Emergent versus Intentional Strategy

In the social coding chatroom @nicksellen mentioned the book Emergent Strategy (review by Annie Windholz). Nick added:

for me, a lot of these things are emergent in nature (I use “emergent” a lot after reading https://www.akpress.org/emergentstrategy.html :wink: ), and I like a lot of nature metaphors to understand that, to have fertile soil, water, and light, and see what grows… a little pruning here and there, etc…

a big component of the “soil”/etc is this very personal human connection.

My experience in communities and grassroots movements have also led in a firm belief in “emergence and spontaneous evolution”. Where I also believe that we can create favourable conditions that allow this to happen in ways where larger-scale purposeful action emerges from the activities of many small-scall human-size initiatives.

Small scale is key. For instance for Fediverse evolution I am convinced more progress will be made if small groups collaborate on the specific topics of their interest. Thus providing the proper incentives to do work even where it goes beyond immediate project scope. See also alternative technology adoption models that are based on intrinsic motivations and expectations.

Within small initiatives Intentional Strategies can be formulated and followed through. But there is also very much a need to coordinate productively across separate initiatives, and avoid the fragmentation that is so common in grassroots movement. Here Emergent Strategies should be pursued.

In the article above the difference is described as follows:

"Emergent strategy is a set of actions, or behavior, consistent over time, “a realized pattern [that] was not expressly intended” in the original planning of strategy. When a deliberate strategy is realized, the result matches the intended course of action. An emergent strategy develops when an organization takes a series of actions that with time turn into a consistent pattern of behavior, regardless of specific intentions. “Deliberate strategies provide the organization with a sense of purposeful direction.” Emergent strategy implies that an organization is learning what works in practice. Mixing the deliberate and the emergent strategies in some way will help the organization to control its course while encouraging the learning process. “Organizations …[may] pursue … umbrella strategies: the broad outlines are deliberate while the details are allowed to emerge within them”

Mintzberg, 1994, p. 23-25; Hax & Majluf, 1996, p. 17

While this applies to strategies withhin a single organization, it should also work in grassroots movements that have commonality in purpose and - to certain extent - a shared (technnology) vision.