“Anyone can plan a campaign, but few are capable of waging war, because only a true military genius can handle the developments and circumstances.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
There’s was a great discussion going on the topic of strategy last week, and I thought I put some more thought into it and clarify my point of view that strategy does require planning, but only to prepare your mind.
What is strategy? I’ve talked about this before and defined strategy as:
The essence of strategy is not to carry out a brilliant plan that proceeds in steps; it is to put yourself in situations where you have more options than everyone else. Instead of going for A as the single right answer, true strategy is positioning yourself to be able to do A, B or C depending on the situation.
Planning prepares your mind for what might happen
The problem with this statement is it doesn’t mention that there is some planning beforehand. The assumption people are making, is that you’re just going with the flow without knowing what you might run into. My argument is not that there shouldn’t be any planning, but that you plan thinking in all sorts of different scenarios and then choosing the option that gives you the most advantage at that point.
All great strategists including, the greatest of them all, Napoleon knew their environment from the inside out. This gave them the ability to formulate strategies that always gave them the advantage no matter the situation.
They would craft plans with branches, that when executed, presented their opponents with difficult decisions to make since they never knew what he might do next.
Strategy has to be your own formula
Business school literature has made strategy to be very mechanical in thinking, a formula to follow. It’s understandable, but what they failed to tell you is that strategy was born in war, where unpredictability and chaos reigned and no single plan was executed as it was planned. The more clever strategists, such as Napoleon, used fluid strategies to disrupt his opponents. He was always thinking several steps ahead, and never did what his opponent expected him to do.
He kept them on their heels by formulating strategies they never would imagine, because they were playing by his rules.
To be strategic is to be unconventional
What separates the Napoleon’s from the others, is they don’t follow set patterns. They work outside their opponents experience and maneuver them to situations where they are weak. A true strategist is fluid and adaptable, he changes with the environment as if he already knows what’s going to happen next.
The more mechanical your opponent is in thinking, the more predictable he is.
Hit him with the unexpected, take him out of his domain and see him run like a chicken without a head.
Key takeaway: Do as Napoleon, instead of following ’best practices’, differentiate yourself by creating your own set of rules. Set the pace and force your competitors to dance to your tunes. And if they don’t like it, that’s great because you’ll have the whole dance floor to yourself.
UPDATE: Ralf Beuker added his thoughts through Twitter and would extend the formula to:
Strategy = f (People + Objectives + Inside-out + Outside-in + Means)
Always mind your surroundings. Thanks Ralf!
Why do you think most organizations and people think of strategy as a step by step action plan when it’s really a state of mind?