What are the Ten Schools of Thought? Description
The Ten Schools of Thought model from Mintzberg is a framework that can
be used to categorize the field of Strategic Management.
- The Design School. This school sees strategy formation as a
process of conception.
- Approach: Clear and unique strategies are formulated in a deliberate
process. In this process, the internal situation of the organization is
matched to the external situation of the environment.
- Basis: Architecture as a metaphor.
- In short: Fit! "Establish fit!"
- Contributions: Order. Reduced ambiguity. Simplicity. Useful in relatively
stable environments. It supports strong, visionary leadership.
- Limitations: Simplification may distort reality. Strategy has many
variables and is inherently complex. Bypassing learning. Inflexible. Weak
in fast changing environment. There is the risk of resistance (not-invented-here
- Typical / compare: SWOT Analysis
- The Planning School. This school sees strategy formation as a
- Approach: A rigorous set of steps are taken, from the analysis of
the situation to the execution of the strategy.
- Basis: Urban planning, system theory, cybernetics.
- In short: Formalize! "Strategy should be like a machine."
- Contributions: Gives clear direction. Enables firm resource allocation.
Analysts can pre-screen the facts and they can judge the crafted strategies.
- Limitations: Strategy can become too static. The risk exists of
Groupthink. Predicting is
difficult. Top managers must create the strategy from an ivory tower.
Strategy is partly an art.
- Typical / compare:
Theory of Mechanistic
and Organic Systems |
| Levers of Control
| Scenario Planning
- The Positioning School. This school sees strategy formation as
an analytical process.
- Approach: It places the business within the context its industry,
and looks at how the organization can improve its strategic positioning
within that industry.
- Basis: Industrial organization (economics) and military strategy.
- In short: Analyze! "Nothing but the facts, madam."
- Contributions: This school made Strategic Management into a science,
enabling future progress. Provides content in a systematic way to the
existing way of looking at strategy. Focus on hard (economic) facts. Particularly
useful in early stages of strategy development, when data is analyzed.
- Limitations: See Planning School. Neglects power, politics, culture,
social elements. Is biased towards large firms. Number-oriented.
- Typical / compare:
| Five Forces
| Value Chain
| BCG Matrix |
Game Theory | The Art
of War (Sun Tzu)
- The Entrepreneurial School. This school sees strategy formation
as a visionary process.
- Approach: The visionary process takes place within the mind of the
charismatic founder or leader of an organization. The school stresses
the most innate of mental states and processes – intuition, judgment,
wisdom, experience, and insight.
- Basis: Economics.
- In short: Envision! "The CEO is the architect of the Strategy."
- Contributions: A sound vision and a visionary CEO can help organizations
to sail cohesively through muddy waters. Especially in early or very difficult
years for the organization. Deliberate in the broad lines. Flexible and
emergent in the details.
- Limitations: Sailing a predefined course can blind someone for potential
unexpected dangers or developments. How can you find the right leader,
with all of the many needed qualities? Entrepreneurial, visionary leaders
have a tendency to go too far. Being CEO is an extremely demanding job
in this perspective.
- Typical / compare:
for New CEO's |
- The Cognitive School. This school sees strategy formation as
a mental process.
- Approach: It analyzes how people perceive patterns and process information.
It concentrates on what is happening in the mind of the strategist, and
how it processes the information.
- Basis: Psychology.
- In short: Frame! "I'll see it when I believe it."
- Contributions: Sees strategy as a cognitive process in the mind of
the strategist. Strategies emerge as concepts, maps, schemas and frames
of reality. Stresses the creative side of the strategy process. Strong
at the level of an individual strategist. very useful to explain why our
minds are imperfect
- Limitations: Not very practical beyond the conceptual stage. Not very
practical to conceive great ideas or strategies. Currently not very useful
to guide collective strategy processes.
- Typical / compare: Whole
Brain Model |
| Groupthink |
Cognitive Bias | Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
- The Learning School. This school sees strategy formation as an
- Approach: The management pays close attention over time to what does
work, and what doesn't work. They incorporate these 'lessons learned'
into their overall plan of action. The world is too complex to allow strategies
to be developed all at once. As clear plans or visions. Hence strategies
must emerge in small steps, as an organization adapts, or “learns”.
- Basis: Education, learning theory.
- In short: Learn! "If at first you don't succeed, try again."
- Contributions: Offers a solution to deal with complexity and unpredictability
in strategy formation. More people can learn than just the leader. No
need for omnipotent leader. Can be combined with the emergent view. Strong
in complex conditions with continuous change. Strong in professional organizations.
