Intended Strategy, Realized Strategy, and Emergent Strategy In Your Doctoral Research Efforts


Management or marketing strategies are a forecast and a pattern of actions relative to that forecast. Managers try to develop the routines, standard operating procedures, and structures to match the potential strategy.

An intended strategy is what you intend to happen a priori to the actions you are choosing to pursue. You try to plan out the long-term goals and action plans. For example, as an individual, you might make a plan to exercise more than 3 days a week, or as a firm, you might plan to introduce one new product every year.

A realized strategy is what really happens after the fact when you pursue a certain action, which is a function of an unintended or evolving strategy that occurs throughout the process of performing an action. Most of us never meet the goal of exercising three days a week, and managers might find it difficult to meet the goal of new products every year.

An emergent strategy is something that looks quite different from where you started but can bring you in new and exciting directions. They emerge from places that people never intended them to emerge from. For example, while you are exercising, you meet a workout friend who introduces you to the joys of knitting. Listen to what Dave had to say about strategic management theory in the following video:

This framework was first created to understand how firms perform actions within the organization, however, it has a lot of applications to understanding the creative process, the scholarly process, or life in general.

This post was written by Stephanie A. Bosco-Ruggiero (PhD candidate in Social Work at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service) and Jessica Russell (freelance writer and digital marketing consultant) on behalf of Dave Maslach for the R3ciprocity project (Check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world.

What is Intended Strategy?

In strategic management, we may be working as individuals, with a team, or a larger corporation.  In order to get deliberate outcomes with an intended strategy, we need a perfectly intended strategy, for everyone to work together, and to have nothing change in the environment. There must be a tremendous amount of order in the process. An intended strategy is the ideal but in real life nothing is that orderly.

You set the hypothesis, do the work, get the intended result. However, in science and work and life the hypothesis can’t always be proven. Sometimes this is realized after years of hard work. We start investigating and we start digging down both into the literature or we start looking at the context and collecting data and along the way what we set out to achieve or prove is off the mark and we must adjust.

Many things can go wrong. When you’re using a set of intentions or actions used to pursue a specific goal or reach an intended outcome; even if nothing is out of sorts and the environment is steady, expected outcomes may not be realized or the intended process of getting to those outcomes is no longer realistic. 

What is Realized Strategy?

With individualized work more often than not we end up with an adjusted, or what we can all, a realized strategy. It is more a reflection of reality. Realized strategy is what occurs when an actor is using its intended strategy to work toward a goal, where you have laid out responsibilities, and you have set your target, but then needed adjustments are made to match the environment. Even with a specific well thought out goal, variables can change and outcomes can be affected. 

What happens over time is actors’ views about the project change. Intended goals and strategies no longer fit, and team members begin moving in different directions. They begin reaching different outcomes from what was originally hypothesized. You developed a theory at the beginning and the team executed their actions based on that theory, but something happened along the way. 

It is important that individuals and teams adapt along the way. It is almost inevitable. To make the process of moving to a realized strategy more organized and coherent, record and make note of what was intended, what changed, and what is now happening. Dave recommends reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” by *Daniel Kahneman to understand more about decision-making. The author explains how when adaptations happen in decision-making you need to write down everything and be transparent to show how thought processes changed, new strategies emerged, and lessons were learned. 

The decision-maker, in thinking differently and working with other methods or directions, helped to take the project to a new realized direction and toward different outcomes. Your data points were expanded (different views) and your research methodology also expanded (different people/different method). What you thought you knew about your hypothesis has changed and you go about recording and proving the new strategy to verify the outcomes. Reacting to change and trying something new, brings about different outcomes. 

What is Emergent Strategy?

You can also be very entrepreneurial in the recognition that many things do not go your way, but you can take advantage of these as opportunities to adapt your project, research study, goals for a product, or approach. Again the key here is the willingness to learn about how to interpret and make sense of these changes.

An individual or team might have an intended scientific focus on what they want to accomplish, and a set of priorities; however, it is only after working within the intended or realized context, data, and methods that you know what you can accomplish. It is important to make note of these intended strategies because you can easily forget them as you work on your project. With emergent strategy your entire set of goals, strategies, data points, and outcomes may change, but the key is to be both deliberate and emergent; look for opportunities when they occur but be very systematic and transparent along the way.

The danger in not being transparent is that people are going to notice the goal, data, hypothesis, outcomes, etc. changed and peers can be very critical of your work. Whether your strategy was intended, realized or emergent, it’s important to keep a log, diary, or blog to record the exact particulars of your process. What changed, where it changed, and how you moved from A to Z. 

Peer feedback is meant to help you adapt and listen to what people are saying and doing, and suggesting. It is an important part of emergent strategy. When you spend years on a project and keep banging against the same wall, your strategy needs to change and evolve in a more appropriate direction than you originally envisioned. Your peers and professional colleagues will provide you with feedback that will help you realize a new direction is needed.

