Why I use twitter in my teaching practice

I was recently interviewed as part of a research project on my use of social media, including Twitter, as part of my teaching practice. I use a range of social media outlets and tools in order to ‘connect’ with my students. If you are interested in what tools I use and how I am thinking about the role of social media in teaching, you can read about the interview here: Twitter for Strategic Management

3 minute research

Next week I’m presenting in the RMIT College of Business 3 minute research showcase. The theme is ‘Research Goes Global’ and I’m pleased to be able to present some of my work to my colleagues (and anyone else interested in coming along). Below is my title and abstract.

Strategic Thinking: How Can Mapping Help?

We (think we) know what strategic thinking is  but how does one *do* it? Often strategy research focuses on the outputs of strategic thinking – the plans,  the documents  the “strategy” but less often we see research that tries to explain how strategic thinking can be undertaken in the first place. Using a strategy as practice lens and drawing on the practice dimensions of mapping of maps. I propose a framework that can help guide practitioners through the process of strategic thinking. The mediating element of ‘scale’ in the middle of the framework helps promote the reflexive practice of managers connecting their micro-activities of strategy making with the meso and macro environments of organisational and institutional strategy no matter what their global context.


If you are not doing anything next Wednesday, why not come along and say hi?

How much coffee should you drink to be “productive”?

Warning: the following post includes a discussion on the results of self-experimentation using chemicals to improve my ability to concentrate. As I mention here, you should only mess with your body/mind if you are satisfied that you are doing so in a safe manner and that you are aware of all the risks. Even then, proceed with caution.

The experiment:

When I was in the final, desperate, stages of my PhD, I began to experiment with my psychopharmacology. I wanted to know exactly how much coffee I should be drinking to optimise my ability to put in the long hours required, but at the same time not lose focus. That one simple question led me on a fascinating journey into the world of caffeine and performance. Over the course of a month I experimented with coffee, carbonated caffeine based beverages, caffeine supplements (think: ‘pills’), tea and anything else I could think of that had caffeine in it. As you might well imagine, that particular journey had plenty of highs and lows.

One of the highs was when I stumbled upon this piece of research that looked at the effects of caffeine in Navy SEALS who were subjected to sleep deprivation during the infamous Hell Week training period. Navy SEALS were administered dosages of caffeine that ranged from 100mg to 300mg and they were tested for various effects on their cognitive abilities. Now I’m not suggesting that the final stages of a PhD is as demanding as Hell Week (although it felt like it at the time), but the nights are long and it requires a significant amount of focus on detailed work. One has to be sharp.

It turns out that 200mg of caffeine is the optimum dosage that will sustain alertness and will that still have a positive effect after 8 hours. Now the tricky bit lies in knowing how much caffeine is in any one particular drink (or supplement). It seems that the range can be large indeed depending on a variety of factors (method of extraction, size of beverage etc), so I relied on the USDA stats for coffee that was brewed from grounds with tap water (the most common method I used for making my coffee during this period), which suggests that the dosage is about 95mg per cup. Let’s call it 100mg.

This means that for the best results, I* should slam down two cups of brewed coffee to enjoy sustained, positive cognitive results.

Wilfully ignoring the science:

Of course that all sounds fine in theory, but there are many factors that means that each individual’s response to 200mg of caffeine will be different – not the least of which is whether or not someone believes they have a ‘tolerance’ to caffeine or not. Now, I would suggest that I drink more than the average amount of coffee in a day. I seem to average about four cups per day with most of the doses coming in the early part of the day. Since I drink so much of it, I expected that my tolerance is higher. So I began to dose higher (<– not so smart). Furthermore I began to mix with various forms of caffeine – a mixture of caffeine pills, ‘energy drinks’, flavoured milks, soft drinks… you name it.

While there is research to suggest that there is no material impact in such things as coordination (steadiness of hand) on doses of 200mg whether the participants drink coffee regularly or not, the fact was that I thought I was more immune to the effects due to my ‘higher than average’ consumption levels. So I drank more. And that, dear friends, is where the trouble began.

I can reliably inform you that extremely high doses of caffeine can have an impact on one’s mood, ability to sleep and feelings of general well-being. The effects are particularly pronounced if the dosages are taken in a short period of time – rather than spacing them out. The presence of other compounds other than pure caffeine can also have an impact. Flavoured milks, for example, have high doses of sugar in them – welcome to a cycle of highs and lows that is very, very unpleasant. Let’s not even talk about the impacts of ‘energy drinks’.

