My thoughts about strategy are influenced by Mintzberg, who sees strategy formulation as an emergent process of trial and error that takes place during implementation. A company may start with a broad-brush deliberate strategy, but this strategy often overlooks some significant issues and risks.
These weaknesses need to be addressed as part of the execution of the strategy. Thus a more complete and correct strategy emerges out of the execution process.
Senior management sometimes take a long time to recognize and acknowledge the fact that the defacto (emergent) strategy is now better than the original (deliberate) strategy. And in some companies the original strategy is so bad, and the senior management so pig-headed, that there is little chance of a more sensible strategy emerging.
In order to see strategy and execution as co-evolving, we need to link both strategy and execution to outcomes. If the outcomes turn out unsatisfactory, it is surely a subjective judgement whether this is blamed on weak strategy or weak execution. And if the overall outcomes turn out to be satisfactory then we may suppose that any weakness in strategy was compensated by excellent execution, and any weakness in execution was compensated by brilliant strategy.
This of course depends on our notion of excellence. Some people might think that perfect execution means doing exactly what it says in the strategy, no more or less. Alternatively, we might define excellence in terms of achieving the best possible outcomes, thus excellent execution may need to depart from the official strategy if that's what it takes.
Which brings me to Nassim Nicholas Taleb's notion of antifragility. If fragility means that something is harmed when bad things happen, antifragility means that something becomes better or stronger when bad things happen.
So let me try to apply this notion to the current discussion. A fragile strategy is one that would fail if there are any deviations in execution. A robust strategy is one that would be unaffected by the quality of the execution. And an antifragile strategy is one that would grow better with deviations in execution.
Partly based on my contributions to a Linked-In discussion I wonder what the EA team is doing? (One person has deleted his contributions, so the discussion as a whole no longer makes much sense.) See also Fragile Strategy or Fragile Execution? via Storify.
Carole Cadwalladr, Nassim Taleb: my rules for life (The Observer, 24 Nov 2012)
John Crace, Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – digested read (The Guardian, 2 Dec 2012)
David Runciman, Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don't Understand by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – review (The Guardian, 21 Nov 2012)