The Strategic Context: The Meaning of Words

It can be illuminating to trace the roots of the original meanings of some of the words we use everyday without thinking. In English, many of the technical words that we use in business have their origins in ancient Latin and Greek. One such word is strategy which comes from the Greek work strategós meaning generalship in the military sense.

This association of strategy to generality is key because it tells us clearly that strategy should be about the major parts of something and NOT about the details. Details are about tactics, and for this we have another valid but different tool, called planning. By definition then, strategy is general, meaning it is high-level, it is directed at future goals or visions, and it is often done under conditions of considerable uncertainty.

Strategy is about ends and means, yes, but the game changing insight for me is that strategy is about starting in the future with the desired end centre-stage in your mind, unencumbered by current obstacles and resource limitations, and then, from that vantage point, working back to the present to determine what means, such as resources, knowledge and obstacle removal will be needed to secure those ends.

Strategy is not about starting with the constraints of current resources and obstacles in mind and trying to eke out an improved future vision from that vantage point. Yet, this is what most people are doing when they say they are doing strategy. This is mis-applying a valid tool, planning, to a challenge that it is not designed for – formulating strategy. It doesn’t work – at best, it will lead to a marginal future improvement in conditions. Breakthroughs will not emerge from this approach.


So when you say “strategy” be clear what you mean. Chances are that if you mean what you say, you will do what you mean.


21st Century Warehousing: Strategy and Operation

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