The results:

Once I had figured out that I was doing very bad things to my body and mind, I settled back into a routine that more closely resembled that which science suggests. I found that two cups of coffee (not espresso shots – that’s something else entirely), was enough to give me enough of a kick to be able to do the kinds of work that is involved in late-stage thesis writing/editing. I was able to chase down all the issues with my referencing and I was able to make sure that my arguments made sense (Note: this is different to the creative work in arriving at the argument in the first place). I was able to put in the very late nights required to In short, it seemed to work.

I’m not convinced, however, that it was/is sustainable. I now only use this particular technique sparingly. In fact, I can get more done when I deliberately slow down. More rest, longer walks and more frequent breaks seems to have a positive impact on my productivity beyond what messing with my brain with caffeine does.

*YRMV – (your results may vary)

Pizza Wars: The high price of a low cost model

The high price of low cost leadership

Two of Australia’s largest pizza chains are duelling it out in the market place in an attempt to gain the upper hand and win market share. Their main weapon? Price. But from a strategy point of view, is this smart?

What’s happening?

Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza are currently locked in a competitive death spiral by trying to win price-sensitive consumers into their stores (or ordering online) by lowering how much they charge for their products. As reported on the 22nd August, 2014 in the Fairfax owned The Age newspaper, the Franchisor company Yum!, who own the Pizza Hut brand here in Australia, have told their franchisees that the cheapest pizza should be priced at $4.95 and their most expensive pizza for only $8.95. As you might imagine, the franchisees who have had to shoulder high start-up costs and ongoing franchise fees are not happy about this and are claiming that that can’t make any money at these prices. They are threatening to take their franchisor to court. In the meantime, Domino’s, for their part, have entered the battle with similar pricing structures. The argument seems to be that by lowering prices dramatically more people will buy more pizza and it is thought that as more pizza is bought, profits will increase. This rests on the assumption that people will switch from either one brand of pizza to these brands, or that they will be attracted to pizza instead of eating, say, hamburgers.

What does the strategy theory say?

Michael Porter argues that there are three main ‘generic’ strategies that can describe the actions of any competing firm. He advises that when an organisation chooses one of these strategies that they are best to stick to it and execute it well. He argues that firms can either:

  • Differentiate from other firms on the basis of a characteristic valued by its customers and thus charge more for the product or service that they sell or;
  • Attempt to be the overall lowest cost producer in the industry thus generating profits by increasing the gap between what it costs to produce a good or service and what it can be sold for in the market place; and,
  • In either case, the firm can either decide to target a broad range of consumers in the market, or they can choose to focus their attention on a very small, well defined section of the market.

Ultimately this produces the following matrix of generic strategies:

Aspect Broad approach to the market Focused approach to the market
Differentiation Broad differentiation strategy Focus differentiation strategy
Cost Leadership Broad cost-leadership strategy Focus cost-leadership strategy

Which strategy are they following?

In the case of the pizza market we are discussing here, both Pizza Hut and Domino’s are trying to argue that they deliver high quality at a low price. They are trying to make the argument that they are differentiating on ‘quality’ and therefore that should encourage purchasers to shop with them. However, when the switching costs for consumers of pizza are so low (it doesn’t ‘cost’ a consumer much to choose one brand of pizza over the other – i.e., they are not invested in the decision in any material way), each of these companies will need to find a way to differentiate on something other than the nebulous concept of “quality ingredients”. Is it true, for example, that one brand of pre-shredded pork flesh is qualitatively better than another by such a margin that it would persuade someone to drive to one pizza chain store rather than another? Unlikely. There is not a sustainable argument that can be made that either of these companies are differentiating their product in any meaningful way for which customers are likely to pay a premium.

So I think it is safe to make the argument that each of these companies is actually trying to keep their costs as low as they can and then pass those cost-savings on to consumers by the way of cheaper prices that they charge in an effort to get more customers through the door. After all, the more transactions that they can complete (even at a small profit) ultimately means more money in the bank (hopefully). Each are following a low-cost strategy – and that is where the trouble begins.

