On Strategy

“Strategy” is an interesting word in that its absence of useful meaning is directly correlated with its frequency of use, as Dave Aron describes in his book, The Essence of Strategy:

People put the word strategy next to other words in order to make them sound important, but are not really clear what the word strategy means. In that sense, strategy has almost stopped being a word, and become a specialized punctuation mark…

Sure enough, it doesn’t take much time working inside a business to stumble upon a strategic something being thrown about (e.g., strategic vision, strategic planning, strategic markets, strategic technology, strategic innovation, etc.). The word is undefined when it is used, so its meaning is absent. Dave, however, offers a definition in his book:

Strategy is no more, and no less, than the discipline of making good choices in order to succeed.

With this definition, we can derive essential meaning from the otherwise ambiguous “punctuation” attached to the phrases we hear. A “strategic plan,” for instance, isn’t just a “vaguely good” plan but a plan chosen for its contribution to overall success.

Framing strategy as decision-making helps us recognize its nature. “How do I do strategy?” becomes “How do I make decisions? We can change the way we think about strategy by asking, “What is useful in decision-making?” The sheer volume of potential answers helps us realize the full extent of “strategy” as an activity.

We can use any number of models and frameworks to make decisions. All of them will be imperfect or wrong, but some may be useful. The trick is in understanding how and when particular methods are effective for the context. For now, it is empowering enough to define strategy as we have and ponder how that definition alters its everyday meaning.

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