Sunday, May 26, 2024

Has Strategy Changed?


It seems we are out-of-date every time we turn around.

If we read widely, we learn that our present practices are passe. We learn that “now” there are new ways to develop our people, new ways to sell, a new way to market, and ever-shifting business models to consider.

Is there anything that isn’t changing? Are there any fundamental principles underlying this perpetual change, upon which we can base wise decisions? What about strategy? Has it changed? Has it, too, become a moving target? Today, many question and some undervalue the worth of strategy, believing either that they don’t need it, or that they already have it.

It really depends on what we mean by “strategy.” If we are referring to strategy-itself, it has not changed in its essence. If we are referring to a kind of strategy, it has indeed changed, and always will with the times. If we are referring to a particular strategy, it may or may not have changed, depending on its wisdom relative to our times and situation.

Let’s consider these one at a time so that in our rush to be at the cutting edge and to be competitive, we don’t throw out the baby (strategy-itself) with the bathwater (a particular strategy).

What is strategy-itself? Strategy-itself, at its essence, is calculated thinking, designed to deliver victory or success against a mission within a certain situation. When we consider its actual role within an enterprise, strategy-itself remains unchanged, even in “today’s world.”

Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, was one of the earliest and most enduring writers on strategy. In The Ethics, he defined the end of strategy as victory. In modern English then, at its core, strategy is winning. Thus, implicitly, strategy requires achieving competitive advantage, and, ideally, sustainable competitive advantage.Therefore, strategy is winning with sustainable competitive advantage.

That has not changed. We are still concerned with success. We still want to win, to achieve our objectives, to be profitable, to deliver shareholder value, to delight the consumer. So in this sense of the term, strategy has not changed – despite the rise of technology, the rise and fall of the dotcoms, globalization, the new economy, terrorism, and all the unending, accelerating turbulence we could never have imagined. Strategy, and what it is most fundamentally, remains unchanged.

On the other hand, what if we are referring to a kind of strategy? Has the kind, or type of strategy we need to succeed changed? Yes, without a doubt!

It isn’t a five-year plan any longer. It isn’t strategic thinking or planning as an annual event.

Today, strategy is an ongoing process. It needs to be simple and flexible so that everyone on the team can understand it and deliver an orchestrated contribution, even while everything around us is changing in discontinuous and unpredictable ways.

So, in this sense, strategy has changed by becoming more essential, simpler to understand, and more responsive to change. The strategy we should practice today has changed in kind, as regards essentiality, timeframe, complexity, and instantiation.

What if we mean a particular strategy? A particular strategy is some specific strategy we are embracing to, for example, gain market share, introduce a new product, acquire a competitor, survive, or to achieve a particular organizational objective.

Particular strategies, of which there are a plethora, should rise and fall to accommodate the challenge the enterprise is facing. Survival, relevance, scale, intellectual capital, talent, creativity, innovation, location, new products, pricing, these and other strategies have been the holy grail at different times, and still can be in some form, in that they continually drive the unending need for strategic thinking. So now strategy is not so much an event as an ongoing process. Now every organization must have the competency, or access to the competency, of strategic thinking.

Particular strategies are what deliver, or fail to deliver, victory. They are critical, for it is through them that the collective experience, knowledge, and wisdom of the enterprise is brought to bear upon the future. Fulfilling this need of the organization should employ the highest quality thinking available to the organization. It is here that brilliant thinking is better than quotidian thought. It is here in strategic thinking that professionalism, discipline, and specialization count. For without the right strategy, winning may be merely a matter of luck.

So has strategy changed during our turbulent times? No, not in its nature, which is to deliver success, but yes, in its kind, to be more essential, simple, and flexible, and yes, in its particularity to be the right strategy.

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