autonomous strategy process

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The autonomous strategy process is variation increasing, produces a degree of instability, changes the identity of the company, and explores new opportunities. The autonomous strategy process results in strategies emergent to the company which are incorporated into the corporate strategy. (Burgelman, 2002) --

  • Autonomous strategic action -- Autonomous strategic action involves initiatives of individuals or small groups that are outside the scope of the corporate strategy at the time they come about.Autonomous strategic initiatives typically involve new combinations of competencies (invention) that are not currently recognized as distinctive or centrally important to the firm. They often come about because a company's competencies are fungible and lead to new businesses that are different from the company's core business. Autonomous strategic initiatives may be complements or substitutes from the perspective of the core business. So-called disruptive technologies, for instance, often spring up as autonomous initiatives in established companies. While autonomous strategic action often emerges fortuitously and is difficult to predict, it is not random because it is rooted in and constrained by the company's set of disruptive competencies at any given time. (See path dependence.)
  • Emerging external environments -- If genotype is a metaphor for a company's induced strategy process, mutation is one for its autonomous strategy process. Like most mutations, most autonomous initiatives do not survive because they cannot continue to obtain resources. But like some mutations, some autonomous initiatives are important for the company's continuing evolution. This is so because the autonomous-strategy process typically takes place in unfamiliar, emerging environments. Many of these emerging environments never grow to become important, but some do and may extend (complement) or even replace (substitute) the company's familiar environment.
  • Strategic context -- At the time it comes about, the relation of autonomous strategic action to the firm's current strategy remains indeterminate: top management is not sure about its strategic importance and whether the company has the competencies to successfully pursue it. To resolve the indeterminacy, the strategic context for the autonomous initiative must become defined. Strategic context determination serves to evaluate and select autonomous strategic actions outside the regular structural context (see induced strategy process), usually through interactions of various types of champions and top management. In contrast, to the structural context, strategic context determination processes select initiatives for which official strategy becomes fully articulated after the fact. Strategic context is thus also part of the internal selection environment.
    Strategic context determination provides top management with the opportunity to evaluate the adaptive potential of autonomous strategic initiatives in an informed way. From an evolutionary point of view, only after it has become reasonably certain that an autonomous initiative is viable can top management legitimately amend corporate strategy. Such amendment, in turn, integrates the autonomous activities with the induced strategic process. The willingness of managers at operational and middle levels to engage in autonomous strategic action is influenced by their assessment of the probability that the strategic context determination process can be activated and successfully completed. Strategic contexts can also dissolve as autonomous strategic action leads new business opportunities to directly compete with existing ones for limited resources. This internal competition may lead to new businesses replacing existing ones, causing strategic business exits through abandonment or divestment.
  • Creating linkage -- A key function of the strategic context is to link new business opportunities to the corporate strategy, thereby amending it. Lacking these created linkages, new business opportunities may be able to linger on for some time in the shadow of the core business but they will become resource starved and forgo the opportunity to demonstrate their full potential.

The genetic metaphor for this process is mutation, which changes the genetics of the successive generations of the organization, in contrast to the induced strategy process's metaphor of genotype, where genetic makeup of the organization is faithfully replicated through successive generations.

Contextual application -- see strategic dynamics for the contextual application of the induced and autonomous strategy process.