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Applying Strategic DoingTM in Your Organization

By Rebecca Gould, Kansas State University 

“Strategic DoingTM can be the new “operating system” for organizational or ecosystem transformation. It can (over time) help establish new, more productive patterns of thinking and behavior with an organization or community”.  

--  Morrison, Hutcheson, Nilsen, Fadden & Franklin, 2019  

Strategic Planning Inspired by Agile 

One of my colleagues once told me, they would rather have a root canal than participate in strategic planning or a retreat. While there are many variations on how to plan strategically, a process from the Agile Strategy Lab might remove some of the angst associated with strategic planning. 

Strategic DoingTM is built on the premise that in this complex world, we need to behave and work in a networked capacity to align resources, make linkages and innovate rapidly.  Using a set of skills embedded in four questions, in Strategic DoingTM, the participants address complex challenges that don’t have one solution, but many solutions (Morrison et al., 2019).  Think university enrollment, mental health issues, service learning, climate change, community economic development etc. 

Challenges that Strategic DoingTM might tackle in the higher education IT workplace are:   
  • Rethink the technology experience for our students.
  • Re-evaluate the technology training provided to faculty and staff.
  • Graduate students who excel in creativity and innovation. 
  • Determine the technology best supported at the institution. 
  • Create an innovation lab. 
  • Determine how best to retain staff. 
  • Flatten the organizational structure for the unit. 
  • Develop tactical plans for moving a unit forward. 
  • Provide opportunities for all staff to excel. 
  • Learn how best to energize central and distributed IT to work in unison. 

Four Questions of Strategic Doing 

Strategic DoingTM asks four questions embedded in ten rules. 

  1. What could we do?
  2. What should we do?
  3. What will we do? 
  4. What is your 30/30? 

Figure 1. Strategic DoingTM Cycle 

In the video, Ed Morrison, originator, describes Strategic DoingTM 

An S-Curve Analogy

A conceptual alternative to strategic planning processes uses the S-Curve analogy. Products and services follow a similar pattern/life cycle. In the early stages, a product is slow to catch on, adoption is slow. If and when the product takes off, rapid growth follows. Growth then slows and even declines unless there is an inflection point, which is a result of a refresh (new and improved) and/or attention to relevancy (LaMarco, 2018; Morrison et al, 2019). Trace the life cycle for personal computers, laptops, cellphones, software, apps and the S-curve will surface. Our organizations are all about change, which is why the S-curve helps us visualize if we do nothing, there is the potential to lose the organization, the product or the service. In Strategic DoingTM, we are repurposing our resources to address the next challenge. 

While there are numerous ways to address challenges, through Strategic DoingTM patterns of collaboration evolve, iterative improvements occur, assets are leveraged and the time from planning to doing is accelerated. 

Figure 2. The S-Curve Analogy [for Strategic Doing(TM)]

Ten Rules in the Strategic Doing(TM) Process 

The ten rules in the Strategic DoingTM process are: 

  1. Create and maintain a safe space for deep, focused conversations.
  2. Frame a conversation around an appreciative question.
  3. Uncover hidden assets that people are willing to share.
  4. Link and leverage your assets to create new opportunities.
  5. Rank all your opportunities to find the “Big Easy”.
  6. Convert your Big Easy into an outcome with measurable characteristics.
  7. Design at least one Pathfinder project with guideposts.
  8. Draft a short-term action plan with everyone taking a small step.
  9. Set a 30/30 meeting to review progress
  10. Nudge, connect and promote relentlessly to build your new habits of collaboration. (Fadden, Hutcheson, Morrison & Nilsen, 2019) 

Developing the appreciative/framing question in rule #2 sets the stage for deep conversations to follow. An iterative framing question such as the one below might evolve over a series of conversations with the participants.  

  • Beginning with, “Rethink the technology experience for our students”.
  • “Simplify the technology experience and tools used by our students”.
  • “What technology tools and training do students need to succeed at the university”. 
  • Imagine graduating students with strong innovative and creative skills”. 
  • To finally, “Imagine graduating students who are fearless in their use of technology”.

Once the framing question is set, the team works through the remaining rules. The entire process takes about two hours with the majority of time spent on the question, “What should we do?” 

Some Applied Cases 

An often reported example of the use of Strategic DoingTM occurred in Flint Michigan, to reduce teenage homicides and started with a collaborative effort among community members, Michigan State University and Purdue University. Oklahoma City used Strategic DoingTM to revitalize downtown. Closer to home,  Project 17 used the Strategic DoingTM process for economic development and to improve the quality of life in 17 counties in the southeast region of Kansas. At K-State, Strategic DoingTM was introduced in 2017 during an annual Leadership Seminar. Since that time, the Technology Development Institute has been guiding conversations to assist in strategy development with the clients they serve. 

K-State Olathe used Strategic DoingTM to identify and move forward in three areas: Urban Farm to Table, One Health, and Design and Technology. The Framing Question: 

“In order to grow the K-State Olathe Campus, we need to build on the universities expertise and the assets at K-State Olathe to meet the needs of the region. Imagine that K-State Olathe is the leader in these areas, integrating education, applied research and engagement; bringing together disciplines, expertise and people. What would that look like”?

Some of the outcomes from the projects included an improved website, new course offerings on campus, and the establishment of a speakers bureaus for outreach purposes (D. Kirchoff, personal communication, Jan 2, 2020). 

Resources for Strategic Doing 

Resources for Strategic Doing abound, including a website, book, workbook, videos, practitioner guides, social media and more. Check out: 

Why use Strategic DoingTM ?  This quote says it best:  

“Solutions to today’s complex challenges will not be developed in hierarchies. They will be designed in networks that link and leverage assets. They will be designed collectively by thinking horizontally, and they will be designed with the help of agile leaders”.  (Morrison, Hutcheson, Nilsen, Fadden & Franklin, 2019)  


Fadden, J., Hutcheson, S., Morrison E., & Nilsen, L. (2019). The Practitioner’s Field Guide. Strategic Doing Institute, Edition 2.0. 

Kirchoff, D.  (2020, Jan. 2).  Personal communication.  

LaMarco, N. (2018, Nov 27). What is the S curve in business. Houston Chronicle (  Retrieved December 29, 2019, from

Morrison, E., Hutcheson, S., Nilsen, E., Fadden, J., and Franklin, N. (2019). Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership. NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Strategic DoingTM Cycle. Retrieved December 29, 2019 from

About the Author 

Rebecca Gould works in Strategy, Planning, and Enterprise Architecture at K-State and is a faculty member in hospitality management. 

She can be reached at . 

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