- Limitations: This school could lead to having no strategy or just
doing some tactical maneuvering (muddling through). Or to strategic drift.
Not useful at all during crises. Not very useful in stable conditions.
Taking many sensible small steps does not necessarily add up to a sound
total strategy. You should not cross a chasm by taking small steps. There
are costs associated with learning.
- Typical / compare:
Organizational Learning |
Learn framework |
| SECI model
- The Power School. This school sees strategy formation as a
process of negotiation.
- Approach: The strategy is developed as a process of negotiation between
power holders within the company, and/or between the company and its external
- Basis: Political science.
- In short: Grab! "Look out for number one."
- Contributions: Can help to let the strongest people survive in the
corporate jungle. Can help to ensure that all sides of an issue is fully
debated. Can help to break through obstacles to necessary change. Democratic.
Can help to decrease resistance after a decision is made. Realistic. Particularly
useful to understand Strategic Alliances, Joint-Ventures and to do Stakeholder
- Limitations: Politics can be divisive, uses a lot of energy, causes
wastage and distortion and is costly. Can lead to aberrations. Can lead
to having no strategy or just doing some tactical maneuvering (muddling
through). Overstates the role of power in strategy formation.
- Typical / compare:
Bases of Social
Power | Power Distance
Value Perspective |
Core Group Theory
| Force Field
Stakeholder Analysis |
- The Cultural School. This school sees strategy formation as a
- Approach: Tries to involve the various groups and departments within
the company. Strategy formation is viewed as a fundamentally collective
and cooperative process. The strategy that is developed is a reflection
of the corporate culture of the organization.
- Basis: Anthropology.
- In short: Coalesce! "An apple never falls far from the tree."
- Contributions: Emphasizes the crucial role that social processes,
beliefs and values are playing in decision-making and in strategy formation.
Explains resistance to strategic change and helps to deal with dominant
values in organizations or in regions, and helps to deal with mergers
- Limitations: Vague, can feed resistance to change and can be misused
to justify the status-quo. Gives few clues on how things should become.
- Typical / compare:
| Cultural Dimensions
| Cultural Intelligence
- The Environmental School. This school sees strategy formation
as a reactive process.
- Approach: The strategy is a response to the challenges imposed by
the external environment. Where other schools see the environment as a
factor, the environmental school sees it as an actor –
indeed the actor.
- Basis: Biology.
- In short: Cope! "It all depends."
- Contributions: Gives a central role to the environment in strategy
- Limitations: The dimensions of the environment are often vague and
aggregated. This renders it less useful for strategy formation. Denies
real strategic choice for organizations. This is unrealistic.
- Typical / compare: Contingency
- The Configuration School. This school sees strategy formation
as a process of transformation.
- Approach: Strategy formation is a process of transforming the organization
from one type of decision-making structure into another.
- Basis: Context.
- In short: Integrate, transform! "To everything there is a season."
- Contributions: Strategy and organizational shape (organizational development)
are closely integrated and should be reconciled. An organization can be
described in terms of some stable configuration of its characteristics,
which it adopts for a period of time in a particular type of context.
This causes it to behave in particular ways, that give rise to a particular
set of strategies. The periods of stability are interrupted occasionally
by some process of transformation. Key to strategic management is most
of the time: to sustain stability, or at least adaptable strategic change.
But periodically there is a need for transformation. And to be able to
manage that disruptive process without destroying the organization. The
way of strategy formation must adapt to its own time and context, while
it takes one or more of the 10 mentioned forms. Therefore strategy formation
itself has configurations.
- Limitations: In reality there are many shades of grey, not just a
limited number of valid configurations. Also, pattern is in the eye of
the beholder. If you describe the reality by using configurations, you
are distorting the reality in order to explain it.
- Typical / compare:
Organizational Configurations |
Chaos Theory |
Usage of the Ten Schools of Thought. Applications
- Very good introduction and overview to the entire field of strategic
Strengths of the Ten Schools of Thought. Benefits
- Useful illumination of the origins and characteristics of the different
schools of thought in strategy formation.
- Understand, appreciate and exploit the differences in strategy approaches.
Limitations of the Ten Schools of Thought. Disadvantages
- Other classifications of the field of strategy formation are possible.
- Additional major Schools could be:
- The complexity of the 10 schools may initially scare aspirant-strategists.
Book: Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand, Joseph Lampel - Strategy Safari: a guided tour through the wilds of strategic management
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