Strategy as Nonsense: Strategies for Hunting the Snark

Steven Henderson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The purpose of this paper is to argue that there is a degree of nonsense in the idea that that an organisation has a strategy, since firms have no mind, heart or soul they cannot have a sense of purpose about themselves and their futures. The lecture considers the ways that those working in organisations, and those responsible for strategy, deflect their thoughts from this idea and the nonsense that results from it.

    The paper recasts Whittington’s Schools of Strategy as deflection strategies, arguing that they are coherent means of displacing attention from the absurdities that result from attributing strategies to organisations rather than people. The key points are illustrated by quotes from Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, as the leader of the heroic band faces and overcomes most of the key strategizing problem experience in business strategy.

    Important issues such rationality, benchmarking, learning, leadership, followership and corporate social responsibility crumble into nonsense when it is recalled that these are all human, rather than organisational qualities.

    Practical implications
    Most strategies do not succeed and most management of change seldom achieves the changes desired. The paper argues that this is chiefly because pragmatic stratagems are frequently idealised into truth claims and prescriptions of doubtful provenance. Scholars of management must bear some responsibility for the resulting nonsense.

    Social implications
    The paper argues that it is not possible to do strategy and change without invoking nonsense. Yet, this is a remarkable achievement, nonetheless, for a creature that evolved to chase small game across a savannah.

    The paper raises important ontological and epidemiological issues of strategy and change in ways that neither create impenetrable language barriers nor require a philosophical background to grasp.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)232 - 242
    JournalJournal of Organizational Change Management
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2017


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