Focussed or broad based?

So, in this instance, are the competing pizza establishments following a broad based cost-leadership strategy or a focussed cost-leadership strategy? Well, it is a matter of degrees as to how you interpret this question. Since both companies offer a range of pizzas and pizza toppings that can appeal to a wide variety of dietary requirements, the argument could be made that they are using broad based cost leadership strategy. They are not, for example, only catering to a segment of the market that will only eat, say, certified organic vegan pizza. However, if you think of it in terms of the wider fast-food industry, then the very narrow product offering of just pizza indicates that they are a niche player, focussing on a very well defined market segment. There is no one point at which the definition switches from a broad approach to a focussed approach. The key aspect to consider is that since both companies are competing on the basis of nearly identical products to nearly identically defined markets that the issue of scope becomes less important.

Ok, so they are both following a low-cost leadership strategy. What now?

The key thing to understand is that in any industry/sector there can be only one low cost leader. Whoever has the lowest cost structure is the leader and everyone else are the laggards. Why this is important is because the organisation with the lowest cost structure can better withstand any price war that might erupt. The low-cost leader can continue to drop the price of their product until it becomes uneconomic for their competitors to continue to do business – at which point it would be rational for the cost laggards to exit the market.

That’s why the stakes are so high for both of these pizza joints: in a price war such as this, it’s a winner take all game.

The determining factor for victory is likely tho be the relative scale of each operation. A large scale of operations allows cost savings to occur in different parts of the organisation and in different ways. Take, for example, the advantage that can be gained if one of these organisations was to be able to figure out a way to reduce the total time for the making of a pizza by 20%. This would mean that for customers there would be shorter waiting periods (something that they no doubt would value) and it would mean that more pizzas per hour (pph) could be made/sold. There might be two ways in which one of those companies might approach figuring out how to achieve such an advantage:

  • they could undertake dedicated research (maybe hire a university professor?);
  • they could rely on their staff developing new routines through ‘learning by doing’ and re-enfolding that experience back into the organisational routines.

If we take the first example, the cost for both Pizza Hut and Domino’s to invent this new routine would be roughly the same. However, if one organisation has a much larger scale of operations (i.e., they sell more pizza more often) then the cost associated with the research effort of those highly paid(?) professors can be spread out across many units of production – a tiny addition to the overall price per pizza.

If we take the second example, the organisation with the most employees who are making pizza at any one time increases the chance that the efficiency breakthrough will be discovered. Each of those people may be experimenting and learning in only small ways, but each improvement in efficiency delivers real cost savings back to the organisation.

In both situations*, scale matters.

What’s the likely outcome?

The key element here is that Domino’s has the largest footprint in terms of stores in Australia and also the highest total network sales in this segment. They have more places to buy pizza and they sell more pizzas. Their ability to spread costs associated with finding ways to be more efficient across a higher number of pizzas and stores means that they are in a strong position.

However, as long as each company is able to continue to bring more and more customers through their respective doors – enough at least to cover costs – then it will come down to a matter of which of these companies can stand the heat of competition the most. It seems from the legal action being threatened by the franchisees of Pizza Hut against their parent company Yum!, that their appetite for the fight is not very great. Domino’s should probably take heart from this news and continue to apply the pressure by maintaining low prices and continue to find ways to lower their costs of doing business. It will take a laser-like focus on costs to maintain this position, but if they can force some of the competition to exit the market in geographies that they both share, the gains for Domino’s could be high as the previous Pizza Hut customers move over to Domino’s.

Dare I say it? For the winner the spoils will be a larger slice of the… market.

*There are other way in which an organisation can attack their cost structure, but these are probably for a post at another time. Let me know in the comments if you would like me to write about them.

My PhD Toolkit

I get this question asked a lot: “What (digital) tools did you use to do your PhD?

