, economics, military strategy, politics and philosophy, it argues that success may inadvertently emerge from the everyday coping actions of a multitude of individuals, none of whom intended to contribute to any preconceived design. A consequence of this claim is that a paradox exists in strategic interventions, one that no strategist can afford to ignore. The more single-mindedly a strategic goal is sought, the more likely such calculated instrumental action eventually works to undermine its own initial success.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The title of this extraordinary book encapsulates the authors’ central argument. Robert Chia and Robin Holt are asking us to reconsider orthodox views of strategy-making in favour of an alternative perspective. The focus of their critique is the widespread assumption that the heartland of strategy is the pursuit of ‘grand’ designs. This may look like familiar territory, but the authors are careful to acknowledge their main precursors and to make a clear case for theoretical reappraisal.”
– Richard Blundel, The Open University, Business History

“A penetrating and revealing analysis of the inner nature of strategy in a rich range of social and economic contexts. The authors draw on a wealth of theoretical sources and practical examples to show that strategy is more a virtual, unfolding experience than a consciously planned operation. In short, the book compels us to think much more subtly and comprehensively about the latent forces that drive human agency.”
– Robert Cooper, Keele University

“Strategy without Design is a provocative contribution to developing alternative ways of thinking about how organizations evolve and what the practice of strategic management means in this evolution. We are all experiencing a financial crisis and recession, the scale and consequences of which were unpredictable even a few months ago. They are not the realization of any strategic intention. It is therefore now more important than ever to develop new insights into organizational functioning. This book presents an understanding of strategy as emergent patterns of action and draws our attention to the importance of ordinary, everyday interaction between people in organizations in producing such emergent patterns.”
– Ralph Stacey, Hertfordshire University Business School

“I cannot remember when I last read an eye-opening book on strategy. But I do know that, most likely, this book tops the list. There is refreshing open-mindedness here, along with conceptual boldness, a strong inter-disciplinary orientation, philosophical sophistication, and a willingness to see strategy in a non-conventional way (as immersed wayfinding, spontaneously emerging order, non-purposeful action). I particularly value the emphasis on ecological awareness, on process thinking and complexity that form the three main sources of inspiration for the book. Robert Chia and Robin Holt have done more than write a brilliant book: they have provided us the ingredients for a new kind of complex thinking we so much need in studies of strategy and management.”
– Haridimos Tsoukas, ALBA Graduate Business School – Athens and University of Warwick

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521895507
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2009
  • Pages: 260
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface; Introduction; 1. Spontaneous order: the roots of strategy emergence; 2. Economic agency and steps to ecological awareness; 3. Reconceptualizing agency, self-interest and purposeful action; 4. The 'practice turn' in strategy research; 5. Building and dwelling: two ways of investigating strategy practice; 6. Strategy as immersed 'wayfinding'; 7. The silent efficacy of indirect action; Epilogue: negative capability; Index.

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