Strategy as Care


In 1953, IKEA catalog manager Gillis Lundgren had a key moment of insight that changed the landscape of the home furniture industry. Trying to fit a table in the back of his small car, he became frustrated. That’s when he realized: why not take off the legs?

What ensued was a dramatic shift in IKEA’s strategic direction. If Lundgren struggled to load a table in his car, IKEA’s customers must struggle, too. He quickly became a tireless advocate of selling unassembled furniture in flat packaging, and convinced Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, to make this a central part of the company. Over the next half century, IKEA would grow into a multi-national home furniture retailer.

Lundgren did not invent the flat-pack style of shipping furniture, nor was he a high-level decision maker at IKEA. Rather, he had a key strategic insight and shared it with his organization.

Henry Mintzberg is a John Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies (Strategy & Organization) at the Desautels Faculty of Management and a seminal thinker in organizational strategy. In a recent interview on the Delve podcast, he describes Lundgren’s idea as an important “strategic moment.”

A strategic moment, he explained, occurs when an individual can step back, see the full picture, and connect the dots in a way that benefits their organization. In Lundgren’s case, this occurred when he realized the potentially massive market for unassembled furniture. This means strategic thinking isn’t reserved solely for CEOs and boards of directors; it can come from any worker at any level in the corporate hierarchy.

But, if you want good ideas from your employees, they have to care about the work.

“It’s a lot nicer to go to work and care about what you’re doing and the success of your institution,” said Mintzberg. “But it’s easier to do that if it cares about you.”

For Mintzberg, care is central to a healthy strategic culture in an organization. Companies must value input from their employees, nurture their ideas, and grow them into meaningful contributions. This gives executives a concrete view into the goings on of their organization, information they can then use to make crucial strategic decisions.

This is different from how strategy usually happens, explained Mintzberg. Executives make plans in a conference room, setting targets for the next quarter or fiscal year, insulated from what’s happening on the factory floor.

“Sitting in an office is the worst place to get a strategy,” he said. “You have to be out seeing what people are doing.”

Only then can you open yourself up to strategic moments of your own.

For more insights from Professor Mintzberg on care, strategic thinking, and building a strategic culture, listen to his full interview on the Delve podcast.

This article is written by Eric Dicaire.  This episode of the Delve podcast was hosted by Saku Mantere, and it was mixed and edited by Eric Dicaire.

Delve is the official thought leadership platform of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. Subscribe to the Delve podcast on all major podcast platforms, including Apple podcasts and Spotify, and follow Delve on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Henry Mintzberg
Professor, Strategy & Organization