Why strategy? In defense of an oft misused tool
I got a very thoughtful comment in reaction to my last post, What is Strategy? A new approach for the 21st century. It made me realize that I should take a step back, and address not just “What is Strategy?” but provide some sense of “Why Strategy?” and its value as well. Here’s my slightly edited response to @FTM.
In my opinion, strategy is necessary but insufficient. Without creativity, engineering and execution (not to mention marketing, sales, customer empathy, finance, and so forth), we would not be citing Apple as a success story. However, I do think strategy sometimes gets short shrift because it can make for an easy target. In part, that’s because it isn’t well-defined – anyone can say they do “strategy” or are “strategic.” And yes, that means there are plenty of strategy charlatans out there. But strategy done right is powerful. It steers a company in a specific direction, articulating what it should focus on, and what it shouldn’t do. It helps explicate a plan for execution. And it provides reference points to mark progress, and to base inevitable course changes on.
So that companies don’t vanish “into the black hole of history in spite of flawless strategy,” I also think that…
- Strategy should be actionable
- Strategy should be adaptable
It should not be limited to vague, general statements, nor be immune to revision and change.
And for strategy to not be like history, “the story written *after* the war, by the victors”…
- Strategy should be specific
- Strategy should be forward-looking
- Strategy should lead to proprietary advantage
It should look like history to the outside world, but from the inside, it should be a blueprint for future actions.
Strategy can be arm-chair, Tuesday morning quarterbacking. But it can also be the game plan, the 2-4 year roadmap for the team, and what guides in-game decision-making. Let’s not let the ambiguity of the term hide the fact that the practice has tremendous value.