So, here’s my very short answer:

  1. Hardware (part 1): Buy a Mac. Seriously. I used a MacBookPro almost exclusively throughout the whole process and I suspect it would still be going strong if I hadn’t dropped it. I’m now using a 13″ MacBook Air. Heaven.
  2. Hardware (part 2): A mobile phone with a good camera. I use an iPhone and I’ve got Genius Scan+ installed as an app. If I need to take a scan of something (e.g. book page) I can whip out my phone, snap, enhance the image, tag and send to Dropbox (see #8 below) for later use.
  3. For writing: Scrivener. Hands down the best writing tool out there for compiling a large and complex document (like a thesis). Also, it’s relatively inexpensive, has awesome tutorials/help and it plays nicely with most citation software. There’s education pricing, too.
  4. For pdf management and referencing software: Papers 2 (NOT Papers 3). Papers 3 is still in beta and has some bugs that I’m just not happy with. The good news is that Papers also has an iPad app which has a clunky but reasonable sync system. If you read and annotate an article on your iPad/Mac, it can sync back to your Mac/iPad with all the notes/highlights etc intact. Nifty.
  5. For keeping notes and random ideas etc: Evernote. Buy the premium version. It has auto back-up and also makes the content of your notes searchable. You can make individual notebooks (e.g. ‘methodology’ or ‘thesis ideas’) and drop your stuff in there. It also has a robust tagging system. Pair with their mobile version for notes on the go.
  6. For thinking: Moleskine notebooks^. I used a combination of blank and lined depending on what I wanted to do/my mood at the time. For added awesomeness, use the Pilot G–2 pen (for words) or something like a Pentel mechanical pencil and a 2B graphite (I prefer the 0.7mm) for drawing/sketching/mapping ideas. Carry everywhere.
  7. For sharing with others (read: supervisors): MS Word. Eventually you are going to have to share your writing with someone who doesn’t have Scrivener installed. Since most people seem to have access to MS Word, it makes sense to export your work from Scrivener into a Word document and then email it to them.
  8. For accessing your stuff everywhere: Dropbox^^. I bought a subscription that allowed me to boost the amount of storage I could access, but the ‘cloud’ storage market is shifting rapidly. Consider if you really need to upgrade. I suspect that soon you’ll be able to use something like Apple’s iCloud service and get plenty of storage for free (see #1 above).

This should be enough to get you going and I’ll write more about each of these tools individually in upcoming posts – including exactly how I used them. Maybe I’ll even do some screencasts. Let me know if you would like me to do that.

^ Technically, not a digital tool. But the Moleskine ‘marketplace’ is expanding significantly to encompass digital workflows. See, for example, the ways in which Evernote and Moleskine work together.
^^ Be careful about storing sensitive data in a place like Dropbox. The service is hosted in the US and your ethics might prevent you transporting data across national borders. Also, be concerned about data security. Don’t store something in an online, for profit, service if you are concerned about the confidentiality and security of your data. These kinds of services can (and do) get hacked.

Welcome, #stratman students!

In this short video I outline what we will be doing this semester in BUSM3125 – Strategic Management. I talk about:

  • working with an industry partner;
  • what you have to do in your assignments, and;
  • whether or not you should take this course.

It’s a bit over three minutes long, but covers some pretty important stuff.

Welcome, and I’ll see you in class!

~ Jason.


email: just like normal mail but …

… well, it is just like normal mail and we should treat it the same way.

As far as productivity hacks go, the one thing I did that changed how I work is re-conceptualise email as a process of sending and receiving, you know, actual letters.

When I think about how I deal with the physical mail in my life, it dawned on me that treating email differently works against my goal of being productive and on top of things. Like a lot of people who complain about drowning in the email flood, I seemed always to be at the mercy of incoming email. It always found me at the most inconvenient times and it seemed that if I didn’t deal with it then and there, then I was not getting anywhere.

Of course now I recognise this as idiotic and I try to be smarter about how I deal with email (I have a whole bunch of email ‘hacks’ that I use which I’ll be posting up later), but the one that ties them all together is this:

I now treat email as if it was physical mail. I think about it in the same ways and I action it as if it was a physical letter.

