The very word of strategy seems to evoke a sense of intelligence and power. Rightly so. Strategy is high level planning to achieve some goal or set of goals under conditions of limitation, uncertainty, and/or opposition. Strategy is high level in the sense that the strategist sees the problem and goals from a wider view. It stands opposed from tactics, which is the tools of implementing the strategy. The most common way to explain strategy is chess. The two are practically synonymous. In chess, both players have the objective to win. Usually, that is done by capturing the opposing king, or securing the most amount of points.
But how one goes about capturing the king can be different from player to player, employing a different strategy. Some strategies are common and straight-forward (establish control over the central squares of the board), some are piece-specific (heavy reliance on bishops), or stylistic (aggressive or defensive). Tactics, on the other hand, are those immediate and intermediate moves in the future. Most players can "see" about 2-5 moves ahead. Some grand master chess players can see upwards of 10-15 moves, depending on the situation. Which play you decide to make changes those future scenarios. Choosing the right move is tactics. Your tactics should comply with your overall strategy. If your strategy is going to rely upon your bishops, it doesn't make sense to make moves that limit your bishops mobility and power.
There are plenty of other games of strategy that come to mind. Fantasy Flight Games makes some excellent games, such as the daunting Twilight Imperium, and my favorite game and hobby Star Wars: Armada. Strategy games can also include cards, such as black jack, rummy, hearts, etc. War games (and war itself) are strategic occasions, as well. Nazi Germany's strategy was aggressive, preferring to intimidate and overwhelm opponents before responses to could be mustered. So successful were the Germans that the name of their chief tactic, the blitzkrieg, is now a common tool for football defenses everywhere. And of course, football itself and numerous other sports rely upon strategy as a means of accomplishing the goal of victory.
The importance of strategy is not limited to war and games, nor is it only for the wicked intelligent. It is, instead, an available resource for all those who feel they have goals they want to achieve but don't fully understand how to do it. There are plenty of resources available for you to read and watch to understand the general principles of strategy, but I'll just provide the basics.
Depending on who you ask, all strategies have a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and an action plan(s). Your diagnosis is basically an analysis and then explanation of the problem or challenge that you confront. Let's say you want to lose weight, and have been trying, but just can't seem to get those scale numbers down. You have to look at your lifestyle and analyze what obstacles confront you. "My fridge and pantry is stockpiled with junk food, gym membership is pricey, and I have unusual work hours." This examination is not enough, though; you have to understand how each obstacle plays into the challenge. "The junk food is easier instead of cooking healthy food, which is why I'm tempted to eat it more. The gym is simply too expensive for me to utilize, so I feel like I have no other options. Work hours fluctuate so much I don't know when the right time to work out is." This is your diagnosis, the understanding of what you confront.
Your guiding policy should address your obstacle as best as possible. "I must take deliberate efforts to remove junk food, and establish a routine that can ease what I consider a cumbersome cooking process. As I lack the finances to participate in a gym I will need to find workout regiment that accommodates my lack of space and limited resources. My unusual work hours prevents a normalized schedule. I will therefore develop an optimal time I wish to workout, and establish multiple contingency plans depending on what hours I have for my job." The guiding policy is essentially a way to address uncertainties and constraints. Even if you don't know details, your policy will direct you on what to do in a given situation.
An action plan is nothing more than the actual thing you do to implement your guiding policy. These could be considered tactics. "When I go to the store, I'll refrain from buying junk food items, and instead choose more fruit and vegetables. If I allocate a few hours on Sunday I can prep healthy meals for the whole week, and have cleaner food that's still quick. I need to find an app or equivalent that can provide a workout within my living room that utilizes my own body as the means of exercise. I can gradually build up a set of gym items such as dumb bells and a bench. My work almost never schedules me in the afternoon, only mornings and evenings at varying lengths. I'll workout at 1:00 PM. If something needs to be moved it will be moved around that time period." Each action you take corresponds directly to both the problem identified in your diagnosis and the guiding policy. There may be different action plans for different people. Perhaps spending three to four hours every Sunday to meal prep is not ideal or desirable, so it's changed to a smaller time chunk each day. Whatever it is, it must support the overall goal--to be healthier.
The Scientific Art
And that really is the point of strategy, to fulfill a goal. Life is sticky and often doesn't make sense. It's hard to predict and doesn't come with a manual for each person. But, thanks to our rationality, we have the capability to develop a compass that keeps us pointing toward our goal. No, we don't have a map, so we don't know the valleys and dangers that lie ahead. But, if we know the direction, and are careful to survey the land before us, we can develop trails and paths that will get us to our destination with the least risk, the most success, and the greatest degree of fulfillment.
But a caution: strategy and tactical thinking are not inherent, and not all strategies are successful. While we all possess reason, strategy is a sort of science. It requires careful deliberation and thinking, a logical process that outlines different options in a certain order. It requires reevaluation and adjustment if something is not working. But strategy is also an art. The different options available are not always easily recognizable. Experience and intuition can help you understand how certain things might play out, a kind of feeling that reveals something you hadn't seen or thought of before. Every little advantage that can aid in seeing the bigger picture is welcome in the game of strategy.
I encourage you to deliberately think more about strategy in your own life. I use strategy when dealing with my students. A key example is my seating chart. There have been times when my class is unusually rowdy. My first year I was not in control and wailed around trying to hush kids. I now think strategically. I identify my problem: these particular students, when combined with other kids at certain physical areas of the classroom have a tendency to be disruptive. I need to nullify these interactions before they occur and before I lose command of the class. I will rearrange the physical characteristics of my desks and place these students near other, very quiet and shy students who will not feed into the disruptive behavior.
Strategy doesn't have to be grandiose, but it does have to be deliberate. You have to step back and look at what's going on in your life. You need to see the big picture. It doesn't matter what it is. Whether it's writing a poem, learning a skill, overcoming a fear, strategy can be a reliable tool to accomplishing your goals.
Do you have any goals and strategies you've used? Please let me know! Write a comment here or on social media.