Liberating Strategy

Surprise and Serendipity Put to Work

Get the Whitepaper by Keith McCandless and Johannes Schartau on how to apply Liberating Structures to strategy here:


Organizations need a strategy to turn ideas and ambitions into reality. Individuals need a strategy to evaluate the interplay of their purpose and their actions. Traditional strategic planning is often characterized by the assumption that the future is going to play out across a relatively predictable path toward a fixed point. A “single monolithic plan” is drafted, typically accompanied by a stay-the-course, no-surprises tactical gameplan. This approach is at odds with the reality of unpredictable dynamics and fast moving markets. The idea of a linear future clashes with a rapidly changing environment and leaves companies inflexible and exposed to the risk of sudden disruption.

At the same time, methods like Agile development are enjoying growing popularity. These regularly lead to a different strategic mindset: one of reacting to dynamics in the moment, without shaping the future in a meaningful way. The future is seen as so complex and unpredictable that strategic planning is futile and unnecessary. This creates a “no plan” work culture where every whim seems like a good idea and every action feels successful due to a lack of perspective.

Whenever a strategy is created it is usually done rarely and only by a selected handful of people. These select few are often removed from work as it is being done in a day to day fashion. They lack direct customer or market interaction. As such they miss out on crucial information that could influence the strategy in a drastic way. They then need to sell the results to the rest of the organization and fight resistance against a narrative that feels out of touch to the average worker.

In this monograph, we propose an alternative method. We illustrate “how to” with a hypothetical business school example. The method poses six simple questions to be answered together by students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni stakeholders using Liberating Structures. A compelling strategic narrative is authored, owned, and then operated by everyone.

About the Authors

Keith McCandless

Keith is the co-developer of ​Liberating Structures​ and co-author of ​The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash A Culture of Innovation​ (2013). He consults with business, government, philanthropic, research, educational, and health organizations worldwide, focusing on how to address complex challenges and include everyone in shaping the future. Born in Cincinnati Ohio, he holds a Masters in Management of Human Services from Brandeis University in Boston and a BA from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Keith lives in Seattle with his wife Annie and Deacon the whippet with talent to amuse.

Johannes Schartau

Johannes is a consultant, trainer and coach for Agile product development and organizational improvement. As a Liberating Structures enthusiast he believes in the power of collaboration and providing groups with a space to create momentum. His toolset includes systems, complexity and integral thinking, empathy, and a good dose of humor. Johannes works for the beautiful company Holisticon in Hamburg, Germany, but is active worldwide.