Strategy is a complex subject. The word strategy is used very often but there is very little consensus on what it means or represent when used in various context. To a football coach strategy could refer to a defensive or offensive strategy during a game. To a military officer, it could refer to the overall strategy of a campaign. To a CEO it could refer to a business strategy of adopting certain strategic initiatives to align an organization to meet long term goals. To a larger conglomerate, it could mean the corporate strategy of how to expand into new markets.
Is there a level or time frame to strategy? Can every level have its own strategy? How can strategy be distinguished from business or military tactics? The clue lies in appreciating the specific context of the firm or country vis a vis its environment and the long term goals. It calls for coming up with deliberate and ingenious ways of using limited/minimal resources to align and achieve the intermediate and long objectives more efficiently and effectively. If there is a trade-off, it is often at the compromise of efficiency.
Dependent on Context.
Involves knowing accurately all resources and ends.
It is not only about current realities but the long term future.
It is not a fixed set of tools or methodologies but a refreshing way of thinking each time.
It is not riskless.
It is continuous and dynamic.
Any aspect can be a strategic issue.
It involves proactive decision making. It needs a deliberate decision and cannot be left to chance.
It often fails because of inaction at a particular time.
It is time-dependent and there is a tipping point – the key is how to identify the issues and tipping point.
Inaction is an action.
It seldom involves a single point of failure. The issues are always multifaceted and the initiation triggers are more often not core areas.
Borrowing for Napoleon – It requires contemplating all possibilities in detailed. Involves Dreaming the Problems, Sleeping with it, looking for all angles, including far fetched ideas. Until Novelty emerges.
Borrowing from John Boyd – It involves relentless synthesis and analysis until patterns/solutions emerge.
Involves the emergence of novel concept after making numerous Iterations.
Involves Making the seemingly Impossible, Possible.
The most important aspect of understanding the Art of Strategy is to accept that no two situations and times can be the same. It is ultimately a human endeavour. The Art of it is to understand the reflective ingenuity of the human mind and murmurs of the human heart.
Therefore going through Harvard Business School case studies can only provide some management insights but not solutions to your current context and challenges. No two corporations can be identical in terms of their ‘dynamic’ capabilities.
The context should not only be viewed from a perspective of the current dynamic situation but from one that is holistic and always mindful of the longer-term implications.
Defining the context is the most important step a strategist must take. It requires detailed analysis and synthesis to fully appreciate the unique context. Mistakes in this analysis can have dire consequences.
Whatever scenario plans that may have been developed in the past need to be seriously revisited in terms of the assumptions or context. Force fitting a previous scenario plan to the current context due to lack of time can have disastrous consequences.
In this information age, the approach should rather be to continually review the context and make regular assessments on the implications. Only a thorough analysis will be able to accurately frame the context. An in-depth analysis will be able to elucidate the emerging patterns faster. One needs to be mindful that these patterns need not necessarily arise from the more obvious core business areas.
ENDS, WAYS AND MEANS
In essence, Strategy involves adopting some deliberate course of actions to minimize the use of means or Resources and maximize the Ends for the long run.
Where do we start? In my humble opinion, the ends are the most important. Any corporation or country should not limit its strategy according to current ‘resources’. What is more important to have clear and ambitious long term goals.
Strategy and Time can help to mitigate the limits of current resources.
STRATEGY IS ABOUT THE LONG RUN
While Innovation creates Value, Entrepreneurship harness that value, it is Strategy that ultimately must sustain that value.
While the decision-making process may be in present time, the purpose and rationale must be to serve the long run.
It is perfectly normal and is often expected that corporations make the tough decisions of accepting losses or making trade-offs to ensure longer-term survivability.
A good strategist must always keep ends in mind.
ART OF STRATEGY IS A DYNAMIC WAY OF THINKING
Moltke the Elder cautioned that no plan survives beyond the first round fired at the beginning stages of a campaign.
Clausewitz cautioned that there can never be a fixed methodology or rules that if followed will always deliver success.
John Boyd emphasized a continuous process of analysis and synthesis until novelty and speed in action overwhelms the opponent.
Strategy is, in essence, a dynamic engagement between thinking humans where maintaining the initiative and focus on the longer-term goals is of utmost importance.
It involves making realistic assumptions and making pragmatic and timely decisions.
It involves analyzing the centre of gravities, exploiting opportunities and safeguarding the long term interests.
Mission Analysis, Planning Guidance & Gaps
Clearly defining the problem or task is the most important step. The leader also scopes the study for the staff and highlights information gaps to support subsequent analysis
SWOT & PESTLE Analysis
First, get to know the competition and your own capabilities very well. Secondly, get to know the external factors. The more thorough the PESTLE analysis, the better the strategic options
Strategic Options Analysis
Develop strategic options and get operational level components or business units to work out detailed plans
Center of Gravity Analysis
Repeated iterations from general to specific and back to general until novel options emerge
Component Plans/Business Unit Analysis
Contingency Planning Analysis
Selection Analysis based on Principles
Test or validate the Strategic Options preferably through simulation systems
An active process of communicating the goals at all levels. Regular back briefs help to clarify that everyone is on the same page
Current and Anticipated Monitoring
Current monitoring to ensure timely decisions to activate contingency plans and anticipated monitoring to develop adjustments to the plans with relevant lead time(usually based on new inputs or significant changes in operational dynamics)
Everything above is repeated.