Of tea and strategy

The Republic of Tea by Mel & Patricia Ziegler and Bill Rosenzweig

And no, this is neither a post on whether or not Sun Tzu, Clausewitz or any other general or theorist ever drank tea nor a real review of The Republic of Tea book.

What I intent to do here is to see if the story in this book can fit into an existing model of strategy formation.

But first, what is in this book?

It contains the various letters and faxes between Mel Ziegler and Bill Rosenzweig in 1990 and 1991 when they worked on what would become in 1992 the Republic of Tea company.

In it, they cover everything from motivation, product ideas, marketing, packaging, relations with business angels. If you want to look how a business comes out of an idea, this is a good book.

You will even be able to find their complete business plan at the end of the book.

What is “funny” and irritating at the same time is the main difference between Mel Ziegler and Bill Rosenzweig.

The first one will focus on a philosophical approach to business while the second one tries to get the practical things first while not being really willing to fully commit itself into the business.

I looked at the Republic of Tea website before writing and although the original founders sold their company in 1994 what I found the business is still in line with their original plans (for example, the children teas or the products that were launched over the years) but is not what they originally devised or had in mind (and this changed along the book too).

My analysis is that this results from a non conscious effort between the both of them to bring together two different concepts for strategy (the deliberate and the emergent one) into something else, the realised strategy.

But first, let’s define what these concepts are and then see if I am pushing the model or if it really fits here.

For this work, I am going to use the model provided by Mintzberg and Waters in their 1985 Of Strategies,Deliberate and Emergent; Strategic Management Journal, 6, 257-272.

Realised strategy is the strategy that is actually implemented.

Intended strategy is when an organisation has decided on a consistent course of action and when all its energy is focused on realising it, it becomes a deliberate strategy.

Unrealised strategy is what I call a good idea that was not practical enough to be implemented or that was no longer adapted to the context.

Emergent strategy is the answer to unexpected opportunities or to the lack of intentions.

The way all these concepts work together is described in the picture below.

As far as the Republic of Tea is concerned, the realised strategy is pretty obvious, it is the one that has been implemented.

The other ones are probably less obvious but can be found through the whole book.

Here are some examples coming from the book.

Mel Ziegler: “The fact is that creation is a projection of what already exists. What I am saying is that The Idea existed but had not manifested.”

Bill Rosenzweig: “what is the philosophy behind the Republic of Tea?”

Mel Ziegler: “To show through the metaphor of tea, the lightness of taking life sip by sip rather than gulp by gulp.

What would you say is the business behind the philosophy?”

Bill: “The business of The Republic of Tea is to sell (which means first we have to find) the best tea on Earth.”

Bill Rosenzweig: “the game, as you have so cleverly identified it, encompasses creativity and the process of being creative.”

Bill Rosenzweig: “4. In the middle of the night last night I woke up with ideas about the structure of our organization. I roughed them out on the attached sheet. I hope you can read the writing. Feel free to build on this and let me know your thoughts. And just for the challenge of it I took a stab at the first ten-year plan. This is a good exercice, even if it has nothing to do with what we end up doing, because it forces me to think where we want to go.

5. As I roughed out that org chart last night I realized that we need to write a “product charter” that guide our product-development process.”

Bill Rosenzweig: “Here are some more down-to-earth replies:

1. You’re right about painting our world too small […] I also find the packaging and pricing very intriguing. […]

I am working on a new diagram for us to show categories and distribution.[…] Waiting to have some information to come in before I can complete it.

3. Industry research. […] It will be important for us to feel confident about our point of entry.”

Bill Rosenzweig: “Last night it struck me that maybe it’s time for me to get somebody who’s a little less emotional about tea to tale a look at the business, and so I’ve appointed the other half of my brain as The Minister of Research, and here for a start is what I want him to find out:”

This is followed by a complete description of what is a tea industry analysis.

Mel Ziegler: “The key will be to find the right-talented like-minded people to own the offshoot business, and to lure them into helping the Republic of Tea creates itself.”

As you can see, we have two different strategy processes going on at the same time.

One that is rather predetermined and consistent all along the way, this is the intended/deliberate strategy.

The other one is dependent upon the circumstances and evolves all along the creation of the Republic of Tea. It is the emergent strategy that shapes the intended/deliberate one into what become the realised strategy.

Following Mintzberg and Waters’ classification of the different types of strategy processes, we are here typically in what they call a process strategy where the leadership focuses on designing the system that forms the ground from which the different patterns of action comes out.

You will say that this is what all new businesses do.

Perhaps but it is the first time I see this written in a book as most of the time, you only hear about how the creators had a wonderful idea, made it and sold it.

This alone makes the book worth reading.


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