Strategy 101

Let's talk about strategy for a second. 

Now, strategy is a topic near to my heart since, you see, I was a young strategy consultant — one of the "Kids in the Conference Room" during the mid and late 1990s (that New Yorker article — linked here again in case you missed the link a dozen words back — offered some menacing portent for the subsequent "The Smartest Guys in the Room.")  Now, I wasn't one of the McKinsey cats, but I was at another of the "B's and M's" (the en vogue catch-all for the then-hip consulting firms.)  And indeed, that article struck just a bit too close to home, as it kept quoting clients talking about "snot-nosed 25-year olds" and I could take cold comfort from the fact that I was almost 27 at the time.

(It was a great experience, though, and one of the most valuable things I learned during those years was the Mike Porter definition of strategy: "strategy is an integrated set of choices that inform timely action."  You couldn't leave an offsite training confab without being able to recite the definition when asked. The lazy, petulant, or merely hung-over soon found that they could get away simply saying: "informed choice/timely action."  Four words and you were on your way . . . )

And so what?  Well, I'm writing about it because I'm amazed at how often companies confuse strategy and tactics.  Tactics are not strategy; tactics arise from strategy.  I'm seeing this muddling a lot of late.

But I don't want to get pedantic about it; I'm really bringing it up to amplify the concept that strategy is a set of choices.  And choices are about the things that you don't do, as well as about the things you do decide to do.  The problem is that deciding not to do things is hard and, in particular, deciding to take a decision to stop doing things that you're currently doing can be even harder.

As you'll recall, I wrote about focus a while back and it seems now that focus is a lot more critical as 2011 business plans are getting finalized and people are starting to get (maybe?) more optimistic about business conditions.  The temptation exists to start doing a lot of things that weren't being done during times of belt-tightening.  And I'm not saying to not to do those things, rather, I'm asking folks to think about doing things in the context of the inegrated set of choices they're making and how they inform timely action that has the Great End and Real Business of optimizing shareholders' (or stakeholders') success functions.   


One thought on “Strategy 101

  1. Art Rock had a great piece on strategy vs. tactics in the Harvard Business Review (Nov-Dec 1987). The killer quote is: “Strategy is easy, but tactics—the day-to-day and month-to-month decisions required to manage a business are hard.”


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