What is Strategy really about? Analysis or Action?

“Real strategy lies not in figuring out what to do, but in devising ways to ensure that, compared to others, we actually do more of what everybody knows they should do”. This quote by David H Maister in “Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What’s Obvious but Not Easy”┬áis actually a great insight. Read it again just to get it.

Fat person working out
Will you make the first step like this guy?

His view is that it is quite easy to know what you need to do; but that genius lies in effectively doing it. Like the Fat Smoker knows he needs to stop smoking and needs to go on a diet but for some reason it turns out to be too hard.

Would competitive advantage be more on the execution side than on the conceptual strategy side? As mentioned often in the field of startups, ideas by themselves have absolutely no value; what gives them value is their realization. It is the fact that you battle the world to give shape to your idea – probably pivoting and improving from time to time as you get feedback from the world.

Of course then all the usual issues about changing behavior and doing new things apply: do not set unrealistic expectations, set achievable intermediate goals and follow up on the long run, get support on your commitment from your environment, etc.

Remember that doing more theoretical analysis of your strategy is not very effective. What’s effective is to plow your way decidedly. Take action. Now.

  • Olaf Roennspiess

    Acting without formulating a strategy can be as disastrous as formulating a strategy and never acting. In times of stress some may find it easy to unknowingly “freeze up” by repeating administrative actions every day and never shaking the project up enough to resolve make-or-break problems confronting the project.

    Sailboats are often used as props for Team Building exercises for good reason. One day at the beginning of Hurricane season I decided to leave the team at home and sail the boat in a regatta across the Gulf of Mexico. As one thunderstorm after another came and went I formulated one strategy after another and carried it out. However, only after the last storm had passed could I get back to actually sailing in the right direction. If I had strategized and never acted I would not be writing this blurb. (It’s easy to freeze up alone at night on a raging ocean during a howling storm.) The same is true if I had acted without planning.

    Yet for all my strategizing and acting I could not get the boat to move towards the goal until the last crisis had passed.

    Does this sound like a metaphor for a project anyone has worked on?