With emergent strategy, it makes more sense to change and evolve your approach with the data you’re seeing. You work on something very deliberately and have a plan of attack but do not stray too far from one particular direction to the next; this can hold you back. It is important to take advantage of those opportunities that emerge and move you in other directions. These moments are where you get insight into how the outcome changed based on the emerging data and research. 

With business strategy and research, you start with what you know, record what you are doing and learning, react to change, and try new avenues. Then you adapt to change and move past intentions that are not working and instead move towards new emerging opportunities.

If you really like this strategic management stuff you might want to consider studying it in depth: 

What are the applications of Strategic Management to Doctoral Work?

Strategic management has very clear applications for doctoral work. How many times have you begun with one idea for a course research paper (intended strategy), and went with that idea, until you realize you need to change course quickly. This happens when you  begin researching a topic and find there is a lot more data and research around it than you had realized before you conducted your literature review. You might also realize that your research question has been addressed, so you tweak your strategy and try a slightly different topic or research question. This is a newly realized strategy.

Emergent Strategy in Doctoral Work

Often in academia you work in a team, and the different views and approaches of team members result in a newly realized strategy. How many times have you worked with a team and struggled to come to a consensus about what you should be looking at for a project or research paper and how you should go about investigating the research question? What about coming to a consensus about a hypothesis? It can be very difficult territory — working and thinking with a team. You get frustrated and may even begin to distrust your team members if you feel they are on a very different page from your own thinking. Do not despair though, the strategic management process is how great ideas, projects, and findings emerge, even in academia.

The beauty of emergent strategy in doctoral work, whether it occurs with a team or for you as an individual, is you land someplace completely different from where you started but it comes together beautifully. All of the hard work you did during the intended and realized strategy phases were necessary to get you to this point. Some of the best academic ideas and products are the result of emergent strategy.

Nothing great comes easy, and you know that. Your best ideas and work come from phases of thinking, reconsidering, redrawing, reformulating, and sometimes even starting from scratch. But all of the work you put in before is not for naught. Your mind was churning away and coming up with new strategies, whether you realize it or not. 

What is Synergy and Creative Flow?

Emergent strategy in a team is very relevant to the concepts of synergy and flow. As noted it is important to document your change process and how changes in the thinking got you to your new emergent strategy. You also have to feel and experience the change as well. 

Think about the concept of synergy. This when different minds work together harmoniously to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The minds seem to develop a rhythm of working together and come up with ideas that might not have been realized by just one of the minds. 

Creative flow can occur when ideas and thinking becomes very smooth, quick, and seems to take on a life of its own. It feels like an out of body experience when it is happening to you. This, can also happen in groups, and working together becomes exciting and challenging at the same time. It is not groupthink, but can be an emergent state of creation that involves multiple minds getting things done effectively, creatively, and perhaps even with a sense of order and inevitability.

There is a lot of management literature on synergy and flow. Just do a google scholar search and you will find all the information you need. In the meantime here is a brief article from the BBC about the flow state which you might enjoy. 

However, the point is that when you are in a state of flow you are more likely to think about new ideas that you would not have, resulting in a greater chance of finding emergent strategies. Getting into the state of flow can be a challenge, but when you are in that state, embrace the possibility that you might identify a new and even better idea that you are currently working on.

How Does Strategic Management Apply to Writing a Dissertation?

Of course these strategies also apply to the process of getting your dissertation done. You begin with an intended topic and strategy, then that topic and strategy inevitably gets tweaked, and that is your realized strategy. Again, you want to document using a recorder or diary the process by which you moved from one idea and research question to the next. Reviewing the process in the future might help you with other difficult individual or team projects.

Then what happens for many of us is something completely different emerges. It can be painful and time consuming, but we end up where we need to be. An emergent strategy for a dissertation is where we end up with a wholly different set of research questions, hypotheses, and perhaps research strategies then where we began. It took a lot of sweat and tears, and this is why so many people take years to complete their dissertation – they keep changing strategies, but ultimately through the strategic process most students end up with a good plan. 

The endpoint of an emergent strategy often involves more than rewrites, adjusting methodology, changing research questions and hypotheses, it can also involve changes in committee structure. Many of us have an intended strategy for our committee, then we tweak the structure and that is our realized strategy. Then some of us have to really dismantle things and build a new committee that is more responsive to our needs. It can be a nerve wracking process but again we end up in a good place and where we need to be.

If your committee that you intended to serve you during the process of your dissertation is not responsive, hypercritical rather than providing constructive criticism, or falls apart due to faculty changes or illness, do not despair. There is a reason why your original committee did not work out. It was not serving you well and it may have lacked synergy. Get to the point of having a committee that feels right and supports you in the ways you need, and you will be on your way to success. Do not let a committee problem get in the way of your success or completion of your dissertation. Use some strategic management thinking to help it fall into place. 

References

* Kahneman D. 2011. Thinking, Fast And Slow. Penguin Books: London.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row.

Mintzberg H, Waters JA. 1985. Of strategies, deliberate and emergent. Strategic Management Journal 6(3): 257-272.

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