Becoming a strategist: Branson's Virgin

    I think it was Paula Jarzabkowski who talks about strategy isn't something an organisation has, rather it is something an organisation does, and thus we should talk about strategising rather strategy. In the same way (may be it is Weick), we should talk about becoming something, rather than being something. So for the class, Business Policy & Strategy, I tend to think of the students as people who are in the (endless) process of becoming strategists1.

    This is all prompted by a discussion I had with three students who came to talk about this week's case, Branson's Virgin (de Vries & Dick, 1998). The came looking to find out what I wanted them to say–that old chestnut of "How should I approach this case?" I think they were surprised by the answer. I don't have an answer in mind; what I'm hoping for is that each student will bring what they know (about strategy, or marketing, etc) to bear on the case and to demonstrate that they understand what is going on in the case and what is going on in the class room. The second part came as a big surprise to them. If we treat the class as a strategy retreat or a strategy away day, many of the problems we face in the class, of getting stuck or going round in circles, are faced by strategists too. It isn't, after all, just about having good ideas; it is also about understanding other's ideas, getting ones own ideas accepted, integrating what other people have have said, keeping the 'conversation' going. Just think about what Mason & Mitroff (1981, 1998) said about the way to talk wicked problems. It requires input from many people, so part of what is desired is working with the rest of the class–not just defending ones own position or point of view.

    So, pragmatically, marks can be earned, not only by making sense of the case (with a good dollop of theory), but also by synthesising understanding from everything that is being said in the class. Such synthesis can be started by something a simple as asking good questions of one another, or by seeking clarification on peoples' position.

    Anyway, after the four of us finished talking, I was left really looking forward to Friday and what they might do in class.


    Jarzabkowski, P. (2004). Strategy as practice: Recursiveness, adaptation and practices-in-use. /Organization Studies, 25/(4), 529–560.

    Kets de Vries, M., & Dick, R. (1998). Branson's Virgin: The coming of age of a counter-cultural enterprise. In B. de Wit & R. Meyer (Eds.), Strategy: Process, content, context. London: Thompson Learning.

    Mason, R. O., & Mitroff, I. (1981). Complexity: The nature of real world problems. In Challenging strategic planning assumptions: Theory, cases, and techniques. New York: John Wiley.

    Mason, R. O., & Mitroff, I. (1998). Complexity: The nature of real world problems. In B. de Wit & R. Meyer (Eds.), Strategy process, content, context: An international perspective (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, M: Thompson Learning.

    Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks, C: Sage Publications.


    Many of the ideas here are drawn from my PhD research, so this really is research informed learning.

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    Word count: 600 (about 3 minutes)


    Updated: 5 Aug '04 16:19

    Author: Peter Smith


    Section: blog

    Kind: page

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    Source: blog/2004/08/05/becoming-a-strategist-bransons-virgin/