Strategy Formation in a Learning Organization

The realized strategy of an organization is formed out of the interaction between deliberate and emergent strategies (Mintzberg and Waters, 1985). The relative contribution of each type of strategy varies depending on the company, its environment and its stage of evolution. Deliberate strategies are realized as originally intended, whereas emergent strategies are realized despite the absence of intention.

Strategy Formation

Figure: Strategy Formation (Mintzberg and Waters, 1985)

Pure Deliberate and Pure Emergent Strategies

There are three necessary conditions for a strategy to be considered purely deliberate. First, the specific intentions of the organization must have been translated into a detailed plan in order to avoid any ambiguity. Second, all the stakeholders involved in the initiatives must know exactly their role. Third, the entire intended strategy is realized without any unexpected influence from the environment.

A pure emergent strategy is formed when a pattern comes out in the total absence of any deliberate intention. This is the exact opposite of pure deliberate strategies, but it isn’t to be confounded with chaos. “No consistency means no strategy” (Mintzberg and Waters, 1985), whereas a purely emergent strategy demonstrates an unintended order.

It is hard to believe that such strategies can be observed in reality, but in some organizations, it is very close from being true. Mintzberg and Waters (1985) identified a continuum of strategies, which differ by the relative importance of the emergent and of the deliberate in their formation.


Mintzberg, H., & Waters, J. A. (1985). Of Strategies, Deliberate And Emergent. Strategic Management Journal, 6(3), 257-272.

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