You want to have success. Your dreams are clear, your have your goals all that is keeping you is the way to get there. You know you have to take action, but the picture of all those actions you have to take - and how they are related - is not yet completely clear. You need a strategy. A strategy is useful for any kind of goal. A strategy is needed to achieve success. Some people think Napoleon was a natural strategist, but what he was good at was thinking upfront about what was going to happen. Thinking about your strategy will awake the Napoleon inside you.
Your Goal in Mind
Let's start with a simple exercise:
Take your goal in mind and hold on to it.
Why did this goal pup up in your mind?
How will you achieve that goal?
You have just taken the first steps towards creating a strategy. As you have seen now, creating a strategy is not difficult. Creating a strategy requires thinking and a structured approach, that is all. In the articles I will write on the subject of strategy, we will explore how to make your own strategy. You can be a business owner to create a strategy, but you can create a strategy for personal use or any other purpose in life that has a goal.
Most every endeavor in life has a purpose or goal. If the goal is important to you, then I think your goal deserves a well thought out strategy. I will not judge your goals. Although I hope you will have positive goals, and leave the world a bit better than when you touched down. But, as far as I am concerned you can have any goal you want. They are your goals.
The two questions “Why?” and “How?” are the two leading questions throughout the strategy articles. They will help to find out if the strategy is complete. If you cannot answer “Why?” anymore in a useful way, then we reached the top of the strategy; and if you cannot answer “How?” anymore without going into details that are too small to control, then we reached the bottom of the strategy. We will look into a structure to make a diagram of a strategy. We will look at principles and guidelines to understand the scope of our strategy and to efficiently complete the strategy.
Why do I write these articles about strategy? I write these articles to make the subject of strategy more tangible and usable, in the hope that small and medium businesses will hire my expertise to document their strategy.
How will I write these articles about strategy? I will write one article at a time. I will write by learning from experience. I will write the articles entertaining and informative.
The above two paragraphs are already a part of a strategy.
What is Strategy?
In the previous section we hit the ground running about strategy. You now know that strategy is about goals, answering “Why?” and “How?” That is the practical side of a strategy.
Strategy is a military term, dating back to the ancient Greeks. A Strategos was a military leader and the work he did was … leading an army. Von Clausewitz in his book On War (~1827) defines strategy as “the use of engagements for the object of the war.” War, Von Clausewitz defines as “the continuation of diplomacy by other means.” However, in daily life we do not lead an army, nor do we wage war all the time. In the last few centuries the term strategy is also applied to what a business is doing. For use in business and personal life, we therefor need another definition of strategy.
First of all we are not conducting war, but business or life. Secondly, the word engagement refers to battle and we do not battle in business or life. In business or life we take action. We can translate the definition of strategy to “the use of actions for the object of business or life.” That part was relatively easy. But, in business and life we do not continue diplomacy by other means. As you may remember from the first section, we achieve our goals with actions. Hence, strategy as applied to business or life can be defined as “the use of actions to achieve goals.”
The definition is not yet complete. We perform actions at any time, we go the grocery store, we go to the cinema, but that doesn't mean there is a strategy behind it. We buy groceries to have something to eat, and we go to the cinema to have fun. We do not prepare long to take those actions. We know the reason and effect of those actions and we do it. A strategy is more in place if the goals are more complex or the time span to reach the goals is longer. Creating the strategy is the preparation to take actions. So, strategy is “The upfront application of knowledge of cause and effect of actions that are used to achieve goals.”
The Scope of a Strategy
Strategy then is the overall pictures of how we use actions to achieve a goal. Planning is concerned with the details of how to perform the action. In these strategy articles I am not discussing detailed planning because that is too much of a detail. Also, planning itself doesn't bring you closer to achieving the goals the action does. When the next answer to “How?” will be concerned with planning the details, then our strategy is complete at the bottom.
A strategy is complete at the top when we reach the answer to “How?” at the highest level we still have some control. With war, the general has control over his army but the politics and object of the war are out of his control. In business you will need money to make money. So, you are in control of the way to make the money but you have to satisfy investors and lenders for the money you need to start with
Purpose of Your Actions
We can rephrase the simple question “Why?” to “What is the purpose?” Long philosophical debates have gone on for centuries to answer the question “what is the purpose of life?” The best answer to that, but also the least satisfying answer, is “it depends.”
The purpose is defined by who you want to do it for. For example, the purpose of a publicly owned business is to satisfy its shareholder. If the shareholders are not satisfied, then they withdraw their money and the business cannot expand. The purpose of a non-profit organization on the other hand is to satisfy its customers. If the customers are not willing to come to the non-profit, then there is no purpose for the non-profit organization.
Next to the two central questions “Why?” and “How?”, we have the question “Who?” Who are we taking the actions for? If there is nobody left we want to satisfy, then we reached to top of our strategy. The highest purpose of the strategy can be ourselves, as in life or in our privately owned business. For publicly owned businesses and businesses that need to borrow money, there are banks and shareholders to satisfy as the highest purpose.
Building a Strategy
A goal worth thinking about, deserves a strategy. With a strategy we apply upfront knowledge of cause and effect of our actions that are used to achieve goals. The strategy will help get a clear picture and achieve your goals faster. We build a strategy by answering and documenting three questions in a structured approach:
Why are we taking our actions?
How are we going to perform the actions?
Who are we taking the actions for?