What is strategy?

This originally appeared as a comment I made on Hacker News in a discussion on the nature of strategy.

Most of my career has been under the title of “strategist”. I’ve had to steer many client organizations away from jumping the gun on tactical thinking by convincing them strategy is qualitatively different and important.

My experience is that strategic planning is about the “what”. What should we even be doing? As important, what should we NOT be doing? Given our limited time and resources, what is an efficient approach to winning the game we are playing (or do we even need to identify the game and define winning first)? Question everything. Challenge assumptions.

Mostly ask “what” and “why”, sometimes “who” and “where”.

Tactical planning is about “how”. How can we effectively implement the strategy? Without challenging the assumptions that got us here, and assuming we’re already stuck with the game and the rules our strategy selected, how do we win? No more resources are coming. Too late to ask hard questions (except to use as input for next time we do strategy). Execute to maximize effectiveness; worry about efficiency only secondarily.

Mostly ask “how”, sometimes ask “where” and “who”.