The word “strategy” was rarely used before World War I.
After World War II, it was adapted into business jargon, and quickly entered popular use.
Written use of the word strategy 1800 to 2008
“Strategy” is commonly defined as “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.”
It’s often wrongly used in place of “tactics.” (The military origin of both words is seen in the saying “Tactics win the battle, strategy wins the war.”)
It’s also wrongly used in place of the words “goal” or “vision.” For example, “our strategy is to be the best in America” or “our strategy is to make our customers happy” are not strategic statements; they state a vision and a goal.
“A strategy is a coherent set of analyses, concepts, policies, arguments, and actions that respond to a high-stakes challenge.” — Richard Rumelt
In “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy” (a recommended book on the subject) Richard Rumelt explains that good strategy has a logical structure called the kernel. The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and coherent action.
The diagnosis defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies overwhelming complexity by identifying certain aspects as critical.
The guiding policy deals with the challenge. This is an overall approach chosen to cope with the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.
The set of coherent actions designed to carry out the guiding policy. These steps are coordinated to work together.
A true and useful strategy:
- focuses relentlessly
- is specific and detailed
- almost always looks simple
- explicitly mentions challenges
- is coherent and internally aligned
- prioritizes what’s most important
- is about action, including immediate actions
- reduces complexity to an understandable story
- identifies and seeks to improve upon advantages
- plans to utilize resources as efficiently as possible
- considers how to provide leverage over competition
- is not a vision or a goal, but a plan for achieving a goal
- emphasizes “why” and “how” over “what” goal will be achieved
A Favorite Example of Strategy
JFK’s famous “We Choose to Go to the Moon” speech [text & video] is an excellent example of a complete strategic statement.
It offers a goal, considers big, necessary steps to achieve that goal, accounts for challenges, and simplifies a huge challenge into an understandable story. Further:
It prioritizes what’s most important.
…we intend to be first.
It focuses relentlessly.
This generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space… We mean to lead it.
We choose to go to the moon in this decade…
It identifies advantages.
Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the earth. Some 40 of them were “made in the United States of America” and they were far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.
It explicitly mentions challenges.
We have had our failures…
To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight.
It emphasizes “why” over the goal to be achieved.
The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school.
And it emphasizes “how” over the goal to be achieved.
… During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area.
It’s specific and detailed.
… to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.
It reduces complexity to an understandable story.
… we shall send to the moon… a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented… fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch…
…and then return it safely to earth.
It’s about action, including immediate actions.
And it will be done before the end of this decade.
Achievable by Design
In 1962, when Kennedy gave this speech, only two astronauts had ever been to space. Very few thought sending humans to the moon was even possible.
However, the best scientists of the era convinced Kennedy that, with enough resources, sending astronauts to the moon was indeed achievable. Huge yet ultimately achievable goals are a final hallmark of strategy.
What are your favorite examples of strategy? Share them with AgendaVT.