Strategy As A Way of Thinking

Strategy may well be a disposition rather than a doctrine for practitioners.  Strategy is a way of thinking about issues in the future tense that goes to the success or failure of an enterprise.  From this disposition, certain positions follow, views of change and innovation key among them, along with a deep sense of situational awareness.

Strategy, while essential, is not everybody’s idea of a good time.  In a world clamorous with so many other demands on their attention, it is challenging for practitioners.  Helpful as the various schools of strategy have been, successful practitioners are not intellectually hostage to any one school, consulting reality before embracing any of them.

On the other hand, the strong hand, for practitioners there are intelligent arguments on the debate for the superior strategy and on the other hand, the shaky hand, it is hard to know who is right when little guidance is provided on which models and tools to use.  Management theorists who seek the Holy Grail of the Great Single Solution to the problems of business are disappointed.  Successful practitioners understand how each of the various strategies advanced works individually, as well as how they might be combined for best effect.

Behind closed doors, senior leaders embrace a number of approaches and tools to reach a decision as to what their strategy should look like and what they should avoid informed by their own on the ground experience.  Choosing a strategy to meet the specific demands of their competitive environment in mature, nascent, growth, and declining industries is a major effort.  Ultimately, strategy is a way of thinking, not the mindless application of models and tools.

However, how and when to use the various tools and their limits is still an outstanding issue.  How to use business strategies is settled only in the minds of the practitioners who know how to apply the art and blend the various schools.  Should the firm in a mature industry pursue an innovation strategy trying to create new markets?  Should it seek to dominate existing markets, or perhaps use a hybrid strategy?

Also, strategy can be a strange and frustrating subject matter for students who frequently feel as though they are lost in a whiteout, paralyzed with boredom.  Many students are none too enthusiastic to study strategy.

Part of the problem is that students are generally unprepared to receive knowledge that is not immediately useful or exciting, that won’t free them from the financial wars and close the book on their debts.  For many students taking the required course in strategy, time seems to pass more slowly than in a laundromat.

Strategy requires students to have well-stocked minds, which means having knowledge of cross-functional disciplines and acquiring a more than nodding acquaintance with history—in short, to be educated. That means having knowledge of literature, history, and philosophy.  Sadly, historical consciousness is no longer in currency, let alone in vogue.

Students need to think in interdisciplinary terms, invariably that means finding dazzling connections, for as historian Edith Hamilton put it: to see anything in relation to other things is to see it simplified”.  Instead they struggle with trying to integrate and coordinate various functional areas.  Reference to context is de rigueur when discussing and analyzing a particular case or scenario.

Students get caught sometimes between warring disciplines such as finance, accounting, marketing, and other functional subjects.  This is especially difficult in an academic environment with the pressure to specialize and many students living exclusively in the present.  Students who go into the real world and attempt to practice strategy will quickly gain a healthy respect for the myriad challenges it poses.

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