More on Business Strategy Patterns

Allan Kelly commented on my post from last year about the possibilities of using pattern languages to describe business strategies, to point out that he has done quite a bit of this already.

So far the only paper I’ve had a chance to read is Business Strategy Patterns for The Innovative Company, which is a set of patterns derived from “Corporate Imagination and Expeditionary Marketing” (Hamel and Prahalad, 1991). In this Allan derives:

  • Innovative Products
  • Expeditionary Marketing
  • Seperate Imaginative Teams

Apart from the patterns themselves there were two things I found interesting about this paper:

Firstly, Allan describes a rather rough ride he received at VikingPLoP 2004, where apparently a lot of negative attention was focussed on whether there was “prior art” for these patterns in the pattern field. I think there is something here that any autodidact will feel an empathy towards. Whereas the scientific community (rightly) puts a lot of emphasis on whether something is new knowledge, in the world of applications there is at least as much value in “new-to-me” knowledge, or even “applications of existing knowledge in a new context”. To me patterns and pattern language fall firmly into the camps of education, application and transference between domains; not the camp of new knowledge creation. Given that, an over-obsession with “prior art” would seem to be rather inward-looking.

Secondly, Allan goes on to elaborate how his understanding and view of patterns has developed and changed, especially as a result of reading “The Springboard” (Stephen Denning, 2001), and “Patterns of Software” (Dick Gabriel, 1996) and that he now sees them as a particularly-structured form of story about a problem domain. I find this an appealing viewpoint, as it harks back to the fundamental way that human beings pass on knowledge, through the telling of stories. Of course, the nature of stories is that each person who retells a story does so in a subtly different way, and over time the story changes. Extending the simile, patterns too will change over time in a two-way exchange of knowledge between the pattern and the environment of the current user, so to say that a particular pattern is derived from (but not the same as) an earlier pattern is merely to state that evolution has occurred.

Update: Allan’s latest paper Strategies for Technology Companies has more on his interpretation of patterns as stories.

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Julian Elve
Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change

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