We must first draw a line between its general meaning and its specific meaning in the science of strategy. In general use, the word "strategic" is used to mean "important". In the Golden Key to Strategy, I describe the general use of the word as a kind of magic fairy dust that people scatter to make their points seem more important. However, in the science of strategy, many things can be important without being strategic.
In the science, "strategy" means the methods of action required to advance competitive positions. "Competition" is defined as a comparison. "Positions" are what we rank what we compare competing alternatives. Comparison are made so that decision and choices can be made between competing alternatives. The general goal of strategy is to "win" these comparisons more often. Improving positions requires understanding the psychological process by which people make comparisons and choices. The methods of strategy work both at the physical level, that is, in the world of objective reality, and at the psychological level, that is, in the human mind where decisions are made choosing among competing alternatives. However, the physical level is only important because it has an impact on the decision-making process. Everything that can be used to affect the competitive positions in this decision-making process is "strategic" in a technical sense.
Strategy has a broad impact because all decisions are made by comparing alternatives. However, strategy is limited to those decisions in which some external party has an interest. Those external parties are the ones who use strategy to affect competitive positions.
Strategy only exists when someone has a "position" to advance, that is, an interest in the decision for one reason or another. In many situations, but not all, someone has an interest in influencing one of our decisions. The simple choice between drinking a glass of water or a canned beverage is a competitive battleground for those selling beverages. However, it is important to note that not all decisions are competitive battlegrounds. You may decide to scratch your right arm instead of your nose. You still have to make a comparison to make the choice, but no one has a personal stake in your choice between those two alternatives.
The science of strategy defines certain elements and actions that are necessary parts of the process of understanding and improving positions. Chief among these are:
- The components of a competitive position that are compared (mission, climate, ground, command, and methods).
- The general actions needed to advance a position: seeing, listening, aiming, moving, and claiming.
- The conditions of the competitive environment: types of ground, patterns of change, openings, the nine common situations, etc.
The word "strategic" is best used when separating the ordinary use of terms, such as "ground", from the specific use of terms in strategy. The ground we plant flowers in is different that the "strategic" ground where competitive positions are compared.