The late COL John Boyd, former Air Force pilot and 20th century strategic theorist extraordinaire, provides another perspective on strategy: “Strategy is a mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world of many bewildering events and many contenting interests.”
Here is how I view the concept of strategy: Choices made in a dynamic environment to create a sustainable advantage. Let’s look at each of these 3 components:
1. Choices – Strategy is about the choices you make. It’s about choosing the means to achieve the organizations ends. Historically, the general made choices about how and where to deploy his forces, which weapons to use and how to best train and prepare his unit.
In designing the most effective strategy we need to determine the most critical point in the “enemy’s” position. The history of strategy illustrates for us modern practitioner’s two basic choices in this approach: where to attack and how to attack.
Where to attack – Here we look to the wisdom of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz for guidance. Sun Tzu ranked the priorities for choosing our point of attack as:
- “The supreme excellence of war is to attack the enemy’s plans’”
- “The next best is to attack alliances”
- “The next best is to attack the army”
- “The lowest is to attack a city. Siege of a city is only done as a last resort.”
Clausewitz provides further guidance by advising us to look for the ‘center of gravity:’ “Out of these characteristics a certain center of gravity [my emphasis] develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed.”
The conclusion we can draw as strategists is that we need to put our organizational energy on the competition’s plans and alliances.
But how to do this?
How to attack: The two main choices we have in determining how to attack is direct or indirect.
In ancient times, these two approaches where exemplified by two of Homer’s greatest heroes: Achilles and Odysseus.
Achilles, the strongest and bravest warrior of his mythic day, would directly confront his adversaries, like his defeat of Hector.
In contrast, Odysseus advocated an indirect approach.
Known for being crafty, cunning and guile he came up with the idea of using the famed wooden horse to deceive the Trojans.
Today, those who fight direct battles of attrition owe their strategy to Achilles while those who employ spies, intelligence and indirect maneuvers make a nod to Odysseus.
In the world of business leaders translate ‘attack’ and ‘enemy’ into choices of who to serve (which markets) and how to provide value.