A strategy is a long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular and significant goal.
As the text books state, the term strategy derives from the Greek word “στρατηγία” (translated into Latin as “strategĭa”), meaning “the art of directing military operations” or in business terms: “the set of actions planned in advance, and used to align the resources and potential of a company to achieve its goals and objectives”.
In organisational terms a strategy is basically a theory about what is going to work in addressing a significant challenge or opportunity. It’s about asking and addressing the question of what is going to get us from where we are to where we want to be. It’s about how to address the most pressing challenges.
Not in woolly terms, but as a coherent, rational and executable response.
Strategy is about identifying the key things we want to achieve and the key things we don’t want to lose and cause.
But most of all it is about how we are going to achieve what we want, what actions we need to execute to get what we want to achieve, and what those actions consist of.
Of course we’d like to have a hypothesis that we are sure is going to work, but we’re nearly always dealing with degrees of uncertainty and incomplete data, so absolute certainty will not be a factor that we will ever be able to count on.
In the strategy game there are a number of options open to us.
We can generate and then test different hypothesis, and sometimes this will give us a better view of the nature of the problem and a better idea of how to surmount those challenges, or we may be obliged to go for a high risk gamble, a win or lose, one shot chance strategy.
We can generate multiple and competing scenarios, and test those scenarios, but when it comes to business strategy we may have only this one chance of proving our strategy in real life, and either it works and we’re a success or it won’t work and we have to savour the consequences.
What strategy is about is accurate diagnosis, the formulation of a coherent response, and a plan of action to carry it out. And either it works or it doesn’t, although with an eye on risk aversion rather than avoidance, an incremental approach to strategy formulation and execution is preferred wherever possible.
For me, strategy formulation starts with a big question, such as asking what this organisation, business, nation or state, etc. will do in the next months or years if left to its own devices, and what do we need to do in order to change that, because being left to one’s own devices may well work for a period of time, but when this is carried over into longer periods, it can lead to nasty surprises, as complacency, inertia and indolence become the norm.
Strategy is about how we respond to significant challenges in serious ways.
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