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A conversation with Peter Compo

I had the privilege of talking* to Peter Compo this week about his first book: "The Emergent Approach to Strategy".

Peter has an interesting way of describing a strategy as a central rule for "busting" a bottleneck to achieve an aspiration.

The aspiration could be anything that might normally get described as mission, vision, purpose or strategic goal.

The bottleneck could be any internal issue or environmental factor which stops you from achieving it. He likened this to Richard Rumelt's crux The Crux, which in turn reminds me of Napoleon's Glance.

And the strategy, or central rule, dictates what you will (or won't do) to overcome the bottleneck to achieve the aspiration. Strategies emerge from the elimination of choices to overcome the bottleneck.

Peter then adds to his strategy scorecard measures of adherence to this central rule, along side the usual input, output and outcome measures.

"The Emergent Approach to Strategy" draws on Peter's experience growing up in a musical family (with a self-evident enthusiasm for Jazz improvisation) before getting a PhD in chemical engineering and then spending 25 years at Du Pont. At Du Pont, Peter was struck by how different the conventional  (very deliberate) approach to strategy was from the emergent approach he more intuitively understood from his study of complex adaptive systems.

He describes, for example, how Jazz musicians are very well versed and skilled in the rules of music, but that the actual music performed emerges from an improvisation in accordance with those rules. In a similar way, organisations can set and adhere to strategy, but that the outcomes achieved emerge from doing so. The rules are rigid - the outcomes not.

In business we are inclined to do the opposite. We are rigid and set rules around outcomes (casting budgets and financial targets in stone) and then allow greater degrees of low-level freedom to those who must pursue them.

In strategy, perhaps less so than in music, we recognise that the rules - the strategy - must be changed once the bottleneck is "bust" (and a new bottleneck is revealed) or it becomes apparent that they are no longer the right rules to bust it.

The Emergent Approach to Strategy is a dense and carefully thought through approach which is well worth reading. Peter told me he is already planning his second book. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

* This conversation was part of the #StratChat series - you can find out more and sign up to participate here.

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