The Classical and Emergent Perspectives in Strategic Management

Strategic management can be viewed through two broad lenses – the classical and emergent perspectives. The classical perspective sees strategy as a rational, linear process where objectives and plans are formulated in a top-down manner by leadership. In contrast, the emergent perspective recognizes that circumstances change and strategies must be flexible to adapt.

The classical perspective is based on the idea that strategies can be carefully planned and implemented through a systematic process. This involves analyzing external and internal factors, crafting a vision and mission, setting objectives and goals, identifying strategies, and then implementing action plans. The rational model is a classic example of this perspective, breaking strategy down into distinct sequential stages.

While providing structure, the classical perspective has been criticized for being too rigid and failing to account for unpredictability. In reality, new challenges, opportunities, and competitor actions arise that require agility. The business environment is also complex with many interdependencies that are hard to fully analyze and predict outcomes from planned strategies.

The emergent perspective acknowledges that strategies emerge over time through a process of trial and error as situations unfold. Strategies develop iteratively rather than through a pre-determined sequence. Managers shape options by making ongoing adjustments based on learning, experiments, and responses to changes. Both intended and unintended consequences influence future actions in an emergent process.

In practice, most companies take a blended approach, recognizing the value of both planning and flexibility. Core objectives and priorities are established through classical analysis and planning. However, managers also stay attuned to the market to spot new opportunities or threats and make adjustments accordingly. Emergent learning is incorporated back into ongoing planning cycles to refine strategies. This balanced, adaptive approach aims to harness the benefits of structure with the ability to adapt.

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