What is strategy?
The practice of figuring out the best way to get from here to there
In the world of business and marketing, “strategy” is frequently used, yet rarely useful. For all of our strategy statements, strategic roadmaps, corporate strategies, launch strategies, innovation strategies, and on and on and on, the ideas that we label as strategy fail to affect meaningful change. The problem is not that strategy as a concept fails us, but rather that we don’t really understand what strategy is.
In all of these examples, there are several key aspects that are fundamental to all forms of strategy. There’s 1) an understanding of where you are now, 2) a clear sense of where you want to end up, 3) an assessment of what stands in between, 4) a decision about how to approach the challenge, and 5) a specific course of action to undertake.
Developing a good strategy, one that really propels you forward and, as Sun Tzu, master of the Art of War would admire, enables you to win without even fighting, isn’t easy. There are a lot of questions to answer. And in an age where our problems are increasingly digital in nature, the questions become dauntingly complex very quickly. Creating successful strategies requires rigor, homework, effort, hard thinking, assessment, and analysis. It’s hard work.
It’s easy to understand why we let each other get away with substituting a cheap imitation for the real thing.
In his excellent book Good Strategy Bad Strategy(I highly recommend!), Richard Rumelt identifies these common strategy FAILs.
- Fluff: Fluff is a form of gibberish masquerading as strategic concepts and arguments.
- Failure to face the challenge: When you cannnot define the challenge, you cannot evaluate a strategy or improve it.
- Mistaking goals for strategy: Many bad strategies are just statements of desire rather than plans for overcoming obstacles.
- Bad strategic objectives: Strategic objectives are “bad” when they fail to address critical issues or when they are impracticable.
If your strategy doesn’t address these aspects of the challenge at hand in some way – 1) where you are now, 2) where you want to end up, 3) what stands in between, 4) a chosen approach, and 5) a specific course of action – then you don’t really have a strategy.
I’m on a mission to conquer bad strategy wherever I see it. Who’s with me?
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