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Strategy is Dead, Long Live Strategy

May 2nd, 2017 by Leon Young

In case your head was firmly stuck in the sand looking for the lost city of Ubar in the Empty Quarter, the bell has tolled for strategy (again). Strategy is dead and Tactics is the new monarch. Tactics has sent the heralds out with promises of agile victory on the turbulent battlefield. Supporters of the new regime proclaimed that Strategy was too old, too feeble and too set in its ways to be able to anticipate and cope with increasing changing landscape. Strategy, it seems, was not resilient enough for the modern world. The streets rang with the cry: “Strategy is dead, long live Tactics”.

Fools. Tactics should be in the field, commanding the troops. Tactics’ small hands are lost on the big maps in the throne room. Tactics wants simple solutions and has little patience for the complexity involved in steering the kingdom into the vast unknown future. Tactics wants to fight, pillage, conquer and doesn’t know what to do after the battle is won. I am afraid that Tactics is unsuited for the role thrust upon it by nervous courtiers and disillusioned nobles. They would have been better placed giving the crown to the Fool. At least then we would be laughing on our way to social fragmentation and national disintegration.

You see, the problem has been misdiagnosed and the wrong leader was elevated to the throne. We know that Strategy and Tactics are siblings. Tactics was entrusted with winning the fight. Tactics was able to superbly coordinate a range of actions across the battlefield to bring the enemy to their knees. Thus, it is because of Tactics’ obvious, immediate and tangible results that it was chosen as the successor to Strategy. But why did Strategy fail in the first place? To understand this we need to first understand the change in the environment that lead to Strategy’s internment in the Tower of London.

Previously Strategy could alliterate a deliberate plan and the people would have confidence the plan would be followed with little disruption. Unfortunately the environment, at all levels, has become much more complex. The rate of technology and social change, coupled with economic freedom and globalisation has created a dynamic and unpredictable environment. Strategy’s deliberate plans were unravelling as fast as they were being developed. People started to question the usefulness of Strategy. They saw how Tactics was able to react quickly to change and felt that here then was the new leader.

Unfortunately the people didn’t realise that Strategy is a twin. Strategy’s full name is Strategic Planning. The other twin is Strategic Thinking. Strategic Thinking was quiet, thoughtful and aloof. Strategic Thinking learnt from an early age that, while the court understood the importance of Strategic Planning, no-one understood Strategic Thinking. So, in the face of quiet resentment and misunderstanding, Strategic Thinking melded with the shadows and was soon forgotten. Strategic Thinking toured the Kingdom, studied at the lost libraries and lived for a while in the Foreign Lands. When Strategic Planning failed to adapt to the Modern Age and the Kingdom started to falter, the court, and the people, turned to the only other alternative – Tactics.

Yet Strategic Thinking has the breeding of a true leader. Strategic Thinking developed a nuanced sense of the interrelationships across the Kingdom through travelling. The reading allowed keen holistic intuition and bolstered Strategic Thinking’s creative thoughts. All that was needed was for Strategic Thinking to deliver a rich, emotive and motivational vision to the people. You see, Strategic Thinking had developed agility and a sense of purpose that is ideally suited to these changing times. Strategic Thinking founded the way of Emergent Strategy.

The disciples of Emergent strategy employ an iterative decision process that seeks continued advantage. It differs from Strategic Planning’s Book of Deliberate Plans as Emergent Thinking seeks to make many, small improvements that produce a continued advantage for the whole Kingdom. In Emergent Strategy, certainty is exchanged for purposeful flexibility. This is not to say that Strategic Planning should be sent to the guillotine. Rather, in process of writing the Book of Deliberate Plans, Strategic Planning enables the people to explore the art of the possible in the probable future. Strategic Planning still has a place at Court. In the reign of Strategic Thinking, Tactics wins the battles and Strategic Planning educates the people.

La stratégie est mort, vive la stratégie!


About the Author

Leon Young is a student of strategic thinking with over 20 years of operational experience. Leon is an international speaker and author on strategy thinking and futures. Leon can be contacted at l.young@futurestrategicthinking.com and looks forward to your comments.

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2 Comments on "Strategy is Dead, Long Live Strategy"

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Rod Gallagher

Have modern armies lost their way? We won a lot of battles in Vietnam but lost the war. Ho had a better long term strategy. Strategy is the focus for battles and the Tactics are then selected to fight that particular battle ( eg World War 2 German and American combat teams geared to a tactical circumstance. The Commander is the glue. Combat teams were often identified by the commander’s name).. The strategy is also required to win the peace. See Iraq the US forces arrived in Bagdad. We won, what do we do now?

Stuart Pearson

I enjoyed that – fresh humour and a wise message – twin strategies is useful. Thanks

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