This realisation translates into a few basic rules:

writing and sending email

  1. Writing email is a distinct and separate act. I can write email whenever I like – just like a letter – and I don’t have to look at the rest of my unopened mail to do so. Writing email is not dependent on any other task or action.
  2. I don’t have to send email right away. I can send it whenever I like. In fact, if I have a few emails (letters) that I have written, I can send them all at once by gathering them together and taking a walk to the local post box. The digital equivalent of this is drafting an email in something like TextEdit and then saving it, getting back to what I was working on before and waiting until the time arrives that I have set aside to deal with all my email at once (see below).
  3. Since I can’t control when a letter gets delivered and I have no idea when the recipient will get around to reading that letter, I shouldn’t expect an immediate reply. Letter writing and delivery and having the letter read is an asynchronous activity. It can take time and it involves more than one person who autonomously makes decisions about how they work with their letters. Email is also an asynchronous activity that also involves more than one person making decisions about their own workflow.
  4. Which means: I don’t use email for urgent matters. If I need to get in contact with someone else quickly, I use some other method that will reach them then and there. The test for whether it is important or not is this: If it is that urgent that it can’t wait, it had also better be that important that it warrants me deliberately interrupting someone else’s attention. Since I hate other people interrupting me with non-urgent requests, I make sure I don’t do it to others.
  5. I send the least amount of email I possibly can. If I want to ask a colleague something and it can wait, instead of writing an email I’ll jot down the question in a notebook and the next time we bump into each other I’ll ask the question then. Writing the question down gets it out of my head (which has its own benefits) and not sending email in the first place reduces the overall volume I have to deal with.

reading and answering email

  1. Reading email is a distinct and separate act. I can read email whenever I like – just like a letter. It makes sense, then, to be in the right frame of mind and have some dedicated time to reading email. Since I don’t know in advance what my email might contain, I deliberately set aside some time to thoughtfully read and respond. Therefore:
  2. Just like physical mail, I batch process my reading and responding to email.
  3. Since email is an asynchronous method of communication, it is unreasonable for others to expect me to read it as soon as they send it. Just because the act of sending is instantaneous, that doesn’t mean that I open my email client (the equivalent of walking down to the letter box or post office to see if anything has arrived) at the start of the day and then keep getting up from my work to go down and check it multiple times during the day.
  4. I check email once per day. At 2pm. This is known as the #2pmProject. If you are interested in seeing how a few of us use this, you can do a #2pmProject search on Twitter.
  5. To send or respond to email generally means more email comes back towards me so if email doesn’t need a response, I don’t respond. For example, if a departmental email comes around asking for people to volunteer for a particular committee and I can’t accept, I don’t respond with a “Sorry, I can’t do it and here’s my excuse” email, I just simply don’t respond at all. The writing of the excuse email is a waste of my time and the recipient doesn’t want to know why I can’t do it, they just want to know who can do it.

Reconceptualising email as a physical object has helped me to understand how it is that email flows towards me and how it moves away from me. It also highlights the important role that I play in managing, reducing or increasing that flow. By mentally adding ‘timing’ to each stage of the email process I now think about it not as something that is urgent and has to be done right now, but something that can be slotted into my day at a time that is right for me and my workflow.

If you find yourself struggling with email and feel that you are always reacting to email and not getting anything done, take a moment to re-imagine email as a physical object and ask yourself the following question:

What would happen if I waited to deal with email at a time that suited me?

Adventures in Extreme Productivity

Today I’m announcing the next section of this blog: Adventures in Extreme Productivity. My good friend Dr. Inger Mewburn (The Thesiswhisperer Blog) has been at me to write this for a long time. Well, that time has come.

Like all of the posts on this blog, the target audience is mostly academics and students who are interested in working smarter and/or reading a little bit about strategy and pedagogy. My work is set in the Higher Education (university) sector, but a lot of what I will write can be transferred to other contexts. So if you are coming to this blog from outside of academia, bear with me as I describe about some of the quirkiness that is Higher Ed. I’m sure you have a similar level of quirkiness in your industry.

I remember exactly…

…the moment that kicked off my interest in being more than a little obsessed about becoming ‘productive’ was when I attended one of @thesiswhisperer’s workshops on writing a thesis and she said:

You can write a thesis in about two hours a day”.

Well, at that particular time it felt like I was writing about 15 hours a day and not getting anywhere so to hear her say that really made me sit up and take notice. Inger then went on to outline some of the strategies that she used to write her thesis on time and also win the John Grice Research Prize at Melbourne University. I went up to her afterwards and asked her if she was serious about her statement and she said: “Absolutely”.


