What is strategy, really?

I am always interested in strategy. I feel that it’s a term that we all use, but not many people know what it actually is.  It happens to me a lot at work. It’s always like this, I talked to my team on, say, our social media activities, I asked one of my team why there was no progress. One of many answers always is – “I don’t understand why we are doing this. I don’t think we have a strategy for our social media”. I then asked “OK, we have discussed this many times. Before I go through it with you again, can you please tell me, in your words, what is a strategy?” If it happens to you, your boss asks you this question, what would be your answer? It’s intriguing, and I really want to know your answers.

When asked, what is a strategy? I often heard something along the line of – it’s planning, it’s how a company uses resources, it’s a way to achieve our goal, etc. It’s not wrong, but it’s also not right. I am not saying what I have in mind about the answer to this question is the right answer. However, I did some research to get to the bottom of this.

The outcomes of my research for the answers to this question involves the following keywords:

  • Problems
  • Competitive advantage
  • Strengths/weaknesses
  • Execution/Implementation
  • Choices (what to do and what not to do)
  • Differences
  • Change of external forces
  • Branding/Positioning

I also found terms like strategic planning, strategic building block, branding positioning, resource allocation. If you do the search yourself, I bet there is an 80% chance that your search results would be the same, with those keywords.

With all of the above, I want to propose my own version of what a strategy is. I am a big fan of Richard Rumelt’s book (Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The difference and why it matters) so I am influenced by his thoughts. Below is my proposal.

“A strategy is an activity that utilizes the insights of your challenges to design a coherent set of actions based on your strengths to address newly identified opportunities or to overcome obstacles.”

According to Richard, the first step to check if you have a strategy at all is to see if you understand your challenges or not. In his words, “A great deal of strategy work is trying to figure out what is going on. Not just deciding what to do, but the more fundamental problem of comprehending the situation”. Basically, what he said is, “diagnosis is a judgment about the meanings of facts.” I think his book is impressive and if you have the same interest as I am (in Strategy), you should read his book (if you haven’t done that yet).

Strategy work is important. It determines lives and deaths of companies, battles, negotiations, everything. It’s more important than many people thing. Surprisingly, not many people understand what the true strategy is.


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