What Is Strategy?

January 11, 2020

Tony Zipparro

Sounds stupid. Sounds simple. Sounds like it has already been answered, but I found out it really wasn’t, at least for me. Despite all the books, articles and teachings I have had in school and in the real world about “strategy” none of them took that introspective look. You see, I wasn’t looking for the definition of strategy. I was looking for what strategy was. More of what drove Strategy to be successful than what people put out in the world there strategy is. 

So I digressed. I first looked to decouple the meaning behind someone or something that is considered to have a Strategy. What really weighed on me was that I had worked with hundreds of clients to give them what they were happy to call strategy (sometimes at a cost and sometimes for free). But being truthful, I often didn’t feel like it was strategy at all. It was an idea that was anything but extraordinary that to them had the feeling of success. Sure it might have been new or fresh to their industry or business, but to me it felt recycled. 

And so that got me thinking on what clients are actually saying they want from Strategy versus what they are actually paying for (and happy to do so). What made our ideas better or worse than others pitching different or similar ideas? It lead me to question the premise of strategy itself.

So, what is Strategy? For most people we would define it as a statement with a set of actions to achieve that statement (call it a goal or vision if you will). So if Strategy can be boiled down to essentially a statement (in this linear example). One step back from Strategy is a key statement. One step back from statement is a plan to achieve this statement, one step back from a plan is inferred direction. One step back from this direction is perception. One step back from this perception is a belief. In order to have belief you must have trust (whether in yourself or someone else). Behind trust is a thought. And behind thought is just words

So what makes one Strategy better than the other? In the external opinion whereby two firms might be pitching one, it’s perception. And perception is made up of belief in what is being said (ie words). In fact often times one Strategy being pitched isn’t better than another. You just believe it is. And it is that belief that I believe has been underrated in this theory of Strategy. 

Words without trust and belief are exactly that…words. “The cat jumped over the moon” could theoretically be strategy to someone. Most of us reading that (even me) would find that silly as it is so contextually out of place in relation to business. But the truth I realized is that Strategy is a statement. A statement with direction. In which that direction is, is a single or consensus perception of what it can lead to. But without that perception (or trust and belief) in that statement (ie words again) it is simply that.

With belief and trust a perception of direction is formed that we as humans call Strategy. 

Plan and direction are simply perceptions of probable momentum. While they might have certain “tastes” of success it is a facade. We as humans make it seem so. 

I deeply believe that Strategy should supersede everything, within an organization as an individual. It’s in everything we do. The literal life blood. And I don’t believe we can ever remove it. How we interact with potential clients…that’s a strategy set forth (whether intentional or inherited). How we design…that’s a strategy. How we develop. How we communicate. How we sell. How we empathize with clients. It’s all UX underneath strategy.

While in many senses I might be writing specifically with business terms, I challenge you to note that you can take that view off and apply just the same to a personal sense. Mentioning “clients” above could just as easily place in “friends” or “family”. 

So what is my definition of Strategy?

It’s a lens through which we look at business and the life that surrounds, integrates and and outputs with that business. Strategy is for business what mental models are for individuals. 

Strategy is our real lives and interactions with humans, companies and projects. It is always present and seldom singular. It is complex, comprised of thousands of variables. It is a method of interpreting the business world around us and forming immediate and long lasting opinions and directions. It is a network of beliefs we hold for every perceived reality of business. It is integral to pair this Strategy with actions, plans, insights, research, discovery, execution and analysis…to be successful (or at least to fail less). 

It is omni-directional, though seldom thought in terms of the negatory in business. It is a culmination of past actions and current beliefs. It is verbal and non-verbal. And often driven more from how communication and interaction pursues rather than what is said. It is the pinnacle of actions speak louder than words. It is the actions you take that your knowing or unknowing strategy guides. 

It is seldom “completely transformable” and more commonly nudged, guided into new directions. Strategy is a lifeblood of an organization. It is empathy. It is feeling. It is more than just transactional. It is more than just ideas. 

 

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