Strategy, Big and Small

What is strategy? And what is strategy for?

Books — libraries! — have been written on the definition, and we still don’t have a good one. (“Choosing what not to do,” Michael Porter’s submission, at least wins points for succinctness.)

So let’s think about two different examples of what strategy is for:

In the first case (call it big strategy) it’s for surfacing, complicating, and assessing all the options, variables, and potential payoffs. In big strategy, almost nothing is off limits. And that can be valuable — when deciding what to do with your one wild and precious life, as Mary Oliver wrote, it’s good to think big.

The other case (small strategy) is about any particular episode of a life. Maybe your life, maybe that of your organization or project. But, in any case, it’s about deciding how to do what you’ve already decided to do. In this kind of strategy, boundaries, deadlines, and constraints are essential. The point isn’t to dream up a better world, but to get your work into the world so the change can start sooner rather than never.

Small strategy is about putting the “s” on “crappy.” How to ship good-enough is a question in a different category from whether to ship at all.

If the work is important enough to deserve strategizing about, you’d better know which kind of strategy is called for.