Strategy and the art of the possible

We have a new essay published by Deloitte InsightsStrategy and the art of the possible.1Evans-Greenwood, Peter, and Giselle Hodgson. “Strategy and the Art of the Possible: How Listening to the Business Ecosystem Can Turn Unpredictability into Opportunity.” Deloitte Insights, July 6, 2022. This essay is the result of us pulling together a few threads that we’d been exploring in other areas. The most recent of these was Negotiating the digital-ready organisation,2Evans-Greenwood, Peter, Alex Bennett, and Sue Solly. “Negotiating the Digital-Ready Organization.” Deloitte Insights, March 30, 2022. where we explored the idea of thinking about the digital workplace in terms of three interrelated ecosystems: the human, place and digital. One could view this essay as the intersection of that ecosystems view with idea of the extended mind3Clarke, Andy, and David Chalmers. “The Extended Mind.” Anaylsis 58, no. 1 (January 1998): 7–19. that has been popping up in quite a bit of our other work—such as being one of the underlying themes in our recent series on creativity in business.4Evans-Greenwood, Peter, Robbie Robertson, Robert Hillard, and Peter Williams. “Unshackling the Creative Business: Breaking the Tradeoff between Creativity and Efficiency.” Deloitte Insights, April 9, 2021.; Evans-Greenwood, Peter, Robbie Robertson, Robert Hillard, and Peter Williams. “Setting the Stage for Creative Performance.” Deloitte Insights, October 29, 2021.; and Evans-Greenwood, Peter, Robert Hillard, Robbie Robertson, Peter Williams, and Matt Lawson. “Investing in Creative Potential.” Deloitte Insights, May 4, 2022.

The extended mind is an idea from research psychology, the result of asking the question “Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?”5Ibid. The usual answer is that we “think in our heads” or, at least, within our skin. Another school of thought sees our words, the concepts we think with, as being anchored in the world around us—we use the world around us to shape our thinking. The extended mind is a third option, where our thinking is shaped by our interactions with the world around us. We act to decide, not decide to act. For example, we don’t estimate the trajectory of a tossed ball and run to where we expect it to land. Rather we move in relation to the ball’s movement and the environment around us to improve our options to the point that eventually one option (one possibility) becomes so compelling (an actuality) that we commit to it.6Wilson, Andrew D. and Sabrina Golonka, “Prospective control I: The outfielder problem,” Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists (blog), October 9, 2011.

If we think about organisations in terms of overlapping ecosystems then this raises interesting questions about what occurs inside an organisation, and what occurs outside it. Particularly as these ecosystems extend well beyond an organisation’s walls. This is a world where workers form heterogeneous teams to address problems that are only visible locally, weaving together a range of digital tools and platforms and places to work digitally. There’s an obvious overlap between this view and the extended mind. Where does a firm do it’s thinking: in head office via the strategy and formation, or out in the ecosystem, beyond the walls of the organisation? Where do we draw the line between strategy and operations?

When we think about how organisations, firms, form and function we tend to reach for Ronald Coase and his The nature of the firm,7Coase, R. H. “The Nature of the Firm.” Economica 4, no. 16 (November 1937): 386–405. which frames the discussion in terms of the lone entrepreneur and the decision to employ works or contract for the work to be done. In this digital age we live in it might be more productive to think in terms of the extended firm. The ecosystems organisations have built around themselves have developed from tools to extend a firms external capabilities, to define much of what a firm can do. Strategy and operations and intertwined and extend well beyond the ‘head’ of head office, and rather than decide to act, we need to act to decide. This has interesting implications how leaders should respond to the challenging environment we find ourselves in today, and even raises important questions about what leaderships means.

You can find Strategy and the art of the possible over at Deloitte Insights.