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HPMD Quotes & Sources

From Henry Mintzberg, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Free Press: 1994, pp. 318-321. Especially note the quote from Mozart and the final paragraph on the "Grand Fallacy."


Henry Mintzberg

Among the more intriguing findings of the brain research is that when listening to music, lay people tend to favor the right hemisphere whereas musicians tend to favor the left (see Fincher, 1976:70-71). The implication seems to be that generalists listen to the gestalt -- they absorb music as a whole in a sense -- while the experts tend to decompose they hear the individual notes. That too fits with much that has been discussed here. But surely the great musicians, and especially the great composers, must do both. That has to be one source of their greatness, the blending of analysis with synthesis. Indeed, in a truly astonishing comment, here is how Mozart described his act of creative composing:

The Image of Managing

Research on managerial work (see Mintzberg, 1973) provides further evidence of the distinctiveness of intuition and its importance here. Characterized as "calculated chaos" and "controlled disorder" (Andrews, 1976), managerial work appears to be more simultaneous, holistic, and relational than linear, sequential, and orderly. Managers likely prefer oral forms of communication, not only because these tend to bring information earlier and easier, but also because they provide a sense of facial expression, gesture, and tone of voice -- all inputs that have been associated with the brain's right hemisphere. If managers have to "see the big picture" and create strategic "visions" -- clearly more than just metaphors -- then their perceptions require the soft, speculative information they favor, which is better suited to synthesis than analysis. And, of course, much of this information is from oral sources and so must necessarily remain "tacit," as noted earlier. That makes it inaccessible, not only to others by way of verbal articulation, but often even to the manager's own conscious mind. Hence the need to process it subconsciously, which probably means intuitively.
Managers revel in ambiguity and exhibit few patterns in their work, presumably because they spend so much of their time operating in the mode of synthesis. Likewise, the mysteries surrounding such key aspects of their decision making and strategy making processes as diagnosis, design, timing, and bargaining (see Mintzberg, Raisinghani, and Theoret, 1976) can perhaps likewise be explained by their reliance on the thinking processes of the brain's mute right hemisphere, which are inaccessible to the apparatus of language -- in other words, lost to analysis. Indeed, the whole nature of strategy making -- dynamic, irregular, discontinuous, calling for groping, interactive processes with an emphasis on learning and synthesis -- compels managers to favor intuition. This is probably why all those analytical techniques of planning felt so wrong. "People may resist steplike structures because the procedure they prefer is basically holistic in the sense that all steps are considered simultaneously" (Weick, 1983:240).
In particular, strategies that are novel and compelling seem to be the products of single creative brains, those capable of synthesizing a vision. The key to this would seem to be integration rather than decomposition, based on holistic images rather than linear words. Westley captured this notion well with her "contention that a good deal of what happens in all policy meetings is concerned with image making," which she characterized as "a kind of bricolage, a piecing together of a group image from the bits and pieces of individual imagery." She cited Tom Peters who had pointed out that "when one company demanded that its staff talk prose instead of numbers at a planning meeting, they were rendered speechless"; Westley suggested that "imageless might have been the appropriate expression"! (1983:16, 25)
There is, therefore, a big difference between a formal plan and an informal vision. An image cannot simply be rendered into words and numbers. When organizations try to do that, integrated perspective tends to get reduced to decomposed positions, and much is lost. As the psychologist Bartlett commented long ago, "words are essentially more explicitly analytic than images; they are compelled to deal with situations in a piecemeal fashion" (1932:304). Thus a Texas Instruments manager commented that Haggerty's successors "didn't have obviously either the foresight or strategic mind that Haggerty did, certainly did not have the vision that Haggerty did.... we lost vision completely. The whole job became one of control, and that basically killed the whole semiconductor operation, and almost the corporation" (in Jelinek and Schoonhoven, 1990:413). In other words, by relying excessively on words and numbers, planning can kill vision. "Like myopia, categories make vision less sharp" (Pant and Starbuck, 1990:449). In more ways than one, planning may simply have counted too much.
The inability of the analytical mode to synthesize and to perceive spatially might explain why planning has had such trouble dealing with strategy making, why observers of business could write about "the confusion between strategic thinking and long-range planning" (Tregoe and Zimmerman, 1980:23), and why the chief planner at General Electric could end up making his "distinction between planning and strategy -- they're two different things.... Historically, GE's approach emphasized planning more than strategy" (Carpenter, in Allio, 1985:18). By decomposing an integrated process into a sequence of steps, planning shifted that process from the realm of synthesis to that of analysis, and so rendered it incapable of executing its own mandate.
Thus formal planning has had no business putting down informal managing, no matter how ancient may be the battle between right and left. Viewing it as gauche if not actually sinister was descriptively false even if literally true: informal managerial processes have always been largely "left" and thus inaccessible to the formalities of planning. But it was planning that ultimately proved itself gauche by so dismissing them.

The Grand Fallacy

Thus we arrive at the planning school's grand fallacy: Because analysis is not synthesis, strategic planning is not strategy formation. Analysis may precede and support synthesis, by defining the parts that can be combined into wholes. Analysis may follow and elaborate synthesis, by decomposing and formalizing its consequences. But analysis cannot substitute for synthesis. No amount of elaboration will ever enable formal procedures to forecast discontinuities, to inform managers who are detached from their operations, to create novel strategies.

"Ultimately, the term "strategic planning" has proved to be an oxymoron."

Short Quote:

"Indeed, the whole nature of strategy making -- dynamic, irregular, discontinuous, calling for groping, interactive processes with an emphasis on learning and synthesis -- compels managers to favor intuition. This is probably why all those analytical techniques of planning felt so wrong. ... Ultimately, the term "strategic planning" has proved to be an oxymoron." --Henry Mintzberg
© Copyright 1995, 2000, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.

Author:Mintzberg, Henry
Title:The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning
Place (City):
Publication Date:1994
Pages:pp. 318-321
Source Type:Book
Quote Number:5
Categories:Strategic Planning