Concept, Keyword or Bullshit?
Roger Martin recently published an article about the many uses of the word “strategy”. I can’t express enough gratitude to him for always making clear what strategy actually is.
Roger points out that strategy is singular, a concept in organizations that make decisions under uncertainty, constraints, and competition. The organization can be a business or even a part of it. But “strategy” cannot be applied to every tiny step and part of it.
The three different meanings of “strategy”
We see an inflationary use of the word “strategy.” If this is the case, there must be a reason. I suspect that there are at least three different meanings and that the differences are intentionally meant to be fuzzy.
- Strategy as a comprehensive, intelligent, well-thought-out concept for the development of a company (or a specific part of it). To have it is inevitable to be successful. To claim to have it is certainly a pleasure for the ego.
- Strategy as a SEO keyword. It helps to be found on the internet and to appear bigger than someone is. I suppose any marketing agency that is able to design fancy ads and write some copy will continue announcing that they are a “brand strategy agency”. If the word sells, it will contribute to commercial success. Fair enough. But we need to be aware of the difference.
- Strategy as a buzzword in the daily struggles of people trying to make their way in a large organization. It is not only well-accepted, but in many enterprises also a vital part of the expected management theater. Any young manager who is interested in a career will probably still talk about having developed a [insert any buzzword like brand, client, innovation, execution etc.] strategy. It’s part of the much too often rewarded corporate bullshit talk (not only regarding “strategy”).
The word “strategy” sells well and makes people seem bigger than they are. Its overuse is understandable. In the same way, it is understandable that people would like usage in the sense of 2 and 3 to be understood as if it were 1. This is precisely why it is so important to distinguish between the three meanings.