When someone asks you if you’re pregnant, you either are, or you’re not. Strategy is not like that. You can be doing strategy, but your process and emotional state might be too rushed to do it very well. So, when we talk about “strategy,” we’re really talking about “effective” strategy. And while we’re nitpicking, maybe we should realize that we’re really talking about process and the emotional capacity for strategy.
Strategy Helps in a few ways
First, let’s talk about how strategy helps.
- Strategy helps you make decisions quicker in the day-to-day, saving time.
- Strategy keeps people focused and creative, because they know why they’re doing what they’re doing.
- Strategy saves energy (both in movement and in frustration) by giving clarity.
A Strategist is Two Things: Emotion and Process
Strategists don’t have a corner on the ability to see systems or to study a battlefield and decide what are the most important questions to ask. But they’re able to get themselves into an emotional state that allows them to study, when others are rushing to conclusions. For some, it’s an emotional discipline. For others, it’s natural.
Strategists often have a default framework for understanding problems that comes with a natural curiosity (partly having to do with the emotional quality that we just talked about). But a good strategist is able to build a process that fits the situation, and is able to change that on the fly. As Moltke the Elder said, “No strategy survives the first contact with the enemy.” But a good strategist understands the system well enough to know how to change it just enough to deal with variables.
Other Habits of a Strategist
A strategist questions the current way of doing things. The strategist is suspicious of experience, especially when the voice of experience doesn’t seem to understand the current situation or why they’re suggested course of action worked in the past (which is very often).
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a fine motto when growth and change don’t create an advantage. But it’s a horrible point of view for when things are changing. Strategy is forward-looking, anticipating opportunities and problems and then imagining solutions.
A strategist asks “why” when other people just assume. A good strategist keys in on pivotal assumptions that could have a powerful bearing on results. This can frustrate people who don’t know what to do with themselves unless they’re executing.
A strategist can figure out what to do when there’s nothing to do. In chess, Kasparov talks about understanding the board well enough that, even when your opponent is bored, you’re making small moves that end up choking your opponent. The ability to identify these small moves makes the difference.
Everyone’s a strategist. But a strategist’s effectiveness depends whether they can extract profitable insights from situations where others might not see potential. Can they turn insights into a goal and then define tasks we can execute today that will move us toward that goal?
Strategy, done well, never fails to create progress. Don’t skimp on strategy. It consistently works in war, politics, chess and life. But it takes a process. So contact me if you want help creating a strategy program to more quickly reach your worthy goals.