The 'kernel' of good strategy

Strategy can be an elusive thing to define, in part because we are all given to using the word loosely in casual conversation, muddying its precise meaning. But when it comes to crafting good strategy, an imperfect grasp on the concept is problematic.

Online you can find a scrum of jostling definitions which are, if not outright contradictory, certainly wrench the locus of meaning back and forth, like tipsy suitors vying for the attention of a damsel on the dance floor.

Just to cause trouble, I'll toss a further definition into the mix:

Strategy is an articulation of how a business will get to a desired point by way of identifying obstacles, deciding on an approach for dealing with them (in keeping with your strengths and resources), and setting out actions.

It ought not wax philosophical (like a vision or mission statement), nor does it get into the operational weeds (tactics).

A popular read for those seeking to spot strategy on sight (or indeed the absence of a strategy) and craft strategies themselves is Richard Rumelt's Good Strategy, Bad Strategy.

Rumelt helpfully elucidates the 'kernel' of good strategy as diagnosis, approach and action.

He usefully illustrates the concept by abstracting it from a business context. Think of doctors. They make a diagnosis by way of examining their patients symptoms. Then they select an approach for dealing with it - a therapeutic approach in this case. They might opt for prescribing a drug or dietary changes. Either way they are choosing from resources available to them. Finally, they give instruction on actions you must take (dosage, cut out white bread etc.). These are your actions.

He does not make the claim that this is all there is to strategy, merely that this is all there is at its core. Everything else is an iteration in some way.

I love this kernel approach. It waives bluster in favor of confronting critical problems head on and deciding on an approach for overcoming them. And where a strategy meets this criteria, it can surely be said to be good and useful.


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