MT Masterclass - Strategy

What is it? From the Greek, strategos, meaning 'a general'. Hence the military connotations of a business strategy - repelling enemies, staking out territory - and the idea that strategy ought to be something impressive that emerges from the leader's office.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Understood this way, strategy is the big idea, the inspired (and inspiring) vision that reveals the way ahead. But often, as John Kay wrote, 'strategy is a synonym for expensive'. So, a strategic investment is one you lose a lot of money on.

Where did it come from? The lessons learnt from war indicated that strategic planning was vital, and that businesses should adopt almost military-style resource planning. Large corporations seem to have built up their structures according to grand strategic plans. But the recession of the 1970s provoked a rethink. Michael Porter's 1980 book Competitive Strategy suggested that businesses had to be more nimble and adaptable than previously thought. In truth, strategies often become clear only with hindsight - businesses constantly improvise, react and learn from mistakes, developing strategy as they go along.

Where is it going? In such a fast-changing world, managers and employees are rightly sceptical of grand strategies. Strategy is really all about differentiating yourself from competitors. If your strategy is copied, you may well need a new one. Some even argue that strategy is not the most important ingredient of commercial success. What really counts is implementation. After all, Tesco makes no effort to hide what it's about.

But, clearly, having a good strategy still matters. The brilliant execution of a duff strategy won't get you anywhere. The challenge is to keep your strategy fresh. Says Henry Mintzberg: 'Strategy doesn't only have to position, it has to inspire.'

Fad quotient (out of 10) - Seven (and steady).

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