Lately I’ve been intrigued by the Harvard Business Review article “Strategy Tools for a Shifting Landscape” by Michael G. Jacobides (January 2010) in which he makes the case for a narrative approach to strategy analysis. Jacobides writes, “In an age when nothing is constant, strategy should be defined by narrative – plots, subplots, and characters.” There’s no more fitting arena for a narrative approach to strategy development than the American orchestral industry. As we’ve witnessed firsthand with the Colorado Symphony, the cast and characters are riveting, and the story lines and motives continue to change.

Or have they changed? Many have written about a sense of déjà vu with this latest era of symphony decline, including a recent article from Forbes. If 2012 is a lot like 1969 or the 1980s, then what’s preventing true reinvention for relevance? Perhaps the scene hasn’t fully played out or some of the actors are vying for a longer run of the current show.

Peter Linett, a partner in the Chicago-based consulting firm Slover Linett Strategies, gave an outsider’s view on the Colorado Symphony’s new business plan in his piece titled, “At the Colorado Symphony, half steps towards a consumer-first business model.” He astutely noted that “everything is being questioned except the underlying assumptions.” What Peter didn’t know is that the Sustainability Study Committee, facilitated by Corona Insights last spring, did question the underlying assumptions and identified a set of new principles to guide the organization.

Recently I had the opportunity to compare the Colorado Symphony’s new business plan, Creating a 21st Century Orchestra, with the committee’s ideas and recommendations. I was pleased to see that the committee’s work inspired the Symphony’s new strategic direction. Yet I was disappointed to note that while the committee’s ideas were included in the plan, the underlying principles that supported them were not. The words were essentially superimposed on the old approaches.

The organization’s fiscal year ends mid-year, so we’ll know very soon if the new business plan can deliver results. In the meantime, we’ll keep watching as the plot unfolds.