What is Strategy

May 3, 2013 3 Comments

Photo provided by Alex Pelayo. Check out the rest of his amazing portfolio here!

This post is Part II in a series on Strategic Planning and Emergence.

It doesn’t make much sense to look at strategic planning without taking a look at what we mean by strategy.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on what people mean when they use the word strategy.  I like the way Thomas Rice, IISC’s founding board chair, talks about it here.  Thomas stresses that strategy is about how you choose to deploy scarce resources in order to achieve your goals.

I think strategy is about three things:

  • Strength
  • Choice
  • Adaptability

I am persuaded by Richard Rumelt’s idea that strategy is about applying strengths to weaknesses.  It is about what you bring to the problem you are trying to solve (whether internal or external).  But it is also about applying the strengths that you bring to specific weaknesses in that problem, to the gap in the market or the leverage point in the system.

I am also persuaded by Lafley and Martin when they say that strategy is about choice.  Your strategy is itself a choice, and it is also your framework for making choices.  A coherent and shared understanding of your strategy allows you and your people to make decisions every day.  Willingness to choose and the capacity to choose strategically are way more rare than you would think.

Finally, strategy is about adaptability.  This is where we acknowledge complexity.  Your strategy provides the set of constraints for your experiments.  Strategy delineates what you are testing.  A clearly articulated strategy is rigorously tested against the reality of a dynamic “market place.”  This is where strategy, emergence and the scientific method meet.



  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Thanks, Gibran. Looking forward to more. I would offer one upgrade to Thomas’ definition of strategy. I like “finite” resource better than “scarce.” I like this in part because the “scarcity” mindset drives un-strategic and overly cautious strategy. Our lives are finite, not scarce, and that realization should give birth to boldness.

  • GibranX says:

    Loving the upgrade Curtis!

  • Xavier Russo says:

    Great post Gibran. Like you, my view on strategy has also been strongly influenced by Rumelt and Lafley & Martin. The idea of strategy as choice is a very useful approach, and I’d also emphasize the role of focus (which leads to strength by virtue of concentrated resources & attention) and insights (which helps you identify points of maximum leverage).

    To my mind, strategy is a design activity that is creative and ongoing: your strategy is never complete, but instead it is a living, breathing work-in-progress that needs to be refined to incorporate new insights, your experience in implementing it, and of course changes in your organization & environment.

    For more, check out my own post on this topic at http://xavierrusso.com/2014/02/02/what-is-strategy/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *