This special issue will focus on changes in business and related strategy – in practice, theory and research – during the past twenty-one years. More specifically, the issue seeks to explore the relationship between business strategy in practice and academic theory and research in a field that, generally speaking, began in the 1960s with, in particular, Igor Ansoff, and the Business Policy group at Harvard Business School.
These concerns were examined by Trevor Williams in "The End of Strategy", the lead article in a special issue of the international policy journal Futures in May 1994. In looking at the history and the current state of strategy, the article and special issue as a whole questioned whether it was valid or useful to make a distinction between, on the one hand, practice and, on the other hand, academic theory and research.
More recently, in the 50th Anniversary Edition of the McKinsey Quarterly (2014, Number 3), Ghemawat detects a worsening disconnect between "what companies want from strategy" and "current conversations among strategy researchers in academia". Going further, in Business Strategy: Uncertainty, Opportunity and Enterprise, Spender wondered whether "… a book on business strategy [should] be informing its readers about academics' work? If so, I have failed completely. Everything I have done is to stand all available theory on its head to show what it does not do". Is Spender's judgment useful?
In examining claims for practical novelty and significance, we should not, perhaps, be too concerned to be merely polite. For example, the so-called "Strategy-as-Practice" "turn" has been claimed, as illustrated by the publication of a Cambridge Handbook, to be significant. But its underlying motivation is bogus. Imagine a telephone conversation:
Caller: "I wish to speak to your company."
Receptionist: "Who in particular would you like to speak to?"
Caller: "No, no. You don't understand. Your company's annual report states that your company has a strategy. I wish to speak to your company, not to a human representative."
The notion that, in practice, anybody believes and acts as if strategy could exist independently of human agency is bizarre. It is an academic fantasy. And since nobody in practice could behave as if strategy could be anything other than what people do, the need for a new “domain” of interest is, to put it mildly, suspect. But, whether or not any good will come from the strategy-as-practice "turn" in strategy research, was the diagnosis of an earlier academic turning away from what people do in strategy correct? If so, what had led to that turning away?
In considering strategy over the last twenty-one years, some questions that arise may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- What, in practice, has happened to business models in the world over the last twenty-one years?
- Has technology - including but not limited to information technology - been the main "driver"?
- Have genuinely new organisational forms appeared?
- Does twentieth century science, and the science of the new millennium, have something useful to contribute to business strategy?
- While knowing that the future cannot be predicted, i.e. foretold with certainty, what sorts of developments might be envisaged? Are there any credible and useful "scenarios" for the development of business strategy?
- In Mintzbergian terms, how have "strategies" in business and other organisations been in practice "formed"?
- Has "strategic planning" survived in any recognisable form?
- Is the attempted newish brand from INSEAD, so-called "Blue Ocean" thinking, both new and significant?
- Is there any validity in the not infrequent current claim that both the pace of change and the extent of "turbulence" have increased and are continuing to increase? In the context of, say, the last two hundred years, what is the evidence?
- How, if at all, has the teaching of "strategy" changed?
- Have successive editions of textbooks changed significantly?
- Is Freedman (Strategy: a History, 2013) correct in identifying common elements in strategy in war, politics and business - and in his account of the history of business strategy?
- How, in practice, have managers responded to Ackoff's (somewhat ponderous) question, "What in the world is going on in the world?"?
- And, for example, are Nonaka and Zhichang correct (in Pragmatic Strategy, 2012) in identifying a four-fold shift in the environment of business?
- Has "systems thinking" become, in practice, influential? And have any other "...ologies"?
Submission of manuscripts: 31 October, 2015
Notification to authors: December 31, 2015
Final version due: 31 January, 2016