Soft Systems Strategy: rationale, case study and theory development

This paper reinterprets the work of Mintzberg and Whittington to characterize the field of strategy as an orthodoxy under sustained challenge. In this analysis, the orthodoxy is underpinned by two related assumptions; the first about the nature of knowledge, which supports the second, about the nature of organizations. Both assumptions are contested, not only in other parts of the strategy literature, but also in their parent disciplines. In the empirical work conducted in the UK National Health Service, the orthodox theoretical position on strategy proved to be of little value, and the researchers had to construct their own account, based on soft systems principles so that the evaluation work could proceed. This research experience has here been used to construct a more general theoretical account of strategy, consistent with soft systems thinking, but dependent upon neither of the challenged assumptions.

Editor’s Note: a good overview of Whittington’s and, to a lesser extent, Mintzberg’s thoughts on strategy.

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