It was like I had suddenly been given permission to go out and find the best ways possible to get my thesis done in the shortest amount of time possible. Until that time I really didn’t have any idea about what a reasonable amount of time per day was to spend on a thesis and still produce a good one. I’d heard all the stories of people working all sorts of crazy hours – but mostly these were from professors who had done their thesis in the olden days before all of our amazing computer/internet/app/connectivity/majicks worked as well as they do now; or the stories were from other students who were so busy doing their thesis that they didn’t have time to stop and think about how best to go about it. They were trapped in a vicious cycle of their own making.

I decided it was time to take a break from writing words and do some thinking/research/experimentation on how best to construct my daily activities that would lead to words being written in the most efficient/effective way. I quickly realised, however, that even though writing a thesis was my main project, that it was tightly connected to everything else I was doing in my life. I had to look at it holistically.

So I became obsessed with doing all that I could to make the thesis writing process as fast and as pain-free as possible. Like many other students I had to write my thesis while contending with all the other things that were going on in my life:

  • working;
  • managing family commitments (including such things as getting married, moving house, starting a family);
  • trying to remain some semblance of good health; and
  • not going postal.

I had to look at everything I was doing, not just the writing.

In order to manage all this I turned to a range of technologies, hacks, psychology and more than a little self-experimentation* to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Now, of course, a lot of what I did is specific to my situation but there are a lot of lessons that can be gleaned from the process – and I want to share these lessons with you.

Posts written under the category of “Adventures in Extreme Productivity” will fall into one of three main areas:

1. Micro-activities – these are activities that you can undertake that are small, fast and provide an outsized boost to your productivity for minimal effort/cost.

2. Meso-activities – these are activities that you can undertake that begin to form the basis for longer-term changes and productivity boosts. Think of these kinds of activities as being routine-like. Meso comes from the ancient Greek word mésos meaning middle. Think of activities that have this designation as being a bridge bewteen the micro-activities described above and the macro-scale activities explained below. Sometimes these meso-activities might be a combination of micro-activities that build into a small system, sometimes they might be a more complex set of context setting/changing that help you to build routines that free you up for other stuff. Ultimately, they are a bridge between what you do in the moment and what you do as part of your Habitus.

3. Macro-activities – these are activities that require a significant amount of effort and/or time to enact but, at the same time, if you stick with them, provide an outsized result in terms of your ‘productivity life’.

The other thing to mention here is that ‘being productive’ means different things to different people. I’m defining ‘being productive’ as “doing those things that help you to live a fulfilled life”. For some of you, that might mean working 100hrs a week as you build the next big thing, for others, it might mean finding a way to reduce working hours to the absolute minimum so that you can use the time that you have ‘freed up’ to go and hike in the mountains. Whatever floats your boat. The point here is to recognise that you are in charge of your life and there are an awful lot of ways that you can make it work the way you want it to.

Please, PLEASE don’t undertake any self-experimentation unless you’ve thought it ALL THE WAY THROUGH, done ALL THE RESEARCH, and where appropriate, CONSULTED A RESPONSIBLE ADULT/EXPERT/SMART PERSON about whether what you are going to try is likely to hurt/maim/kill you. I survived my self-experiments, but your mileage may vary. Be smart about this.

Congratulations to my strategic management class!

Dear #stratman students of semester 1, 2014.

Congratulations on finishing the semester! What an achievement.

In this short video I reflect on what we have done over the semester and how the skills and knowledge that you have put into practice are transferable to real-world applications.

Well done. You all deserve a round of applause.

~ jason


What is Strategy-As-Practice and why is it important?

What is Strategy As Practice?

We all know what business strategy is, right? But how do you do it? How does strategy get made? How does it get enacted? Who does the making of strategy? Who implements it? When does strategy making happen?

Well, as it turns out, ‘strategy as practice’ (SAP) scholars are working to try and answer these questions and others just like them.

Strategy as practice is a rapidly growing branch of research in the business strategy discipline that seeks to understand how it is that strategists work by focussing on the micro-activities of strategists rather than strategy at the organisational level. Researchers who practice in this field are interested in the micro-practices of strategists as they go about making strategy and how these micro-practices contribute to the creation of organisational strategy. It is a fascinating area of study that accepts a plurality of ideas and methodologies. For example, researchers have looked at the way in which material artefacts influence the creation of strategy including the role that powerpoint has to play in creating strategy, or how the use of everyday objects can help practitioners re-conceptualise important aspects of their organisation and environment, or how the use of “transient plans” (the drafting process of strategic plans) can lead to “…the emergence of new strategies, not just the programming of predefined strategies” (p.291). As the field develops, more and more innovative approaches to examining the strategy making practices emerge.

