Eyes Wide Open: Learning as Strategy Under Conditions of Complexity and Uncertainty

by Tanya Beer; Julia Coffman; Patricia Patrizi; Elizabeth Heid Thompson

Jan 1, 2013

Foundations have important but unrealized potential to contribute value to strategy by building, supporting, and engaging in learning. While learning is important for strategic success in most circumstances, it becomes essential when foundations engage in many large and extraordinarily difficult and complex concerns: improving food security in Africa; addressing global warming, poverty, or issues of equity in difficult urban settings.

This article identifies three common "traps" that hinder foundation capacity to learn and adapt: 1) linearity and certainty bias; 2) the autopilot effect; and 3) indicator blindness. The authors propose a framework to avoid these traps. Through learning from action, a truly powerful strategy – one with the potential to foster change and better outcomes – can emerge and take hold.

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