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What is Strategy?

Friday, September 10th, 2010

My definition is – Strategy is “how” to accomplish a certain goal.

That’s the simple part. Let me help with a bit more detail.

There are usually many ways to accomplish a goal. As you think about each one of these ways, you will know which ones are good ways and which ones aren’t as good. You may have many good ways, and ideally you would chose one among the good ways to accomplish a goal and move forward with “doing” whatever needs to be done for that particular way of achieving the goal. Whatever way you picked is your Strategy. If it works well, you achieve your goal. If not, you go back and pick another way. Now you changed your Strategy and go from there. Sometimes, you may pick more than one way and do it at the same time. Which means you have multiple strategies to achieve your goal. Even if some of them fail, you stand a better chance of achieving the goal through multiple strategies route. Of course, meaningful goals need time, resources and money to achieve them, so multiple strategies may not be economical in all cases.

Enough theory. Lets do a simple exercise.

Our two-year old sometimes throws big tantrums before dinner. So my goal is to “Make my son eat dinner”. Let’s say I have say 3 “ways” to make him eat his dinner.

1) I tell him I will read his favorite “Are you my Mother” book if he cooperates and eats.
2) I offer to give him 4 M&Ms if eats dinner in full.
3) I decide to sit and eat with him, so he enjoys my company while eating.

Each of the 3 ways may or may not help me achieve the goal of making him eat. I wouldn’t know until I try. There are certainly some benefits to each and some pains (I don’t want to read ‘Who is my Mother’ one more time, please!).

Let’s say I pick the easy M&M route. So that becomes my Strategy to achieve the goal.

Now I got to do it! I have to tell him in the nicest, most convincing and believable way that he will get 4 M&Ms as soon as he finishes dinner. He may listen or may ignore altogether. (Its not so much the M&M as much as the 4 that does the trick. He could care less if I said 1 M&M!)

If this Strategy works, great! If not, I go back and evaluate the other two ways and pick my next one and do it. If he is smart, he would force me to pick more than one strategy and get me to read the book and enjoy his 4 M&Ms!

Source: Citizenpaul.com

That’s all it is for Strategy. I know the example is ridiculously simple. In reality, there will be many ways and each one with many constraints, costs, assumptions, implications, what not. In the end, how you approach is no different – whether it is for US’s military strategy in Afghanistan or Microsoft’s strategy for XBox or my local diner’s strategy for Sunday Brunch.

By the way, the usage and meaning of word ‘Strategy’ is very different from the meaning and usage of the word ‘Strategic’. The word Strategic (forget how dictionary defines it!) is a modifier and it usually means, in simple words, “Long term” or “High Level”.

Strategic Decision means a decision that will have Long Term consequences. Strategic Location means a location has Long Term impact – benefits usually.

Strategic Plan means High Level or Long Term Plan. It supposedly should include the goals and the strategies – but most don’t. That’s a story for another day.