Strategy: Crossing the River

On May 14, 2010, in Business, by John Tree

Strategy is such an overused word. People love saying it, but most don’t really understand what it means, or how they can use it effectively. There are people who believe that true strategy is reserved for Generals in a war, or corporate CEOs in an international corporation. If you check out the dictionary, you’ll see a lot of different thoughts on what strategy is supposed to mean. For example, in Webster, the very first definition of strategy is “the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war.” That’s a great definition of strategy, but it certainly is a narrow one. The good news for us mere mortals is that strategy has a lot more going for it than just the military or the corporate elite.

I believe that Strategy is HOW you get something done. It is not what you want to get done–that is your Objective (and I’ll write a separate article on that). So once you have your objective established, you know WHAT you’re going to do. But you don’t yet know HOW you’re going to do it. This is where Strategy comes in. It is the deliberate choice of HOW you’re going to accomplish your objective.

Strategy is my favorite part of business, because strategy represents choices. Everyone will usually agree on the business objective (the What), but many will disagree on the strategies (the How). This isn’t necessarily “bad” – there are many ways to get things done. Remember that because strategy represents choices, they are subject to debate. There can be good strategies, and bad strategies, or good strategies and better strategies. A given strategy could be good for one situation, but bad for another. A given strategy could be good for one person to do, but bad for another person.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example–just a silly one that easily drives the point home. Let’s say you’re stuck on the side of a river, and you want to get to the other side. (You’ve just established your objective, which is to get to the other side.) Now, what are your strategies going to be? This is HOW you’re going to accomplish your objective of getting to the other side of the river. Here are few strategies to consider:

  • Look for a bridge and walk across
  • Swim (or wade, if it’s shallow)
  • Find a boat, or build a boat, and float across
  • Find a strong animal, like a horse, and ride across on the animal
  • Build a hot air balloon, and fly across

You get the idea. There are a lot of different strategies that you could use to get to the other side. What’s important is that you choose a strategy that you’re comfortable with, and that you know you can execute. If your chosen strategy is to swim, but you don’t know how to swim, or lack the endurance to swim more than 25 yards, and the river is 100 yards wide, then you’ve chosen a very bad strategy for you. It may be a great strategy for someone else who is a top-notch swimmer, but it’s a flawed strategy for you that could prove fatal!

With this silly little example of how to cross the river, many Entrepreneurs and business owners will come to understand that they haven’t really taken the time to determine what their business objectives are, and how they are going to use strategies to accomplish their objectives. They will come to realize that their existing “strategies” for their business are too broad, too far reaching, or too hard to implement. This little exercise of learning how to cross the river should help you reflect on how your strategies are or are not working for you.

Importantly, by choosing a strategy, you are also defining what you are not going to be doing! Think about that for a moment, because most people do not get this point. By stating your strategies of HOW you’re going to do something, you’re also implicitly stating what you are NOT going to be doing, because you would not want to do something that is off-strategy. This is a very common problem with Entrepreneurs, because they want to be able to do anything they want, at any time. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to turn down an order, or deny a paying customer, because it would be going against your selected strategy. But that is precisely what needs to happen to stay true to your business, your brand, and ultimately, to create an enduring success!

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