Test tubes with pink liquid

Strategy Lenses: How Strategy is Formulated

May 8th, 2016

I wanted to do a quick add-on to last week’s post about the many definitions of strategy, specifically: How is strategy formulated? Again, many perspectives abound and one approach is the strategy lenses, as found in Exploring Strategy 10th edition. In it, the authors present various ways of comprehending strategy development, and they can be loosely linked to Mintzberg’s 5 P’s of strategy I covered last week.

The below text is excerpted from  Exploring Strategy 10th edition with some of my own analysis thrown in:

Design Lens

The design lens views strategy development as a logical process of analysis and evaluation. This is the most commonly held view about how strategy is developed and what managing strategy is about. It encourages objective analysis through the use of formal concepts and frameworks.

This matches most closely with the strategy as plan and strategy as ploy definitions. It is definitely what most business consultants recommend, since their bread-and-butter is convincing clients that they can plan their way to success with a few choice tools like a SWOT Analysis.

Experience Lens

The experience lens views strategy as the outcome of people’s taken-for-granted assumptions and ways of doing things. Given that strategies are chosen and implemented by people, then their experience is going to matter. Strategy through the experience lens puts people, culture and history centre stage in strategy development.

This can be linked to the strategy as perspective viewpoint. It emphasises that effective strategy cannot be simply designed on paper. Instead, it has to take into account what the existing people (the agents) are comfortable with and are able to carry out.

Variety Lens

The variety or ideas lens views strategy as the bubbling up of new ideas from the variety of people in and around organisations. Top managers cannot know everything about their organisations and markets. According to the variety lens, therefore, strategy can emerge not just from the top, but also from the periphery and bottom of the organisation.

Similar to the previous lens, it puts the spotlight on the ‘coal face’. They are the closest to the ground and so can often be able to give feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Unfortunately, most strategy development happens at the top because it’s commonly viewed as the job of ‘senior managers’. In short, this lens encourages strategists to look outside of themselves.

Discourse Lens

The discourse lens views language as important both for understanding and changing strategy and for managerial power and identity. Managers are always using language to pursue their objectives. Through this lens, unpicking managers’ discourse can uncover hidden meanings and political interests.

I was most intrigued by this lens because it put a label to something I had long suspected – that strategy development is influenced by communication, especially communication that comes with interests and biases attached. This is inevitable as strategy changes have an effect on people for better or worse. Some of them, you might expect, would try to manoeuvre strategy to their advantage.


I hope you enjoyed reading about the different strategy lenses, and appreciate that they can be approached from many ways and yet be correct. The key implication is to always consider other lenses and definitions. Strategy is an exciting field and it doesn’t need to include a single SWOT Analysis!

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