Strategy as a Pattern of Investments

Yesterday during the #hackaction Twitter stream, a few of us geeked out and admitted how much we like the writing of Umair Haque. He blogs on the Harvard Business Review site and writes about very interesting things like being "disruptively good." 

In a recent post, he wrote about ways to challenge the dogma of an industry. You know, the "we've always done it that way" stuff. His main lesson was about the need to challenge, rather than comply, in order to get new levels of performance. 

And one of the things he suggested challenging was strategy. He was making an argument similar to that of Blue Ocean Strategy by showing how Apple, as an example, invests more heavily in usability and design than its rivals, who viewed design as a "cost center." Apple challenged the dogma as part of getting great results.

But what really caught my attention in his post was a quick definition of strategy that he provided: 

"Think of strategy as a pattern of investments a firm makes."

For a complex topic, that's one of the best one-line descriptions I've seen. Every organization has a pattern of investment. I suppose some could be totally random patterns, thus they don't have strategy. But most have a pattern. They are choosing to invest in certain areas over others in order to succeed.

And note that it's not a color. Strategy is not one single investment over another. It's a pattern. All patterns have lots of colors. But patterns have a rhythm and a direction and a flow. 

So tell me, my association friends: what is your pattern of investments? Let me guess. It's membership/marketing, meetings, education, advocacy? I feel like our community takes the pattern for granted. We all take pages out of the same coloring book, and then strive to color between the lines the most effectively. We're good at coloring, but we don't understand art. 

We need to develop our capacity to work with--and alter--patterns. And the store-bought coloring books we are using are not helping us to develop that capacity. It's not about a completely blank canvas either. We can start from the pattern we have right now. But we need to make investments differently, and in ways that likely cut across the lines that have been established over the past several decades. 

Simple pattern credit.

Complex pattern credit.

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  1. 03.07.2010 at 7:34 am

    Excellent post! Your use of pattern fits well with this definition of patterns in human systems: “similarities, differences, and relationships that have mean across space and time” from Glenda Eoyang of . Once you sense the “art” of the patterns, you find a lot more options to consider in working with and changing the patterns.

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