Strategy is Winning

January 21, 2020

Tony Zipparro

While I believe the awareness of “strategy” is often more important than the intentions of setting strategy forth itself. Let’s look at strategy from the perspective on where it came from and what most people look to translate it into in modern business. Strategy is about winning. In the infamous strategy book “the Art of War” by Sun Tzu it is noted that strategy is about winning. So if strategy is about winning, shouldn’t it also be about aligning all the odds to make that possible?

How do you make a diet work? Would you say it’s fair to say that a diet is more successful with a strategy? Of course. But let’s look deeper at what we really mean when we are talking about strategy as it relates to a more personal goal. If you don’t have a plan, any idea of what to eat and how to exercise and attempt to “diet” to let’s say lose 20 pounds. Don’t have to tell you much more but I think we can all agree that the person is more likely to fail than succeed. Whether that is 49% or 2% can of success it’s clear that many obvious factors are missing in order to make hitting that goal more successful. So absolutely no strategy = pretty much leaving it up to chance. 

Ok the person goes a step further. They research all about the best foods to eat. They take notes and learn what combinations of nutrients and minerals may affect their body more effectively. They learn about good fats, bad fats, what carbs do in the body, etc. Just having that basic information itself layered on top of the person before. Would they be more successful? I think we can all say yes (getting into why the actual reason isn’t that they “learned” information in a little). How much more successful? We could guess but it’s at least more. 

Is there something else they could do? Of course you say. They could create a workout plan, eating plan, start to create frameworks written down that intersect with their schedule.

What else? Well they could map out how to achieve that plan. Since we know we are trying to alter habits a popular method might be getting to the gym at least on the days you are supposed to work out. Or waking up in the morning and putting your workout shoes and clothes on. While it doesn’t guarantee you end up in the gym to do the workout, it increases the chance. 

So layering all the above items on top we get a list that sort of starts to look like this:

  • Vision: Lose 20 pounds
  • Goal: Do an 8 week workout plan
  • Plan: Put your shoes and workout clothes on every other day, regardless of weather or how you are feeling

Essentially what we have above is a strategy. We could even venture to say that based on the above that person could be fairly successful in reaching their vision. But is a major driver of further success missing? Obviously it’s the want. 

What would we all say the major factor in dieting being successful? Passion? Motivation? Commitment? Without those or any reason to really want to do it, what is the point? We all have experienced not having a driver or belief in what we are setting out to do and are never surprised when it fails. 

So if belief itself helps in achieving success, or a higher win percentage, shouldn’t that factor into strategy? It appears that while many organizations need the basics of explanation of what strategy is (defined as), how it can be accomplished (examples and frameworks), in fact the largest determinant of their success is belief within that “strategy”. 

I would argue that without that belief you actually don’t have a Strategy (big S). What you have is a plan, tactic, vision, goal, etc (strategy with a small s). But you don’t have a Strategy. Strategy is as much emotional as it is logical. 

As Rory Sutherland discusses in his book “Alchemy” the idea of pyshco-physics is something that is rarely identified but always present. In fact it drives much of what we consider to be a more black and white economic or academic world (especially in marketing). Strategy is not logical. It is not a plan. It is not even a plan with a way to get there. No. Strategy is based on psycho-physics. It’s on people’s perceptions and actions combined with that plan and vision. 

That bundle is the Strategy. At least if you want to win. But alas if the definition of strategy itself has come to mean to people the fact of winning. Looking to put pieces in place that will help achieve a goal…and that goal is almost always (for businesses) to make more money, to beat out competition, etc. If business is going to make strategy all about winning, well shouldn’t you then apply the concepts that help you win? Don’t want to put feeling into your strategy? Then you don’t have a Strategy. You have a plan and a vision that you will execute on by utilizing surface level tactics. An optional array of tools and views you will choose whether or not to participate in each day. 

I would argue that strategy itself does not have to be about winning. And the definition itself clearly states that. It is omni-directional. Agnostic to direction. All it cares about is achieving an end goal or vision. But of course we have to be realistic about the contexts in which we operate. And in the business environment it is about producing profits to help drive resources towards growth and human capital.

The reason someone who tries to “cut” something else without changing anything else in their diet is almost always doomed to fail. The only variant that carries them through to success is sheer determination. But realistically they are putting themselves at odds with being able to better succeed. Cutting something out lacks commitment, passion and internal reasoning that a much more serious endeavor requires. 

If you are enlisting strategy to help you win. Then fucking do it right. That may require changing some of your own beliefs. But if you aren’t willing to do that, don’t worry someone else will. It’s as much about self-discovery and learning as putting a “plan” in place. 

A great plan in place is like a dieter who doesn’t really care if they lose the weight. They are doing it for a superficial reason (or no reason at all). A great plan in place without execution is a dieter who made a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight but than never started. A great plan in place without consistency is a dieter that eats donuts everyday in between the healthy meals because “its hard and they’ve been good”. A great plan in place with true belief behind it is a dieter that often succeeds. Perhaps not in the exact ways they anticipated, but they have gotten closer to not only their goal but their own internal understanding of success. A great plan with belief that is reached at all costs is a dieter that has cut off a limb to win. By definition you have won. But at what other costs? Perhaps the risk / reward was worth it, but alas that decision is their own to make. Perhaps achieving the diet goal with one less arm is a happier state for them. Who am I to judge?

Even with belief, plan and vision it is possible to be reckless in achieving a Strategy. Too much conviction in a specific area may create blinders. And may have you win and other greater costs. That is why it as much about self- and organization-discovery as anything else. It’s a tough world we live in. Even when you win, sometimes you lose. Buck up. That’s the fun of living. 

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