Published on Jul 25, 2021
Essays

Starting Strategy

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This is part of a short series on strategy, its fundamentals and how the concept has evolved in today’s world

Strategy is one of the most used words in the business world and yet still feels remarkably nascent. There is no single agreed upon definition and every organization applies strategic concepts in a completely freeform and improvised manner. Over the past six years, I’ve been lucky to work with a bunch of different companies and built a small consulting firm focused on strategy. I will share my worldview on the concept, how its evolved and implications for managers & directors.

What we know

Even though the word strategy itself comes from the greek word strategos which means general, the origin of the concept is oriental. Strategy and its applications is widely believed to have originated from the Chinese during the period of 400 – 200 B.C with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

One agreed aspect of strategy is its approach towards structuring the future and uncertainty but the rest is pretty much up in the air. Dealing with unknown variables and uncertainty is messy. By its very nature, it’s not surprising that there are multiple approaches  and not one universally accepted definition. When debating a company’s valuation for instance,  the conversation can easily be framed around a DCF, earnings per share, etc. When debating a company’s strategy, it becomes much more subjective and revolves around one’s interpretation of the market, the management team, past performance and a whole host of other factors. It’s fun creative work yet lacks systematic and more universally applicable methods.

Different strokes for different folks

The domain most associated with strategy is the military. Stakes are usually high (I don’t want to die) and has a clear framework (us vs. them). The literature around military strategy is abundant and lots of real world lessons to learn from. Since The Art of the War, the most important work in this field is John Boyd’s OODA loop which I highly recommend checking out if you’re a strategy geek like me. It is the most applicable military strategy framework in the business world.

Other domains that I will not dive into are the nonprofit or government worlds. Nonprofits and public institutions usually look at strategy in a different light given the lack of a competitive environment (in most cases). Holding companies or investment funds are different as well because they tend to be financially driven in nature.  They tend to look at the chessboard through a different lens rather than a classical strategy approach.

My intellectual journey has focused on for profit companies and how they can succeed. The way I look at it is not meant to be what strategy should be and that it needs to be accepted that way. Rather, it’s my singular interpretation of the concept hoping it creates value.

What I’ll cover in the next posts is a method we call strategy in action. It’s a guide to help you run a strategy process at your own organization. Here’s a short overview:

Strategy Design

  • Setting or rebooting your strategy
  • Building your flywheel
  • Competitive advantage and ecosystem building

Strategy Execution

  • Strategy vs. Operations
  • Playing to win or planning where you want to be
  • Scanning and monitoring the environment
  • Aligning the team and creating feedback loops

Future of strategy

  • Implications for strategists

I’d love to keep learning and improving my thinking on the topic. Feedback is welcome!

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