Strategy is a loaded word that is poorly defined when used in a business context
The term strategy dates back several millennia starting with Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War, somewhere between the 5th and 3rd century B.C. (Anonymous, n.d.). Military minds have used strategy for conquest or as defense from being conquered. H. Igor Ansoft introduced strategy in business with his book, Corporate Strategy, in 1965 (Horwath, 2020). Less than 60 years have passed since Ansoft introduced strategy in business to help business people formulate an opinion and perspective around strategy. Now, I will refrain from my natural tendency to continue going on and on, in true academic, professor fashion, with even more nuance around the term’s history.
Strategy is complicated because others have been complicating it
I think the term strategy is confused and is confusing because the term encompasses so much. Strategy seems not to be one distinct “thing.”
- To say it is a specific action plan is an incomplete answer.
- To say it is a specific action plan based on a well-thought-out vision gets closer but still misses the mark.
Let’s play a word association game. What board game do you think is most synonymous with the term – strategy – because the game requires what you may have heard described as “strategic thinking”?
The Game of Risk
If not these, do other board games come to mind?
Bayeck (2020) provides a literature review on the value of games in learning. Learning is a fundamental aspect of strategy. The beauty of a board game is that it is a way to provide a complex system on a two-dimensional playing surface to act within. To play the game, one must understand the rules and consider things that are not in their control – namely, opponents, the chance of the dice, or the order of the playing cards that provide the situational game reality to play within. Opponents will take action to counter your own actions or take their own proactive steps; you have to decide if and how you will react. Anticipation is the playing field of strategy.
Is it possible and helpful to think of strategy, first by taking stock in the systems by which your business functions?
Think about your business as a two-dimensional playing board. Does it resemble a Chess or checkerboard? A relatively uncomplicated environment where the complexity is in the playing pieces that make up your business system and how to play the game with those pieces? Or is your business more like the Game of Risk – the playing field being specific territories and the playing pieces are military personnel with the purpose of play to conquer more territory?
To think strategically is to be able to build the game as a model in your mind and use the game pieces in specific ways or in specific steps over time—all of which help you perceive a way to get to a hoped-for outcome. Here, the idea is to build a muscle in an attempt to “see” what’s coming.
While playing a game, one doesn’t usually get into ‘analysis paralysis., which is a term used to explain someone who gets stuck playing out the possible scenarios while failing to decide and take action. Many games force players’ hands by placing a time limit on play. I suggest you do the same when playing your business game in your head or on a whiteboard. Set a time limit, then decide and act. Remember, a decision on its own is devoid of action. Action is required after you choose to take action. Deciding and acting are distinct aspects of the game of business.
Board games are an excellent metaphor to use because I believe strategy isn’t a word that is definable as all other words can be
Think of your personal and business life, each having its own board game.
- What does that board look like?
- What are the board playing pieces?
- What are the rules?
- What other components of “the system” of the game make up the game itself?
Since playing games like chess, checkers, The Game of Risk, and others require you to place gameplay in one’s mind, which is where modeling play and possible cause and effect occur. Strategy is a thought process to create frameworks and methodologies to bring reason to the rhyme of what cannot be controlled, only reacted to. With enough momentum in your game, proactivity is possible where thoughts can become actions in gameplay that cause more positive momentum.
Strategy attempts to put you in the driver’s seat of situational cause and effect. In other words, you are using your mind to play out multiple scenarios, then picking a course of action in the hope the best intended-for outcome occurs.
Suggestions to move forward
Make your business a game. Get its playing board firmly seated in your mind. What are the pieces of your business, and what powers do they have? What moves can they legally (and ethically make)? You want to play by the rules, don’t you? How does each of the game pieces of your business interact with one another to give you an advantage?
Gameplay that elevates your business to think and act strategically
- Start with the intent and purpose of the game (i.e., your vision, which is your why).
- The mission and goals of gameplay (i.e., what the business does and what matters in the act of doing business)
- The obstacles you face now and anticipate what you will face as play continues.
- The strengths of your game pieces and the opportunities you have on the playing field. Plus, the threats you may face in gameplay from opponents.
- How you will play the game utilizing 1-4 above
- Devise your action plan, which becomes your strategy, informed by vision, mission, goals, obstacles, strengths, opportunities, and threats.
- #5 without context from #1-#4 is an incomplete strategy at best or an ill-conceived strategy at worst.
Let the game begin!
Anonymous. (n.d.).The art of war. Retrieved from: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/art-war/#:~:text=It%20is%20hard%20to%20know,working%20for%20the%20Wu%20state.
Baybeck, Rebecca, Y. (2020, April 16). Examing board gameplay and learning: a multidisciplinary review of recent research. Retrieved from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1046878119901286
Horwath, Rich. (2020, July 1). The origin of strategy. Blog. Strategic Thinking Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.strategyskills.com/the-origin-of-strategy/