Crafting Strategy Henry Mintzberg

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Henry Mintzberg’s “Crafting Strategies” is based on conclusions from decades of research that tracked 11 organizations through important moves they made in the observed period. . Patterns were marked and lumped as strategies, graphically showing distinct periods of stability, flux, or global change. (Mintzberg:75) His thesis: strategizing is more of “crafting a strategy”– a potter shaping clay aware of her past experience and her future prospects as she performs her craft.


In contrast, the popular notion of bosses rationally and precisely plotting “strategy ” in corporate meetings is an inaccurate depiction of strategizing– and therefore misguides those who adhere to this notion uncritically. The article only seems to tilt towards an “emergent” approach to strategy. The author argues that a key to managing strategy is the ability to detect emerging patterns and to help them take shape.

A manager’s job is not merely to see ahead but to detect patterns and get involved when the time is ripe. (Mintzberg:74,75).

But Mintzberg also clarifies that all strategy making “walks on two feet: deliberate and emergent. ” Purely deliberate precludes learning, and purely emergent has no control. Neither approach makes sense, which explains why strategy means emergent and deliberate behavior. (69) Mintzberg’s theory therefore also aptly captures the ideal mix of the four archetypes of Richard Whittington’s classical, evolutionary, systemic, and processual schools of strategy.

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These archetypes are in fact meant as conceptual reference points, set up in descriptive archetypal quadrants that are not necessarily exclusive of each other.

Whittington’s Four Schools Of Strategy Examples

In his interpretive article, William Sheridan aptly applied Whittington’s conceptual framework. His summary of Whittington is this: that strategic thinking requires conceptual space in which there is room for different policies, tactics, and intelligence gathering. Within each strategic space, the four archetypal quadrants each stand up for different assumptions, goals, methods, and perspectives. Sheridan translated the four quadrants into their “operational core” as behavioral, institutional, societal, and cognitive.

He said strategic thinking now means anticipating and preparing for implications and consequences of present actions. Whether acting alone (classical), on behalf of another(evolutionary), or as adviser (processual), or as societal leader (systemic) , strategic thinking (considers ) the interests of all stakeholders “to protect systemic integrity”. (Sheridan: full article). Sheridan then intertwined Whittington and Mintzberg: The craft of strategy consists in identifying the mix of appropriate policies, deploying them as needed, and staying alert to the prospect that changing circumstances will require changing the mixture.

Citing Mintzberg, within the context of Whittington’s four schools of strategy, Sheridan summed up that strategy is not predominantly rational modeling nor formal planning, but rather an informed overview, of which the key factor is the “breadth of strategic thinking”– – also labeled as “wisdom” in Crafting Strategy. (Mintszberg: 69 ) Mintzberg’s theory captured the four archetypes of Richard Whittington’s classical, evolutionary, systemic, and processual schools of strategy– archetypes that characterized the potter as a craftman strategist.

Theoretical Underpinnings, Assumptions on strategy, business environment or organizations of the essay : Is the author’s worldview rational or based on logic/chaos/uncertainty? Are the assumptions realistic? In the book Critical Approaches to Strategic Management by David L. Levy, Mats Alvesson and Hugh Willmott the authors concede that much current thinking on strategic management is anchored on the work of Michael Porter and Henry Mintzberg. Mintzberg and colleagues (1998) with their ten schools and five definitions of strategy.

My own random survey of literature on strategic management shows the complexity of the task of “selecting” strategies, and the overload of very involved prescriptions and descriptions of strategy. Levy and group have panned against Mintzberg’s approach for its skeptical look on established classical and rational perspectives. They note that his views miss broader issues of domination and fail to scrutinize managerial assumptions. For example, Mintzberg’s view on power tends to look at this issue narrowly within an intra-organizational perspective that eschews broader social and political issues, according to these same authors.

Though Mintzberg shares the basic comprehensive perspective of Whittington, I believe his school of thinking shows a palpable emphasis on the micro side of strategic management. Under his method, broader social issues affecting management concerns ( for example , current issues as the Wall Street crash and our problems in Iraq, etc) would have to be relatively relegated to the rear ground, and this may not serve the end of strategic management. Sheridan is right that in terms of social insights, critical theorists of strategic management have the edge.

In the present essay, Mintzberg cited the example of GM as a large and complicated organization, describing the complexity and confusion that gets tucked under the veneer of strategic order —meetings, debates, dead ends, folding and unfolding of ideas as the company pursues its strategies. (68) From its lens, Crafting Strategy sees the reality hidden in the veneer of strategic order. As a craft theorist, one would see alternately a balance of chaos or order.

The craft theorist would therefore not just think of new clever strategies, but allow them to develop gradually. His strength would be in the intuitive balance, his espousal of both learning and controls, his responsiveness to the material at hand. (69) In this context the theory is receptive to application, creativity, and intervention. Crafting Strategy: Main strengths and weaknesses –Persuasive Power and Basis of Persuasion Within the framework of its own assumptions and findings, Henry Mintzberg’s “Crafting Strategy” has a persuasive expressive content.

It however presents a doubtful diminution of previous schools of strategic management , arguably presenting itself as a comprehensive modifying school of thought. (Sheridan: c. 2003). On the other hand it has yet to offer operational tools for managers confronted with, for example, labor unrest or racial inequity. Of course its adherents may argue that managers schooled in its perspective would have the sensitivity and other skills of the craft, but as negated by Levi et al, its relative de-emphasis on broader social issues may limit management leaders from the optimal application of established strategic tools.

If anything can be said on Crafting Strategy , it is that its arguments are always nuanced. For example, it upheld both the grass roots approach to strategic management, and its opposite, the hot house strategy, estimating Reality falls somewhere between the two. (68) There is however no evidence presented that traditional tools espoused by other schools of thought have necessarily become obsolete, even granting that those findings on the research basis of its thesis have been validated.

Also, the example of 11 observed firms may be a statistically insignificant in a universe of millions of counterparts in other countries. Finally I find the potter inadequate as a metaphorical parallel of corporate reality. The metaphor fails to capture the sophistication of managing complex emotions, social distinctions, biases, intrigues, competition in the marketplace, corporate politics, etc…that are the problems of strategic management.

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Crafting Strategy Henry Mintzberg. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Crafting Strategy Henry Mintzberg
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