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What´s up with water: Pouring water in your corporate strategy. Strategic agility has been misunderstood (XXI)

 Have a beautiful, stunning, fantastic, and marvelous weekend to cherish and treasure your loved ones. Today we will try to demystify the term “strategic agility”. If you notice, we started this week with an introduction to the definition of “strategic agility”. That was our last post content. We still have not baptized it as a theory in our saga´s content. We still have not offered it, the status of a formal strategy framework, and we still have not blessed it with our stamp of approval. Alors, this is our first bold statement for today.  Our prognostication at this stage (we will discover why during the following weeks) is that “strategic agility”, is not a theory and it is very far from becoming one. That is why you will read here that we relate to it as a “notion”. Let´s explore what is a theory, so you can understand what are we talking about.

What is a theory? A theory is a systematically organized knowledge applicable in a wide variety of circumstances. It is a system of assumptions, principles, rules, and procedures devised to analyze, predict or otherwise explain the nature or behavior of a specified phenomenon.  For a theory to occur, in terms of management as a science, and specifically in terms of strategy, it requires a Design-Based Research process (DBR) of several decades in different industries (probably in all).  Additionally, any Ph.D. who is sitting in a tenured chair as a business professor in any business school needs certain strict logic for theory building.  One thing is to write a book or a paper that hits the heart of enterprise decision-makers, or a book that becomes a “best-seller”. But another one is to adopt it as the norm for everything when we find uncertain times, and much more is a mistake to use it in corporate strategy.

We are so desperate for “good theory” in management. Why? Because we have applied the wrong ones since the 1970s. And it is not my culpability, nor any of the professors of strategy fault either. I encountered Professor Sumantra Ghoshal in 2005 in London, and he was beginning to evangelize that things needed to change. So it is nobody´s fault. It is simply that our civilization is coming from thousands of years in which strategy was confused or intertwined with military conflicts, contests and wars. To leave that stage in our history, will take a lot of time. We have a lot to change in strategy frameworks, but a lot to do, radically. We have to start with our brains: to think about human well-being through cooperation instead of competitive advantage.

In the case of management as a science, I would like you to explore slide number 3, which is also coming from a personal point of view published (1) in the Journal of Supply Chain Management (2008). From this slide, we asked ourselves the following question: Is “strategic agility” a theory?.  And from there, we also asked ourselves if it is not a theory, then why is the business world using it as a “theory”?

So, is “strategic agility” a theory? Or is it simply a notion (not even a hypothesis) that came out as a result of an experiment that NOKIA did between 1988 to 2008? A “notion” is merely an opinion or an idea, a mental image or representation, that still has not arrived yet to become a “concept”. And just because of that early stage development of “strategic agility” evolution, we have to be cautious enough to don´t use it in general.  In consequence, for the purpose of this saga, valiantly, we wish to set it where it has to be: “strategic agility” is a notion that is in the process to be tested if it can become a theory in management. But still is not

If strategic agility is not a theory, then why on earth is taught in business schools as if it is the ultimate paradox for managers and even for corporate strategists to solve management issues? Why was “strategic agility” utilized as a “cutting edge” course at business schools during the last decade? Are we on the same page?  From our research, at least at this moment in time, “strategic agility” is not yet in the position of becoming a theory. And we don´t know if it is a good theory too.

Strategic agility has been misunderstood. The lack of new frameworks that can replace or evolve from the traditional theories of corporate strategy linked to competitive advantage, has positioned notions such as the “blue strategy” and “strategic agility”, as theories, when in reality these are not.

How many times do a book and an academic paper with some views (based on experiments or observations about specific companies in a particular context) end up being rolled out as the new bible of business?. It is extremely silly, sometimes we land into ill madness,  to spread or broaden a simple notion coming from studious business authors as theories when in reality these notions are still in the “Valley of death” stage and are required to go through a scientific long process (if using design-based research loops -DBR- for several decades).

Strategic agility is not a theory in management, nor in corporate strategy yet. The Doz-Kosonen inputs from INSEAD are their contribution to trying to establish a new theory, but they already know, that even their material lacks the “theory” factor.  In addition, it can´t be a theory, because it comes from observations of one single industry: mobile or digital communications at the information technologies level. Be sure that I am not in any way dismissing disrespectfully the findings of Doz-Kosonen, and I am also not putting their work down. What I am trying to say is that “strategic agility” is an idea or a notion, but not a theory.

Water is all around us. In everything we do. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Photo Source: Microsoft Office Library.

Is strategic agility a notion that might be utilized to solve the issues of the water cycle in corporate strategy? We answer this question today with another question: If “strategic agility” is not a theory yet, why are we using it to justify certain decisions at the corporate level when we face uncertain times? Moreover, if Doz-Kosonen has established boundaries of their original idea only for technology companies such as Intel, Cisco, SAP, NOKIA, IBM, or HP, then why are we considering it as a theory to teach (2) at the corporate strategy level?

We will continue exploring the “strategic agility” waves to address this question in our next episodes. In our next episode, we will land into explaining to you the meaning of the three meta-capabilities of the strategic agility notion, its drivers, side-effects, and key enablers. At the end of this saga, we expect to give you our verdict. Stay tuned.

Our next subject: Strategic agility is beyond supply chain management.

Strategic Music Section:

Why did we choose Simon Blendis?

We selected Mr. Blendis because he shows us what is the meaning of taking a legacy from someone Max Jaffa. Please read Simon´s biography here: Twenty-two years ago, the widow of Max Jaffa (a great violin virtuoso of the XX century), contacted Blendis because she wanted to sell his late husband’s violin, a 1704 Pietro Guarneri of Mantua. Six years later, Blendis bought it. Then, Simon received a legacy from the Jaffa family in some boxes: it was Max´s sheet music library, a collection of 250 violin arrangements and other random sheet music. With the pandemic lockdown, Blendis was able to go through these boxes and discovered old treasures, which were not been published nor recorded before. This month, the resulting CD of Jaffa´s music came into life,  through the hands of Blendis and his wife (also a pianist). The song “Love is like a violin” is one of those pieces.  From this experience, we have learned that the importance of taking a legacy from a master, goes beyond keeping it alive but on how to play it much better using the same instrument, capturing the essence and the spirit of the genius. Blendis received the box of music, only when Jaffa´s family was sure that he was going to appreciate it and put it on stage again.  In summary: good oldies, in theory, are never out of fashion, their legacy stands all the challenges of time. In practice, there is always a pupil who retakes the legacy of his master and never lets it die. Only the master (and his or her family) knows who will be the right person to continue with his/her legacy.

Songs of today are interpreted by Francesca Dego. The first video is the introduction of her incursion to play with Paganini’s violin, and she explains the what, how, when, who, and the whereabouts of why is she going to enter Paganini’s territories. The second video is the song that I enjoyed the most of Paganini’s oeuvre interpreted in the hands of Francesca. The artwork’s name is Cantabile for Violin and Piano in D Major, Op. 17. Enjoy the exquisite execution of this lovely violin! And by the way, don´t consider Paganini a devil, it is just a myth. Happy weekend.

See you next Tuesday, with the 22nd episode of “What´s up with water: Pouring water in your corporate strategy: Strategic agility is beyond the supply chain management”. Thank you for reading to me.

“Violin Maya”. An aquarelle exercise by Eleonora Escalante 2019. I started to paint this artwork in Starbucks Los Proceres, San Salvador. Size: 48 cm x 68 cm

Sources of Reference utilized to prepare the slides and the material above:



Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated. 

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