The Nature of Strategy


Can I use the word strategic if the noun has a nature of strategy in a war like a strategic position?

Gary's Answer: 

The problem with the adjective “strategic” is that it works too much like magic fairy dust. We can sprinkle it on anything to make that thing seem more magical than it is. We can call any customers strategic customers. We can call any resource as a strategic resource. We can call any sale a strategic sale. Generally, people are just using “strategic” as a synonym for “important”. But there many important things that are not strategically important. It is important to understand the distinctions.

So the question is, what is truly strategic, or, in your terms, “what nouns have the nature of strategy”? This is such an annoying problem that I am often tempted to use or invent another term rather than “strategic” to discuss the unique nature decision making in competitive situations because there is so much sloppy thinking about “strategy”. Of course, most thinking about the nature of “competition” is even sloppier.

So, let us go back to the most basic, most generic concepts. All competitions are comparisons. What we compare are "positions". Positions are places in hierarchies of value where some things are rated better and others worse. The nature of the hierarchy and its values determines the nature of the competition and its comparisons. There is theoretically an infinite number of such hierarchies, but we only concern ourselves with those hierarchies that generate rewards. However, things get difficult at this point because we find moving up any hierarchy emotionally rewarding, even if its value is meaningless in the real world, such as our positions in online gaming.

So, what is a “strategy” and what makes a set of nouns, as concepts or objects, strategic? A strategy is a methodology for moving up in value hierarchies. We can apply the term “strategic” to any concept or action that is part of such a methodology. For example, in the Golden Key methodology that I teach, the five elements define a position would be strategic as well as the position defined by them. The five activities used for advancing those positions would also be strategic.

For those working outside of a well-defined strategic methodology, which is virtually everyone, we can use two very basic ideas to determine whether or not an asset or action is strategic:

  1. Is it important for the doing what we currently know works and doing it better?
  2. Or is it important for exploring opportunities outside of our current span of control?

The first set of important things is not strategic except in the sense that maintaining our current position is strategic. While this is certainly true, it isn’t helpful in separating the strategic from the non-strategic.

The second set of important things is always strategic. It is only by exploring the unknown that we advance our current position. Only by advancing our position can we have a position in the future because all current positions are being degraded over time.