It should be noted that the strategy as practice field is young. It was first articulated in 1996 by Richard Whittington in his article Strategy As Practice and then brought back to prominence again in 2006 where the question of a practice turn in strategy research was examined. A review of the strategy as practice literature shows that most activity in the field occurred after 2006 – a trend revealed in the frequency of search term “strategy as practice” used on Google. The relative youth of the field means that researchers and practitioners are still trying to figure out what it means to do SAP and this promotes wide-ranging methodological approaches to understanding strategy. This brings a vibrancy to the research agenda and means that debates within the field are vigorous and thought provoking.

It is generally understood that the initial framework constructed by Whittington of “praxis, practices and practitioners” provides a consistent way of defining the unit of analysis that SAP researchers can follow. Praxis refers to the actual micro-activities that strategy practitioners undertake, while practices, on the other hand, “…refer to shared routines of behaviour, including traditions, norms, procedures for thinking, acting and using ‘things’” (p. 619). These practices may have been learned in MBA courses; through reading of the strategy literature; by participating in strategy sessions; or by interacting with other strategists. The point here is that these routines are learned and then performed again at the appropriate times. Finally, the term practitioners refers to “those who do the work of making, shaping and executing strategies” (p.619). What is interesting about this definition is that it doesn’t locate the strategy practitioners at the top of the organisation, but allows for practitioners to be present at all levels of the organisation. This, then, raises the interesting question of whether or not someone who is executing strategy on the front-line thinks of themselves as a strategy practitioner or not. Who makes strategy?

Why is Strategy As Practice Important?

The findings from the strategy as practice research agenda can help practitioners understand better what they are doing and why they are doing it. By focussing closely on the praxis of strategists and uncovering the tacit knowledge embedded within, practitioners can become aware of how what they do is connected to the strategy routines (practices) that they may be unconsciously following. A reflective practitioner will therefore be able to understand how her praxis is unique (or not) and then begin to adjust what they do as part of a larger attempt to create organisational value throughout the strategy making practices that she enacts. From the organisation’s perspective, strategy as practice is important as it helps managers to understand that ‘how we do strategy around here’ can be seen as a unique set of activities that can be examined and potentially developed into a set of core competencies that allow the organisation to succeed in the face of competition.

Understanding the link between what practitioners do and how strategy gets made and executed can give rise to all sorts of creative approaches to managing a business. That’s why the diverse research methodologies adopted by strategy as practice researchers is so important and yet, at the same time, challenging. Strategy as practice researchers are looking at strategy formulation through a new set of conceptual lenses and they are bringing a range of approaches to understanding how strategy gets made. Mostly these approaches are about exploring how strategy gets made; trying to figure out how it gets done; which routines are successful and which less so and why that may be the case and what to do about it. Methods of inquiry are being drawn from across the social sciences and this is providing remarkable results. Empirical studies are being produced that delve into analysing the minutiae of practitioners’ praxis and this in turn is shining a light on the practices that are socially embedded as part of undertaking business strategy. Ultimately, though, as the research progresses, attention will turn to exploiting the findings of the strategy as practice research agenda and managers will be able to make decisions about how they choose to make and support strategy in their organisation.

The research being undertaken by strategy as practice scholars is also driving a renewal of the ways in which we are able to understand strategy and the role it plays in creating value for businesses and society. For example, it appears that there is a turn towards what is becoming to be known as ‘open strategy’. The strategy as practice research agenda has turned a sociological eye upon strategy and the results are sometimes astonishing. By understanding what it is that strategy practioitners do in their day to day praxis, researchers are then able to generate theory that can help exaplin what is going on. The gap between academic and practitioners thus becomes narrowed – practitioners are able to apply and adapt theory that is coming straight out of practice and academics are finding new and better ways to help practitioners understand why what they do works (or not).

That’s why I like researching, practicing and teaching in this particular space. The scope for creativity is large. The questions we can still ask about strategy and how it is done are broad. The opportunity to make a difference in the way organisations understand what they do and how they do it leads us to better outcomes for society.

For me, this is why strategy as practice is important.