Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Strategic problems and the problem with strategy

This is very good -- succinct and on-point:

Why Strategies Disappointand How to Fix Them

Indeed, it is hard to criticize the concept of strategic planning. That is, of course, until one actually reads what is ultimately produced.
Every organization would benefit if, at the beginning of their strategic planning process, all participants took these two ideas to heart:

A. strategies disappoint because they fail to be succinct, sharp, and substantive.

B. Good strategies also have an edge to them. They should make some people unhappy; when strategies prioritize resources, not everyone comes out a winner.
But, to be honest, many scholars have noted the latter problem in strategy-making. zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in 1969 that large bureaucracies do not have strategiesthey have shopping lists. So it is not as if we did not already know this.

C. [Strategies] fail because leaders are unwilling to make difficult decisionsto focus on one threat as opposed to another, prioritize resources accordingly, and then explain their decisions publiclyat risk of being wrong.

D. The real problem is not process; it is the aversion to making decisive and perhaps irrevocable choices.
Or, to quote Clausewitz:

Courage is of two kinds: courage in the face of personal danger, and courage to accept responsibility, either before the tribunal of some outside power or before the court of one's own conscience.

If we pursue the demands that war makes on those who practice it, we come to the region dominated by the powers of the intellect. War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.

If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light that leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow the faint light wherever it may lead. The first of these qualities is described by the French term coup d'oeil; the second is determination.
With this in mind we can see that one of the real causes of strategic failure lies in the way we study and teach strategy. In the real world victory is not won by the side with the most elegant strategic concept or the most complex multi-dimensional plan. Rather, winning is more often a matter of avoiding distraction and acting decisively.

As Patton put it:

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
Gen. George Marshall often admonished his subordinates “Don’t fight the problem, decide it.”

The words he chose are critical. He did not say “solve it.” To solve a problem presupposes “one right answer” or “one best solution”. The search for that one right answer can easily lead to delay and paralysis by analysis.

In the the real world, there sometimes are no good solutions. Only bad, awful, and less bad.

Marshall understood that strategic decisions marked the beginning, not the end of the process. Only after the critical decisions were made could the rest of the organization get on with the vital work of implementation. In almost no case can implementation happen immediately. Usually resources have to be gathered and deployed, men and women trained, etc. etc.

The British Chiefs, especially Sir Alan Brooke, never could seem to understand why the Americans had to have commitments well in advance. They accused us of being rigid and inflexible, not realizing the terrific job of procurement, shipbuilding, troop training and supply necessary to place a million and a half troops in England, with armor, tanks and troop-lift, ready to invade the Continent.
S. E. Morison, Strategy and Compromise


Waiting for our Clausewitz

Clausewitz (II)

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