Strategy Made Simple

(This is something I wrote for my long defunct blog How to Get There. It was originally published on October 18, 2013. I think the concept holds up pretty well. You can see the original post, if you like, here.)

Over the years I have learned a thing or two about strategy. Up to now that knowledge has mostly been not very easy to explain. I have reread all of my previous posts on this blog that dealt with strategy and I admit that none of them makes understanding how to do strategy any easier. I would liken what I have written so far to the parable of the blind men and the elephant. I have written about parts of strategy, without providing an adequate framework for explaining how people could put it to work for themselves.

Now, I believe I’ve had a breakthrough which will allow me to more easily explain strategy to anyone. It occurred to me that the principles of strategy can be broken down into 3 simple parts: purpose, planning, and progress. The alliteration should make it easy to remember, plus, I happen to like alliteration.

After a little thought, I ended up with this:

Purpose

  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing it?

Planning

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • What if?

Progress

  • Successes
  • Failures
  • Conflicts
  • Changes

This covers every question you need to answer to develop a working strategic plan. Of course, there are many tools and techniques that can be used to add detail and complexity to your plan, but they are not necessary. This framework can get you where you need to go. I think it works.

My First Lessons in Conflict Resolution

I first learned about conflict resolution in the United States Army. They didn’t call it conflict resolution in the army, they called it combat. The idea was that you win or you die. A tad confrontational, yes, but it has proven effective enough to be the go to tactic for many nations.

The army was the first place where I learned that conflict was there to be resolved. I learned that there are strategies and tactics available to deal with, and emerge victorious from, conflict. It was where I discovered the work of Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz. It was where I first learned to that to be successful in conflict you have to prepare yourself before you go looking for your foes.

Now I can safely say that I understand conflict a little better than I did as a private in the army. It seems to me that in many of the conflicts I have observed over the years, the people involved did not have any clearly defined reasons for getting involved in a conflict in the first place. Most of the time they were just angry at something, that may or may not have had anything to do with the conflict they involved themselves in.

One of the keys to being successful in conflict is knowing and understanding what your objectives are. If you don’t understand what you are attempting to accomplish, all the wisdom from every strategic genius in the world will do you little, probably no, good. It will be difficult even to judge whether you won that particular, and probably pointless, battle.

The army did teach me how to prepare for battle; how to fight and win. The only problem is that in the army somebody else picks your battles for you. If you are fighting someone else’s battles, only they can tell you if you have won, or not. As an individual, there is no way to win these battles; you are only along for the ride.

There is a lot of wisdom in the phrase, learn how to pick your battles.