Meta-strategies for 21st Century Leaders

yin and yang strategy

Yin and yang strategy

Strategy is a dance between “hard” approaches, which set direction, plan, and persevere, and “soft” approaches which sense, respond, and flex.  Lots of writing on strategy maintains one is better than the other, rise and fall like hemlines with “soft” strategies currently in vogue (emergent strategy, adaptive strategy, lean strategy, discovery-driven strategy).  The dichotomy is false, like the Chinese yin-yang symbol, hard strategic approaches must have an element of softness, and emergent strategies must have decisive direction.

Do you know your meta-strategy?

A cleverer and more nuanced approach to meta-strategy is proposed by the Boston Consulting Group.  They introduce four meta-strategic styles (classical, adaptive, visionary, and shaping) whose effectiveness is based on the industry predictability, and on malleability.   In pharmaceuticals, drug development may take a dozen years, but demand is relative predictability in some categories (for arthritis drugs, or anti-virals).  In malleable sectors, entire industries may be created or reshaped by a disruptive offering (such as the Ipad).

BCG combine those two dimensions in a sketch of how various industries are positioned along those dimensions and the type of meta-strategy indicated.   For the BCG article on which this is based, go here: BCG Strategy Article

Strategy as ecosystem dependent - from BCG


A classical approach favors traditional strategic planning, while an adaptive approach is more effective in fast-moving, fluid environments.  In some environments, new entrants and new products can quickly disrupt established competitors, and a shaping approach, which relies on a portfolio of experiments and rallying the ecosystem through new partnerships and alliances, will be most effective. (For example, social media.) Finally, a visionary approach sees clearly the writing on the wall, and reshapes the business to prosper in that environment.  BCG offer UPS seizing the surge in demand for delivery companies based on internet commerce, and envisioned themselves as enabler of global -commerce”.

In this strategist’s view, BCG’s work is among the most interesting developments in strategy thinking this decade.

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