Strategic Flexibility and Decision Trees

“Strategic flexibility” is a concept I’ve been interested in since first reading The Strategy Paradox, by Michael E. Raynor. An important part of conflict decision-making is visualizing the conflict, and this lead me to ask, “what would strategic flexibility look if it were represented as a decision tree?”

As I write about “strategic flexibility,” I am using the term as it was presented in The Strategy Paradox. Strategic flexibility has four components:

  1. Anticipate: “Identify drivers of change; Define the range of possible futures; Determine which are truly plausible”
  2. Formulate: “Develop an optimal strategy for each scenario; Compare optimal strategies to define ‘core’ and ‘contingent’ elements”
  3. Accumulate: “Commit to the core elements; Take options on the contingent elements”
  4. Operate: “Monitor the environment; Determine which optimal strategy is most appropriate; Exercise relevant options; Combine with core elements” (Raynor, 2007, pp. 192-193)

If we place strategic flexibility into the framework of a decision tree, we can make some general observations about how that might look:

  1. In anticipate, you create multiple scenarios based on the possible branches of your decision tree
  2. In formulate, you first determine which acts are best at achieving optimal outcomes among each of those branches; then, you must determine which acts are shared between those branches (are “core elements”) and which acts are unique to each branch (are “contingent elements”); this essentially merges parts of the decision tree’s branches into a shared trunk
  3. In accumulate, you then act along the merged trunk of the decision tree, which extends the duration of time you have before you must move on to operate
  4. In operate, you now move from the core trunk of your decision tree to a specific branch of the decision tree, thus moving towards the final outcome (Angel, 2015, p. 28)

Strategic Flexibility as a Decision Tree

Although this is a simplification of strategic flexibility, I think there is merit in viewing it through the framework of a decision tree. It adds an intuitive dimension to how strategic flexibility can overcome the strategy paradox. And if your conflict involves the strategy paradox, then incorporating strategic flexibility into your decision tree can be very useful for making good decisions.

Adapted from Royal Court: A Game of Conflict Decision-Making, MDR professional project, Marquette University, by D. W. Angel (2015).

Additional References: Raynor, M. E. (2007). The strategy paradox: Why committing to success leads to failure, and what to do about it. New York: Currency Doubleday.

Updated April 19, 2016.

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