Defining Strategy

I find it fascinating that Merriam-Webster defines design and strategy similarly — with both definitions incorporating the word plan as a central component. Rather than thinking of design and strategy as plans for things, I like to think of design as a process and strategy as a plan. Given the fact that I am as interested in design as I am in strategy, it is important for me to arrive at a fundamental understanding of each definition through clear articulation.

Strategy is a plan for identifying, defining, seizing upon and defending opportunity.

Below is an explanation of the five key words in the above definition:

Plan: Strategy is often confused with tactics (which are various means through which strategy is executed) and the easiest way to distinguish the two is by understanding that strategy is nothing more than a plan for achieving an objective up to the point at which it is carried out and/or executed. Another way to think about it is that whereas strategy is the who, what, where and when, tactics is the how.

Identifying [opportunity]: Whatever situation might be at hand — from military conquest to market penetration or political election — The first objective of strategy is to identify opportunity through careful qualitative and quantitative analysis — or by accident, sheer luck, cunning or a friendly tip.

Defining [opportunity]: The second objective of strategy is to define opportunity by understanding the:

      • Benefits of the opportunity.
      • Downside related to the opportunity.
      • Competitive forces vying for the opportunity.
      • Costs related to pursuing the opportunity.
      • Consequences related to either pursuing or deciding not to pursue the opportunity.

Seizing Upon [opportunity]: The third objective of strategy is to seize upon opportunity by articulating an argument for why the opportunity as defined in the previous objective is worth pursuing, how you will achieve victory over any competitors vying for the same opportunity and how you might deal with any unforeseen circumstances or outcomes.

Defending [opportunity]: The fourth objective of strategy is to defend opportunity by articulating how your plan will result in an outcome that not only differentiates you from any actions taken by competitors, but also results in:

      • A better outcome for you than for any of your competitors.
      • The erection of barriers to entry that either limit competition or slow the rate at which competitors can capture a share of your opportunity.

I am hopeful that the above definition of strategy gives new meaning to the term such that it can be used more meaningfully by those in pursuit of strategic advantage.