JERA partnerships will be focusing on discussions about “Strategy” for the next few weeks. Chris Love is JERA Partnerships’ Director of Technical Services, and he is a true Renaissance man – not only does he keep our infrastructure and website tip top, he makes some of the best food and beer we’ve ever had.  In addition, he has 20+ years martial arts experience and teaches self-defense to civilians, and defensive tactics to law enforcement and major-carrier airline pilots in his spare time.  Somehow he found a few extra minutes to give us his thoughts on strategy…enjoy!

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”  (Tzu, S.)

…So said Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese general, strategist and a philosopher who most historians agree knew a little bit about strategy. Living between 544-496 BC, he wrote The Art of War, a text that even to this day is often referenced when discussing military tactics and strategy.  While it is true that many organizations throughout history most famously associated with the development and implementation of “Strategy” have been successful military organizations, many people have found that the sayings of Sun Tzu provide guidance equally as well to businesses facing increasingly complex challenges today. In fact, booksellers place The Art of War in the Business section as well as the History of Warfare section.  Sun Tzu’s book has sold millions of copies and remains in print to this day in many forms.  Plainly, this 2,500-year-old book still resonates with a 21st-century audience.

Strategy requires planning.  Strategy is the high-level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty or the blueprint or game plan to achieve your goal.  Tactics are things you employ while getting to that goal.  Having a long history in martial arts and defensive tactics as a student and instructor, I’ve found that in any given situation you have to have a strategy.  Sometimes the strategy is for something very straight forward, like “How am I getting out of this hold?”  At other times it’s broader, such as “What do I need to do not to get myself in that position in the first place?”  The tactics are simply the actions and reactions required in each case.  You can have one without the other, strategy without tactics or tactics without strategy, but wouldn’t it be better to use both – together?

“If you have strategy without tactics you have big thinkers and no action. If you have tactics without strategy, you have disorder.” (Owyang, J., 2013).

Translated for business – you need the big picture people and the detail people working together. You need a plan, the plan needs to be actionable,and you need people to execute the plan.  As importantly, as a leader, you need people who believe in your mission and want to see it succeed.  Here, a top down methodology is often used where senior management puts together the strategy and delegates to those who use tactics to carry out the mission.  What if you are tasked at putting together the plan?  Where do you start? What would it look like if you made the people who will do the work part of the planning process?  Developing an actionable Strategic Operating plan with the right team will help get you going in the right direction.  This combined with clear definition, direction, and communication are imperative.

If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. (Tzu, S.)

Questions to ponder:

What does “strategy” mean to you?

Can you clearly separate Strategy from Tactics?

What is your business strategy and do your tactics support it?

Do your tactics play into your overall strategy (e.g. do your strategies include how the tactics will help you reach your goals)?

How are you going to implement your strategy?

“People should not be unfamiliar with strategy, those who understand it will survive, those who do not understand it will perish.”  (Tzu, S.)



Owyang, J., 2013. The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics.

Tzu, Sun.  The Art of War