We hear the terms “strategies” and “strategic” often in business, but in fact, they have been widely misused. Commonly, the latter is used to describe an important or specific action in business, marketing, advertising, leadership, politics, etc. If the action is not related to a long-term plan (the main strategy), it may be important, but it isn’t strategic.

Even though all of these elements are vital, and part of a good strategy, they are not strategy by themselves unless part of a long-term plan designed to achieve a particular objective, or a plan of action stemming from a particular strategy. For the purpose of clarity, let’s look at some of strategy’s historical background and how these concepts have evolved into something easily understood and managed.

Let’s start with The Art of War, the world’s oldest and most influential document written about strategy. Written over two centuries ago by Chinese warrior Sun Tzu, it’s philosophies have long been used by military personnel, politicians and business leaders all over the world, and are still in use today.

Because he was writing about war, Sun Tzu naturally focused on conflict. He explained that conflict is part of human nature and human relations, and that the key to reducing and/or eliminating wars was the reduction of conflict. Seems obvious, but if conflict is part of human nature, isn’t it inevitable? Perhaps conflict is, but our response is not. As humans, we can control our response to conflict.

As a side note, The Art of War is influenced greatly by Taoism; therefore, to grasp its essence more clearly, understanding the Book of Changes (I Ching) is a great help in developing a strategic mind.

“In ancient times, those known as skilled warriors won when victory was still easy,” Sun Tzu wrote. “Taking a rational, rather than emotional, approach to the problem of conflict can lead not only to its resolution, but even to its avoidance altogether.” From this thought, you can see how the master warrior knows the psychology and mechanics of conflict so intimately that every move of an opponent is seen through immediately. As Sun Tzu explained, “He is able to act in precise accord with situations.” He thinks rationally, and leaves his own emotions out of his decisions.

In Sun Tzu’s philosophy, the objective of knowledge and strategy is to make conflict altogether unnecessary: “…to overcome others’ armies without fighting is the best of skills.”

Strategy: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “strategy” is a long-range plan for achieving something or reaching a goal. Chess is a game that requires strategy. The main strategy is your overall plan to outplay your opponent to reach your ultimate goal: winning the game.

Strategies: The dictionary also defines something we’ve already briefly mentioned: the difference between strategy as a long-range plan, and the “strategies” needed to achieve the goal. Its definition? “Strategies” are plans of action resulting from “a strategy.” Back to the chess game: a plan to take out your opponent’s queen as soon as possible while protecting your own queen with a knight is an action strategy.

Strategic: Strategic emphasizes something of importance in relation to a plan of action that is based on “strategy”. Back to the chessboard: Your decision to sacrifice your rooks in an effort to get the opponent’s queen closer into your territory so you can take her out is strategic.

No matter the definition, one basic premise holds true: in strategy, information is key. Without solid information, it is impossible to make goals. For example, you have information that your opponent is an above-average chess player. You have played with others who played against him, and they’ve told you what kind of moves he favors, etc. By knowing this, you can strategically plan your game strategies in order to take advantage of any weaknesses he might have, achieving your long-term goal of winning the game.

Knowing this basic background about strategy is a good first step in becoming a top-notch strategist. Remember that strategy is an art, science and skill. And like any other, mastery in strategy and strategic thinking requires discipline and practice. – LUIS MAGO

A “strategist” is someone like me, adept in planning based on strategy.

According to The Art of War, emotions can, and will, lead to defeat.

Translation by Thomas Clearly