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What is Strategy?

Jim Babb
Jim Babb

Everybody talks about strategy. Constantly. Right this minute — while you’re reading these words — someone in your organization is saying something like:

“We need a strategy for that.”

“Let’s figure out a strategy ASAP.”

But what do we mean by strategy?

At its core, strategy is about making better, more thoughtful, deliberate decisions.In business and in life, we face an overwhelming number of options. Strategy helps us sort through them, decide what to do now, what to do later, what to cross off the list.

Think of strategy as a map. You’re here, but you need to be there. A good strategy lets you pick the best route while dodging dead-ends and detours.

What is Strategy? animated map - Strategy is the best route from here to there
Strategy is the best route from here to there

Of course, it’s rarely that simple. Today’s world moves fast. The landscape around you is always changing. You’ve just started down one road when it turns into a river. All of a sudden, the set of directions you started with has become less relevant.

That means your map — your strategy — has to change, too.

Good strategy isn’t content to pick a plan and stick with it. Good strategy is a series of decisions that evolves as quickly as the territory it’s designed to navigate. And good strategy can be grasped by everyone who needs to use it.

Once upon a time, strategic planning was mysterious and done in isolation. White men in power suits marched into boardrooms and marched out with a map that they distributed to a few trusted lieutenants.

What is Strategy? Animation of the old way of crafting a strategy
The old way of crafting a strategy

Today, that’s not always the case. In this increasingly complex world, more people have to make more important decisions — and they have to do that more often, using brand-new technology and tools that didn’t exist even a few years ago. Your strategy can’t just accept this reality: it has to be built for it.

So now you’re on your way. Your whole team is working together to get from here to there, leaping over canyons, zigzagging around boulders. And then all of a sudden…

…Where’d the destination go?

What is Strategy? A strategy must be able to recalculate, when necessary
A strategy must be able to recalculate, when necessary

The final test of strategy is its ability to guide you when the endpoint changes. Maybe it’s been temporarily obscured, in which case your strategy has to provide clarity, so you can get back on track. But maybe the destination you had in mind is gone forever. With a good strategy, you can recalculate on the fly without losing ground.

And that’s what it’s all about: moving onward and upward, no matter what.