Helping enterprises and their people to adapt and improvise in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world.


“We must pay attention to the innovation bubbling up in our own organizations, and work to spread it further – not try to transplant what has grown up elsewhere, in very different contexts. Our focus should be on fostering communities of trust and practice, disciplined yet free, from which brilliant strategies can emerge organically through doing and learning.”

                                                David K. Hurst  Harvard Business Review Blog 

In our complex, agile business environment where windows to market opportunities open and close quickly and social media puts a further premium on rapid responsiveness, effective enterprises are delegating more activities, further down into the organisation. For example, where in the past enterprises may have taken 10 days to “sign off” a press release (having had involvement of the legal and other departments involved and then senior level sign off) the speed of the Facebook/Twitter etc. environment may mean that a response within 10 minutes will be needed if it is to have any effect. Such responses are likely to be actioned by relatively junior staff that may have great social media skills and experience but relatively little business experience or management training.

John Kay of the London Business School (and FT Columnist) has coined the word “Obliquity” to describe the oblique approaches that are most effective in difficult terrain, or where outcomes depend on interactions with other people. The adapting and improvising as you go along tactics many agile enterprises are adopting fall into this category. In this short document I will highlight two of the actions enterprises can take to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of such improvisation.

The volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) of our business environment make traditional longer term planning and cautious, careful deliberation luxuries that few organisations can afford. I have an hypothesis that in this environment staff at all levels that can apply the strategic concepts that used to be the domain of strategic planning departments (and an annual exercise), on a continuous basis to inform their tactical decisions will add more value to enterprises than individuals making knee jerk reactions.   Moreover enterprises that institutionalise such expectations into their DNA have a more robust platform for lowering the risks inherent in delegation and more effectively developing their people. As they do this, learning from successful organisations can help appreciate the competitive environments and processes involved can help spark critical thinking but the days when success can flow from purely replicating generic principles are over.

Much of the attention being given to Big Data is focussed on the potential for gaining insights on the external market and customers. For example,  Richard Stacy’s blog, recently quoted by tomorrowtoday suggested that we can consider Big Data as an opportunity to turn a haystack into a needle. Where our information sources can draw on the insights from our own people (as well as external sources) – in a transparent way – I believe that there is great potential to further improve the agility of enterprises by using the knowledge of our people more effectively. This can help us control the controllable more efficiently, effectively and consistently, while better equipping us to spot undesirable trends etc. earlier so we have more time to evolve and adapt our enterprises. Moreover, in the process we can develop a more effective foundation for developing employees engagement – or indeed the employee passion identified in a recent Deloitte paper.  A practical approach to achieving this could be to conduct an Excellence AuditTM based on the Tom Peters “Future Shape of the Winner TM” thinking.  This would capture the thinking of the talent across your enterprise from the perspective of both current performance and future requirements and help galvanise the leadership team around a new agenda.


Efficienarta has two offerings to address the themes highlighted in this paper:

  • A one day Fundamentals of Business Strategy workshop that will involve your people applying a spectrum of concepts, tools and techniques such as “S curves”, Michael Porter’s 5 Forces and Consequence wheels to build their understanding of your business and its competitive environment.
  • A Tom Peters Company ‘Excellence AuditTM that assesses your people’s perception of the enterprise’s Ambition, Brand, Execution, Organisational architecture, experience and performance through a web-based survey.  Initiatives to grow the capabilities needed to close the gaps that have been identified can serve as the basis for a “Next Generation Leader” programme that involves high performers developing themselves as they lead cross-functional projects across the enterprise – a great win-win.

Efficienarta would be delighted to provide you with further detail about these offerings, explore with you how they could have maximum impact in your enterprise by addressing the 3 recommendations in David Hurst’s Harvard Business Review Blog:

  1. “Study successful organizations to appreciate the rich contexts and processes involved – their histories – but not to distill generic precepts and principles from them.”
  2. “Focus intensively on the organization at hand to understand the opportunities and challenges – the potential – inherent in the current situation.”
  3. “Resolve to control the controllable, preempt the undesirable, and exploit the inevitable to produce outcomes that none could have anticipated.”


Huw Morris