May 15, 2019

‘Strategic Doing’ provides a new path for designing and guiding complex collaborations

strategic doing “Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership” Download image

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Since 2005, Ed Morrison, and his Purdue University colleagues Scott Hutcheson and Liz Nilsen, have been working on turning insight on complex collaborations into a replicable, scalable, open discipline that they call Strategic Doing.

Morrison, Hutcheson and Nilsen formed the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab three years ago to spread this new discipline globally. Their work focuses on the idea that complex collaborations emerge from conversations with an underlying structure and trajectory.

“It turns out, nobody truly has the skills to collaborate because it has not been seen as a discipline,” said Morrison, director of the lab. “We’re on the cusp of a new approach to the science of collaboration. It’s a cognitive science that has a lot of complexity theory and behavioral economics baked into it.”

To promote this work further, Morrison, Hutcheson and Nilsen co-authored the newly released book, “Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership” with colleagues. Janyce Fadden of the University of North Alabama and Nancy Franklin of Franklin Solutions also were co-authors.

The five holed up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a collaborative effort in writing the book. Each person took part in the writing process.

The book is available at most booksellers as well as the book’s website here and through here. It already is listed as a top new release in six categories: Business Management, Systems and Planning, Project Management, Strategic Business Planning, Strategy and Competition and Strategic Business Management.

The book features a foreword by cellist Yo-Yo Ma as well as endorsements by many, including former Purdue President Martin Jischke, who said the book “works to achieve higher and more productive levels of collaboration.”

This discipline is being taught at Purdue to both undergrad and graduate students. Morrison, Hutcheson and Nilsen call on their experience with strategic problem solving with individuals and organizations around the world.

Over the years, they have conducted workshops in 48 states and seven foreign countries. A range of universities are now partnering with the Agile Lab to spread the discipline. They include the University of Oregon, Michigan State University, New Mexico State University, Colorado State University, Ohio State University, the University of North Alabama, Mississippi State University, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

“What we know from our own experience and our work with others is that the tools most of us learn as working professionals don’t serve us very well when we get into truly complex situations,” said Nilsen, the senior program director of the lab.  “That’s especially the case when we need to work with people outside of a formal reporting structure. Strategic Doing gives us the tools to bring about transformation in organizations, companies and communities.”

Hutcheson said mastering the skills of collaboration is an important advantage for students as they enter the workforce and careers.

“We are seeing the deep skills as essential for the “T-shaped” professional that (Purdue Polytechnic Institute) Dean (Gary) Bertoline talks about so often, Hutcheson said. “This kind of professional has deep technical skills on the vertical part of the T and the skills and insights we teach can help develop the competencies that are on the horizontal part of the T.”

“‘Strategic Doing’ provides any leader with the new set of skills to lead complex collaborations,” Morrison said. “Each collaboration requires leadership of a different kind. It’s no longer the top-level person commanding control. Designing and guiding complex collaboration requires requires us to adopt a more humble stance and a growth mindset. Human collaborations are complex adaptive systems that emerge from structured conversations. Leadership is not vested in one person, but distributed across a team. Ten skills are required, and no one is good at all 10 skills.” 

Writer: Brian Huchel, 765-494-2084, 

Sources: Edward Morrison, 765-494-7273,

Steve Hutcheson, 765-494-7273,

Liz Nilsen, 765-494-7273,

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