What Strategy Isn't

Capturing the missing middle between facts and goals

It’s generally easier to say what something isn’t than what something is. The more complicated something is, the more helpful definition by negation becomes.

Strategy must be complicated, judging by the amount of misuse the term suffers. To illuminate what strategy is, then, start with what strategy isn’t. (The preeminent article on the subject, “What Is Strategy?”, starts the same way.)

Strategy is not objective fact. Strategies have a thesis that is falsifiable.

Strategy is not goals. Just because you know your destination doesn’t mean you know the best way to get there.

Strategy is not tactics. Tactics are granular and often have an empirical answer.

Strategy is not rhetoric. High-flying aspirational statements from out-of-touch CEOs are probably what most people think about when they hear the word “strategy”.

Skate better
The extreme sports equivalent of not-strategy

So what is strategy? In brief, it is a thesis about a business, based on the particulars of the business, that says what the business should and - more importantly - should not do.

Many people with more experience and insight than me have written about strategy. Instead of rehashing their wisdom here, I will point you to their works directly. Start with Stratechery, then pick up Good Strategy, Bad Strategy. After enough training, you will be able to spot strategy (or lack thereof) in any company.