Rethinking business strategy for a sustainable future
A new logic is now required in the formulation of business strategies, a logic that recognizes the holistic and dynamic environment organisations are required to operate in.
This is a guest article written by Maria Moraes Robinson, a consultant, lecturer and co-author of Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, Strategy Management: Experiences and Lessons of Brazilian Companies and The Strategic Activist.
Each year thousands of organisations engage in a strategic planning process. This includes adapting the existing strategy and rethinking fundamental assumptions, a process which involves many people from various departments and levels of leadership. Traditionally, the approach involves a study of future scenarios, an assessment of external and internal environments, a competitor analysis, a risk assessment, a SWOT analysis, and the definition of strategic guidelines for future project decision making.
These strategy practices were developed within the old logic of yesterday’s paradigm where the world is viewed as linear, hierarchic, predictable and controllable. For the volatile world organisations now face, we find such a logic becoming less and less effective. And so this annual ritual is now being questioned. Because of an increasingly complex, and at times chaotic, reality few organisations are managing to achieve their strategic goals that yesterday’s methodologies “guarantee”. Yet the problem is not solely with the outdated methodologies, but also with the way in which decision-makers make sense of reality. While decision-makers of yesterday were comfortable with the linear, atomised and fragmented approach to the definition and updating of their strategy, they now have to consider a level of dynamism which this linear affair largely overlooks.
There is now, therefore, an urgent need for a new way to develop the planning and management of strategy which is more in tune with reality. In our book Holonomics: Business where People and Planet Matter we discuss the need for an expansion of consciousness in business which we term ‘holonomic thinking’. If we can somehow expand our way of seeing, we are then given a choice as to how we see and understand complex scenarios. Do we see it in terms of its parts, which of course we often need to, or can we see the interrelations too? This is not the same thing as seeing the whole system, where we simply try to increase the number of parts or dimensions that we wish to model, describe, or understand in order to get a better picture of the system.
The development of strategy therefore not only requires leaders to apply systems thinking, but also to understand complex scenarios, and for this they need to make sense of reality at the deepest level. Humility becomes a powerful characteristic of leaders, since by softening the ego’s incessancy for control and linearity leaders can jettison prejudices and preconditions that no longer apply to the new horizons. Not only does prediction become more and more difficult across ever shrinking planning cycles, but sense-making in relation to understanding future scenarios becomes ever more not just a collective process, but a process of co-creation.
A new mental operating system is now necessary to deal with these new challenges. Holonomic thinking can play a key role in the shift of consciousness of business leaders and decision makers by empowering them with a dynamic way of seeing the world. Those businesses and organisations which are successful in the future will be the ones who understand that the difficulty with predicting scenarios in a complex world is actually an invitation to co-create these future scenarios.
Holonomic thinking is based on the dynamic and organic systems we find in Nature as well as being deeply rooted with the foundations of five universal human values – peace, truth, love, non-violence and right action. We are now beginning to see the emergence of enlightened organisations which understand the value of business strategies which acknowledge the preservation and evolution of life.
Planning, managing and redesigning the strategy becomes a natural process which is assimilated into the day-by-day activities of the organisation, which itself is conscious of its role in a dynamic co-created future. Co-creating future scenarios now becomes innovation which itself becomes sustainability and the life force of the organisation.
Maria Moraes Robinson is an economist and consultant in strategy, change management and the Balanced Scorecard methodology. Her current work is focused on developing innovative new business courses which integrate the teachings and philosophy of Schumacher College, human values in education, and insights from complexity science with business strategy, change management, process and organisational redesign.