Emergent Strategy vs. Deliberate Strategy: Which is Right for Your Business?

In business, corporate strategy refers to the specific initiatives a company takes to achieve its overall goals. Anyone working for the company can understand a great strategy, regardless of their title or tenure.

Whether you’re a CEO or a junior manager, understanding the strategy that guides your organization is vital to being an effective leader.

Different businesses approach strategy in different ways. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to strategy, as it can be interpreted using several other frameworks.

One of the most influential frameworks is to view them as either emergent strategy or deliberate.

What Is a Deliberate Strategy?

A deliberate strategy arises from conscious, careful, and organized thought by a business.

A deliberate strategy is generated from a rigorous analysis of essential data such as market growth, segment size, customer needs, technological trajectories, competitor strengths and weaknesses.

Large businesses often use deliberate strategy as they have a lot of data and experience to draw from.

The data helps to build confidence in their ability to plan out far into the future. A deliberate strategy may not be suitable for every business.

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It may be very complicated to be successful with a deliberate strategy. So many people are involved in the process.

A successful business is a group of people who work together toward a shared goal.

In this case, every individual contributor must understand how his or her work helps achieve this goal. If even one person is not doing his or her job correctly, the whole company suffers.

Every employee needs to comprehend the corporate strategy because they cannot complete the plan until they understand to break it down into individual activities.

The deliberate type of strategy works best when everyone understands how the organization plans to achieve its goals.

What is an Emergent Strategy?

An emergent strategy is a type of strategy that the company didn’t plan, but it’s the best way to take advantage of new situations and opportunities. It’s a product of spontaneous innovation.

Many companies use this approach to making decisions. It usually comes from middle managers, engineers, financial staff, and salespeople’s daily prioritization and investment decisions.

An emergent strategy is often more flexible than a deliberate strategy. While the organization has goals that it’s working toward, it can also be flexible in adjusting those goals and pursuing other opportunities or priorities as they emerge.

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For this reason, many startups leverage an emergent strategy in their earliest stages as they continue to work toward their initial goal.

Managing the process of emergent strategy is all about getting people to look for new opportunities to grow.

You can’t just tell them what to look for; you have to get them to open up to the idea that they’re all looking for new opportunities to grow.

When a company is trying to apply a deliberate strategy, it should never neglect emergent opportunities.

Most of the time, companies focus on the original goals that they don’t even see emerging options on the right or left.

However, to be successful, companies must balance their deliberate approach with a strategic focus on emerging opportunities.

For an emerging strategy to be successful, employees and managers should look ahead and look around them.

Emergent and Deliberate Strategy Application

Many factors determine the perfect strategy for a business. But it’s important to remember that your strategy should change based on the circumstances of your company.

Emergent Strategy Application

You can think of an emergent strategy as an adaptive strategy that’s more reactive than proactive. If it’s not clear what the right long-term strategy should be, this is the right approach.

It gives you the chance to make amendments as you learn more about the market. In the end, you’ll have a plan that seems to make sense.

An emergent strategy is most advantageous during the early phases of your company’s life. It can help you launch your product, or it can help you respond to the changing competitive landscape.

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When you’re getting started with an emergent strategy, it’s essential to ensure everyone is empowered to surface and upraise new ideas as they emerge. You’ll have to coalesce around the best ideas.

Deliberate Strategy Application

Once a company knows which path it should take and has the resources required to do so, it should switch to a deliberate strategy.

A deliberate strategy is better for a stable company and has matured, which can then shift its focus from simply surviving to attain growth.

When executing a deliberate strategy, a company’s success or failure typically depends on the degree to which its employees and managers understand their roles and responsibilities.

The strategy must be clear to everyone in the organization — from the front-line employees to the top-level managers.

While some businesses evolve with the times, those that are most successful tend to shift from an emergent mindset to a deliberate one at some point. Walmart is an excellent case in point of this principle in action.

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Walmart is known for choosing small towns across the country as locations for its new stores.

The Walmart founder opened his second store in a small town due to logistical reasons, which was a success. As the company continued to grow, more stores were added in small towns across the US.

The company later realized that this strategy was the best way to expand its business. It became deliberate.

Walmart’s emergent strategy of building new stores in small communities transitioned into a deliberate strategy of thoughtful and organized action.


Your business will have to choose which type of strategy is best for it, depending on its maturity and the competitive environment.

To survive, it’s crucial to keep an open mind. If you’re busy committing to a strategy, you may not see other opportunities that arise.

An emergent strategy can enable your business to adapt quickly during uncertain times, but it can also hold you back from fully pursuing one initiative.

At the same time, it is essential to understand when to be deliberate and when to be emergent in your corporate strategies. The most successful businesses tend to be led by professionals who understand when to apply both approaches.

About the Author

Eugen Spivak is a multi-award-winning author, business strategist, and a business coach. Eugen is the founder of the Canadian Institute of International Business, an organization focused on a better way to learn business!

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