Salij MacNeacail, who is very smart, kicked off a good discussion on the comments of an old post, "The Philosophical Disposition vs. The Results Disposition."
You might find the whole discussion interesting and worth reading; there are a lot of good points in there.
One part that was flattering and made me write out my current conception of strategy was this,
I thought of the following while walking just now: one of the reasons I appreciate/value your blog so much, is that you don't divorce theory from practice... Effective strategy is a happy marriage between theory and practice, or between philosophy and action...
Here, then, is my current understanding of how strategy gets shaped and turned into action, and results --
Philosophy dictates strategy. By philosophy, I mean the code people choose to live by, consciously or subconsciously. In Carlyle's On Heroes, he talks about how every man has a religion, and it's not the one they proclaim in church, but rather what they value most deep-down. For many people, that's comfort or pleasure. That's their religion, effectively. But for others, they consciously formulate what they value and adjust it over time.
When you know what you want (philosophy, values, strategy, whatever... I call it "philosophy") -- then comes strategy, which is the large and broad way of pursuing what you want. So if you thought that preserving Planet Earth was the most important thing (philosophy), you'd still have to strategize about what areas of impact would be most worthwhile, where to start, what order to go in, how to prioritize, tradeoffs, etc.
Out of strategy comes tactics. Tactics are individual actions to drive towards your strategy. So if you thought that reforestation was the most important thing, what areas would you reforest? Would you plant trees yourself, or try to get groups of people together to do it? Who would pay for it? In areas with drought, would you run irrigation too as part of tree-planting? These are tactics.
What I learned -- largely the hard way -- is that even excellent philosophy, strategy, and tactics by themselves don't lead to much. A consistency of action that leads to getting additional multipliers together is necessary. Having great customer service erratically and haphazardly doesn't build a great reputation; a great reputation is built through consistently and always having great customer service.
That goes beyond strategy and tactics -- into operations.
I call operations "the coordination of tactics over time" -- which reflects that even excellent tactics, by themselves, might not harmonize and lead to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Operational excellence is almost always useful to a greater or lesser extent, but excellent operations without a good strategy can easily lead to "won the battle, lost the war" -- or executing very well on policies that are actually ineffective.
There is, of course, a feedback loop between all of these. I realized somewhat early that strategy and tactics were worthless if you didn't know what mattered to you (philosophy), but I realized somewhat late that being able to sustain and build upon working tactics (operations) is critical. It's great operations that lets us repeatedly do winning actions and consolidate the gains from them.
You might have seen that reflected here over the last few months. I'd get things tactically correct for a while, but then they'd fall off. Operational skill is the largest thing I'm driving on right now; I decided around two months ago that it was worth spending a lot of time and energy to start training towards world-class in it. The early returns from doing so have been very promising.
Below is a simple framework I like to use on businesses. Businesses are essentially split into two parts:
The first brings in the money (revenue) and the second spends the money (expenses), but both are vital and feed off of each other. The second bullet can then be broken down further into it's two parts of People and Processes. People and Processes are how organizations keep their promises. If you don't have good people or good processes, good luck.
This framework can also be scaled down all the way to the individual level or up as far as you want to go.
So, would "Grand Strategy" be a synonym to "philosophy" as you use it here?
Just asking because it's a term I'm more familiar with (including from your early posts, like "Me? I'm a strategist")
And now that I've actually read the article: interesting.Do you have recommendations for where one might start toward operational excellence? It's a weak point of my own as well.
The tricky thing is, outside of some general best practices, operations is largely domain-specific.
The "art" to operations is fitting the right amount of structure and process to the work to be done. The AK-47, for example, became the dominant standard of rifle for much of the world after Mikhail Kalashnikov designed it to be very fault-tolerant. It was not as accurate or precise as some of the Western arms, but it could be built and maintained by less skilled armorers/machinists, and it kept functioning.
So the question becomes what variables you want to optimize for, and what prices you're willing to pay. Detailed formal precise reporting requirements will ensure a consistency of information flow at the expense of time.
Some things are no-brainers, of course, but you likely know all of them. The question of "what is perfect operations?" is very domain specific... it's about coordinating the specific tactics that are right for you / your organization at your current level of development.
Here's a note from my journal a month or so ago that's relevant --
"As a side note, it’s occasionally amusing and sometimes disheartening to realize I’m just repeatedly re-inventing the wheel. Things like getting thorough information about people’s characters, backgrounds, etc, etc, and then running it by neutral third-parties with personal details stripped out to remove bias – isn’t this just best practices?
Why the hell wasn’t I doing this before?
Must I make every common mistake personally before getting better?
It’s a meta-topic, but I need to figure out a way to rapidly uptake best practices, but simultaneously avoid bureaucracy.
That, that’s it. Bureaucracy. That’s why the natural uptake of best practices is hard. It’s not clear what’s the appropriate level of structure and functioning is at a given time, because every imposition of structure has a cost in terms of bureaucracy. So there’s an art in selecting the amount of structure for the given situation.
You want to take every advantage and best practice, but getting the amount right for the stage in an organization’s development is hard."
If you asked me what I do, I'd probably give you a nondescript answer and get on to more interesting topics. Fact is, I "do" a lot of different things. This whole "What do you do?" question is a relic from an earlier era, before it was possible to "do" 30 different things. I am not salaried, so I work on my professional, personal, family, and global objectives each day. A little business, a little reading, a little history, a little art, a little self-discipline, a little philosophy, a little technology, a lot of different things.
But if you had to nail me down to three words, I'd say, "I'm a strategist." Nine words? "I'm a strategist. I figure out how to win." 15 words? “I’m a strategist. I figure out what is winning, and then how to get there.”
The first part of strategy is answering the question, "What is winning? What are even working towards? What are our highest level objectives, and why do we have them?" This is typically known as grand strategy.
Grand strategy is figuring out what the goals of an organization or a solo person ought to be. Arguably, this is the hardest part of strategy, because there is no right or wrong answer. It's subjective. And if you work on the wrong stuff, it doesn't matter how good of a job you do at it.
That's worth saying again. It doesn't matter how good of a job you do bringing your vision to reality if your vision was poorly chosen.
When you’re consuming content, you typically value the practical stuff more. Stuff that teaches you how to do things, or gives you techniques on improving things you’re already doing. We value this stuff because its applicable..
But you hear people tell you that you shouldn’t focus on tactics, you should focus on strategy. Personally, I agree and I think we’re trying too hard to look for the implemental things. Really, its not just tactics vs. strategy, there are a lot of different levels.
From philosophy to mindset to habits and theory to strategy all the way to tactics, we should aim to consume the entire spectrum of content. Each level is important and learning from each level helps you understand the whole picture.
I run a video production agency. What I would like is an action guide on doing Linkedin lead generation or google adwords. These things would benefit me right away, but I would be missing out if I didn’t read Built to Sell and learned to productize my services. I would be missing out if I didn’t attend a mastermind about systems and scaling. It doesn’t stop there. I could take it a step higher and listen to Tony Robbins talk about mindset. I would be missing out, yet still, if I didn’t watch Tristan’s videos on Purpose and Spiritual balance.
Each piece of content has merit on its own level. Knowing this, the best way to consume content is to think about where you are in your trajectory and what pieces of information you’re missing, then fill in the gaps in that information. Funny enough, the only way to realize which info is missing is to consume content on life balance from a woo-woo life coach guru (I’m being slightly facetious). What I mean is to pull back to a hyper birds-eye-view of your life and understand what true balance is. Only then can you zone in on your business and know that the actions you’re taking today will benefit you the most long-term.