People older and wiser than I am, have tried to define what the term strategy means in todays business. I even have to admit that some of these definitions, are quite good. Yet they all seem to bring in ONE aspect or application og strategy and none of these seem to be comprehensive.
Somehow, I find that strategy is ultimately about making choices, and so, you I have found that you easily detect if a strategy is really a strategy by posing the question:
By applying this strategy, what have you chosen NOT to do?
When asking this simple question, I have found that a lot of strategies are not more than a collection of nice words which doesn’t provide any real direction. I find this situation sad, as in my experience a strategy is important to most organizations – but only when the strategy is made relevant.
Etymology – back to the roots
According to wiktionary.com, the word strategy is derived from two ancient Greek words – “stratos” and “ago”. “Stratos” indicates some kind of military activity (“army”) and “ago” carries with it some form of guidance or leadership (“to lead, to conduct”).
In my experience the image of successful strategy as winning a battle is a widespread notion. However, I find that winning over competition is merely ONE aspect of strategy. It also raises important questions such as; WHO are we fighting and WHO are your allies.
An excellent framework: Process, content and context
In exploring this area I happened to stumble on the brilliant book “Strategy Process, Content, Context an international perspective” by Bob de Wit and Ron Meyer. As opposed to other books on the topic who take a stand and state their view on the topic of strategy, de Wit and Meyer have put on display a collection of well known and well written articles from renowned academics and other subject experts. But collecting these articles is not by a long shot what makes De Wit & Meyer’s book so important. Their systematic and comprehensive framework makes the essence of each article stand out clearly clear. It also makes you aware of the assumptions, weaknesses and shortcomings, but most of all your own biases and inclinations. This is in fact what I found most fascinating about the book.
De Wit & Meyer’s framework in a nutshell
De Wit and Meyer have divided it into three sections:
Process – The processes of strategy is constituted by the strategic formation (how the strategy came about) and implementation (how you ensure it is rolled out in the organization) and views on strategic thinking (your mental model when approaching strategy)
Content – the content of strategies as seen from BU level, corporate level (these two looking at the firm) and network level (taking a broader view – the system)
Context – the context in which the strategy is formed – is this in the view of the industry context, the organizational context or the international context
There is also a short chapter on organizational purpose which is worth a read-through, but it is not the core of the books message.
Within each chapter there are 4 parts:
- The Issue – describing the issues contained in this part of the framework
- The Paradox – describing the apparent paradox
- The Perspectives – a summary of what are the different perspectives are
- The Articles – relevant articles describing one perspective in further detail
As you may have discovered by now, I am quite excited about this framework as it gives a good understanding of the different aspects of strategy. This for two reasons:
- This is very helpful to make conscious choices about the aspects you need when creating or analyzing any strategy
- It gives clarity as to what aspect of strategy you are addressing in any discussion.
For me this framework has proven clear enough to be useful and still open enough not constrict the content of the strategy or its general applicability. So, if I have to choose I would rather have a:
well defined strategy, than strategy well defined.
In the future, I have intentions of writing about each paradox on this blog, but I cannot guarantee that I will write in any given order. However, promise that I will return and stay true to the structure of the book.
Please let give me feedback on this blog. I am always ready to listen, review and learn.