Strategy has emerged as a dominant theme in business over the last few decades, boosted by the activities of management consultancies. The word strategy has military origins, and the Chambers dictionary still defines it as:
- Generalship, or the art of conducting a campaigning and manoeuvring an army;
- Any long-term plan;
- Artifice or finesse generally.
In the potentially boring world of business this a sexy idea: the notion that the business leader is the swashbuckling general who steers his or her firm to glorious conquest of the enemy. But strategy is a mess in most firms: the promise of magnificent victory made by management consultancies is not matched by reality. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: to the best of our knowledge neither Alexander the Great nor Napoleon Bonaparte (or, indeed, Steve Jobs) relied on strategy consultants.
That doesn’t mean that business strategy has no validity. But it is best approached with the clarity, insight, experience and wisdom of Alexander or Napoleon (or Steve). Above all it needs to deal with the reality of the things that actually happen in the world.
In this chapter we cannot magically transmit the strategic skills of the great leaders. What we can do is provide a more accurate definition of what strategy is (and isn’t), point out the major pitfalls of much that is described as strategy, and provide some insights into the mechanics of sensible strategy.