Strategy & Business Development

Henry Mintzberg’s 10 schools of strategy

When you consider the size of the topic, it is not surprising that strategy arena has produced a massive amount of literature. Yet the problem is that management strategists have a tendency to see strategy like the six blind men saw the elephant. One felt its tusks and believed that the elephant was like a spear, another grabbed its trunk and thought it was like a snake, a third touched its ear and believed the animal was like a fan, and so on.

The authors of “Strategy Safari: The Complete Guide through the Wilds of Strategic Management”, Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel, points out that strategy experts, in the same way, see their subject through their own limited experience. That's why we need to collect those different experiences, so we're better able to understand the subject as a whole.

The categorization of the 10 schools is created based on an extensive study of management literature. In the book every one of the schools are placed in context and criticized.

The 10 schools of strategy

  1. School of design
    Views strategy development as a process of realization, where it is about achieving a fit between the organization’s internal abilities and external possibilities. The SWOT Analysis is often used here.

  2. School of planning
    Praises the advantages of formal strategic planning to a great extent and arms itself with formal procedures, training, analysis and lots of numbers. Inspired by Igor Ansoff among others.

  3. School of positioning
    This school is heavily influenced by Michael Porter’s ideas that stress that strategy is dependent on the way the company is positioned in the market and the industry. Typically views strategy development as an analytical process, where you have to choose the right strategy among a limited amount of generic types.

  4. School of entrepreneurship
    Emphasizes the manager or leader's central role as the one who create the strategy and carry the vision. This means that the strategy is flexible and can be adapted to the leader’s experiences.

  5. The cognitive school
    Examines what happens in the mind of the strategist and sees strategy as a mental process, where there is room for creative interpretations. Strategists, of course, have different cognitive styles. For instance extrovert or introvert, thinking or feeling.

  6. School of learning
    Views strategy as an emergent process. This means that strategies occur as people gain more knowledge of a situation and of the organization’s ability to handle it. This way, the formulation and implementation are intertwined.

  7. School of power
    Considers strategy as a result of different power plays both within and outside the organization. Negotiation is a central element of the power school.

  8. School of culture
    Strategy creation is viewed as a process that is rooted in the social power of the culture. It focuses on common interests and integration.

  9. School of surroundings
    Focuses on the powers that surrounds the organization. A company’s strategy depends on events occurring in the surroundings and the organization’s reaction to them.

  10. School of configuration
    Views strategy as a process that transforms the organization. This school describes a strategy’s relative stability that is interrupted by occasional dramatic leaps to new stages.

There are countless definitions within the field of strategy, and as a strategist you have to make your own strategy definitions. You have to figure out which strategy type fits best in a given situation and in a given company.

Kilde: Strategy Safari, A guided tour through the Wilds of strategic management. (1998) Af: Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand og Joseph Lampel.