“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Sun Tzu

In the first post of this blog and also here we familiarized ourselves with the main strategic principle of chess: putting restriction on the enemy forces, or, as our consultant in matters of strategy Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC) would put it, “Defeat the enemy’s strategy”. Here we will take a look at strategy a little bit more in detail and how it differs from tactics. Next time we’ll try to discover a little something about the main principle of tactics!

What actually constitutes strategy?

What is the relationship between strategy and tactics?

What is older – strategy or tactics, eternal mystery, at least in chess?

Keith Morant, Stratagem I

Today each of us has to be our own strategic leader. Every company, every state need a strategy for competing and surviving (if not succeeding). In these unstable uncertain times even more so.

Conflict isn’t the whole of life, but it is an important part of it. If you always run away from confrontation or try to insulate your life against opposition, you are unlikely to achieve very much. Whatever and whoever you are, there will be times when you will have to fight and win.

All of us are engaged in a constant struggle for life, and in many if not most of our encounters with others, we must negotiate. The negotiation is, in many ways, the modern equivalent of samurai combat. Even friendly negotiation requires a similar approach to combat. Everyone, whatever they do, has to negotiate, not only over money and benefits, but also over almost any arrangements involving another person. You need to know what you want and you need to be able to get it. [2]

Origins of Strategy

The strategy originally, in ancient world, was about how to win battles and wars. The art of warfare. The art of the general. The idea can further be extended to sports, games, chess of course, business, because the objective is often perceived as the same – beating the competition.

What is it that generals think about?

What factors enter into their calculations and plans?

What do they consider as they craft an approach to battle?

At the basic level, generals must ask and answer questions about what resources they have, what resources the other side has, where the battle is to be fought, and the importance of the conflict at all (e.g., is it essential to fight here and now? Is it essential to win or only to draw? [3]

In this competitive world you must capture the high ground and defend it against your rivals. What skill will help you achieve this? The art of being a commander-in-chief, the strategy.

Strategic vision is by nature out of the weeds, above the sightline clutter of details and minutia. Your objective is to think more broadly, at a higher level, with consideration of future implications.

The strategy boils down to planning and predicting what you will do and what will happen, much like playing a game of chess – which most point when attempting to define what strategy is. [4]

Strategy is about making appropriate choices about why, where and how to gain the competitive edge. Decisions of this type are invariably being made under conditions of incomplete information in increasingly complex contexts. [5]

Strategic planning follows a three-step path:

  1. Identify and evaluate the current situation,
  2. Define the target – the goals and objectives you would like to achieve to make the situation more favorable,
  3. Determine the path – outline how you will achieve the target. [6]

The Russian Tzar Making Their Move. Strategically Sound?

Strategy versus Tactics

Long range versus day-to-day

Dreaming versus doing

Doing the right thing versus doing things right

A strategic plan offers direction based on vision and goals that are far-reaching. Operational plans provide details of how these goals will be achieved.

The fundamental principles of strategy are the same for all, all times, and all situations. Only tactics change, and tactics are modified to the times. [1]

In warfare, battlefield tactics is how to handle one’s army when it is face-to-face with the enemy.

The art of the general encompasses far more than just battlefield tactics. Notably, it was about the solders – their training, their spirit, their morale and their will to fight. When generals considered resources, they might well begin by focusing on the soldiers available to them both in quantity and quality. For example, their considerations (in the older times) would include material assets (such as artillery, shot, shells, and horses) and supplies (such as food, water, and shelter). [3]

What is the borderline between strategy and tactics? In chess it’s when you establish an attacking contact with an enemy unit. It’s like looking the enemy through gun sight. That’s where tactics begin. Anything that comes before we face-to-face with the opponent involves strategy (mobilization of troops, maneuvering, etc.). Once the battle began, that borderline became a little blurred.

What kind of thinking is required for strategy?

Good strategy requires a balancing insight based on well-founded intuition with rational analysis – particularly in the face of incomplete information and complex circumstances. Not only that, strategic insight also includes healthy scepticism, reflected experience, and the willingness and ability to continually challenge the prevailing logic and paradigms. [5]

The important thing to stress here is that strategy is not all about rational thinking. Again, it’s predominantly our power of thinking without thinking. Our insight “beyond the numbers”. Beyond confines of logic and reason…

Free people, cast off the shackles of reason!

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“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” Sun Tzu

Hey, who’s this Sun Tzu guy? Some sort of an expert, or something? He’s everywhere!

* * *

[1] Sun Tzu, The Art of War for Managers, Michaelson

[2] Miyamoto Musahi’s The Book of 5 Rings; A Modern-Day Interpretation of a Military Classic, Leo Gough

[3] Strategic Analysis and Choice: a Structured Approach, Alfred Warner

[4] The Coaching Connection, Paul Gorrell

[5] Strategy in Practice: A practitioner’s Guide to Strategic Thinking, George Tovstiga

[6] Strategic Planning, Lin Grensing Pophal

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