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the acquiescence of top management

planning as ‘a formalized system for codifying, elaborating and operationalizing the strategies which companies already have’. In contrast, strategy is either an ‘emergent’ pattern or a deliberate ‘perspective’. Mintzberg argues that strategy cannot be planned. While planning is concerned with analysis, strategy making is concerned with synthesis. Planners are not redundant but are only valuable as strategy finders, analysts and catalysts. They are supporters of line managers, forever questioning rather than providing automatic answers. Their most effective role is in unearthing ‘fledgling strategies in unexpected pockets of the organization so that consideration can be given to (expanding) them’.

Mintzberg identifies three central pitfalls to today’s strategy planning practices.

First, the assumption that discontinuities can be predicated. Forecasting techniques are limited by the fact that they tend to assume that the future will resemble the past. This gives artificial reassurance and creates strategies which are liable to disintegrate as they are overtaken by events.

He points out that our passion for planning mostly flourishes during stable times such as in the 1960s. Confronted by a new world order, planners are left seeking to re-create a long-forgotten past.

Second, that planners are detached from the reality of the organization. Mintzberg is critical of the ‘assumption of detachment’. ‘If the system does the thinking,’ he writes, ‘the thought must be detached from the action, strategy from operations, (and) ostensible thinkers from doers. … It is this disassociation of thinking from acting that lies close to the root of (strategic planning’s) problem.’

Planners have traditionally been obsessed with gathering hard data on their industry, markets, competitors. Soft data – networks of contacts, talking with customers, suppliers and employees, using intuition and using the grapevine – have all but been ignored.

Mintzberg points out that much of what is considered ‘hard’ data is often anything but. There is a ‘soft underbelly of hard data’, typified by the fallacy of ‘measuring what’s measurable’. The results are limiting, for example a pronounced tendency ‘to favor cost leadership strategies (emphasizing operating efficiencies, which are generally measurable) over product-leadership strategies (emphasizing innovative design or high quality, which tends to be less measurable)’.

To gain real and useful understanding of an organization’s competitive situation soft data needs to be dynamically integrated into the planning process. ‘Strategy-making is an immensely complex process involving the most sophisticated, subtle and at times subconscious of human cognitive and social processes,’ writes Mintzberg. ‘While hard data may inform the intellect, it is largely soft data that generate wisdom. They may be difficult to “analyze”, but they are indispensable for synthesis – the key to strategy making.’