Culture eats strategy

Any strategy is a commitment to what is going to happen. A strategy is built upon projections, assumptions and yet-to-be-proven premises. There's no way a strategy can leave everything up in the air and make a move toward a desired future. The role of improvising, that I explored on Friday, must be partial, not comprehensive. Sustainability requires lots of stability and continuity, as well as adaptability and spontaneity.

This underlying set of commitments makes strategies extremely edible to a variety of cultures that impact the success and survival of an enterprise. This pattern of "culture eating strategy" is most evident at the aggregate scale of industry players, but it also applies to us individually.

The difficulty with addressing this issue is how invisible culture is to each of us. We get captivated by our own cultures. We take them for granted and assume there's nothing to question about their influences on us. It's in that way that they begin to nibble on strategies and eventually eat them for breakfast lunch or dinner.

Strategies for breakfast: The consumer culture is aware it's a new day. With all the new toys and tools buzzing about, it's time for a sunrise breakfast. The glut of innovations, welcomed changes and trends make it easy to devour slightly obsolete product and service strategies with caffeinated gusto. The high churn world of new fads and faces gets easily made into toast.

Strategies for lunch: The incumbent culture of established enterprises, industry standards and barriers-to-entry -- eagerly chows down on start-up strategies for lunch. For incumbents, it's the middle of the day with no sunset anytime soon. The incumbent culture seasons large helpings of new value propositions, business models and market niches with snarky cynicism about what's "realistically" in-demand, marketable and profitable.

Strategies for dinner: The internal, bureaucratic culture of established enterprises consumes their own strategy changes for dinner. The end is near - just as they fear. It's time to dig in their heels and protect their fragile business-as-usual. No cost-cutting, right-sizing or increased efficiencies will pass the test of "invented here" or "good for job security". New strategies are seen as "dead enough to stick a fork in them" before they're ever announced by top execs as "the only way to survive".

With three different cultures functioning as hungry predators, strategy formulation needs some heavy-duty biomimicry in order to survive the jungle out there. Besides the conventional fight or flight, there's camouflage, deterrence, evasion, stalking and coordinated flank attacks.


  1. Nice analogies. However, you also need to recognize that the basis of culture is the values and beliefs that a person holds. If we were to discard our values easily, then we would soon lose ourselves and our self identities.

    I perceive the culture roles (and thus how they influence strategies) as multi layered (see Betty Colis). The only time we recognize our culture is when other cultures come in contact with our own system of values and beliefs and create cognitive dissonance. So yes, that is when our assumptions are questioned and we even recognize that we are making assumptions based on our culture. That is when "strategy formulation needs some heavy-duty biomimicry in order to survive the jungle out there. Besides the conventional fight or flight, there's camouflage, deterrence, evasion, stalking and coordinated flank attacks." It is then a struggle between the various cultures (i.e. professional, ethnic, organizational, education or training, main-stream, community, personal) that a person moves in to decide which one will dominate in a specific circumstance. Sometimes (as when your company asks you to do something you personally find is against your values) you will choose the personal culture over an organizational culture, at which time you will use one of the stategies listed above (camouflage, deterrence, evasion, etc...).

  2. Thanks for adding the "values and beliefs" dimensions to "cultural influences" Virginia. That improves what I'm saying and facilitates applying this eating pattern at a personal scale.

    I suspect that cognitive dissonance is a delayed reaction to values conflicts as we're very inclined to make ourselves right, find fault in others and avoid that discomforting dissonance. I'm hoping there will be fewer dynamics of a dominant culture seeking to co-opt personal values as the explosion of online self expression establishes a norm of beneficial diversity and useful tolerance of differences.

    Thanks for the thoughtful additions!