Union of Intelligible Associations
Union of Intelligible Associations

Projects Overview (Explanations)
Global Strategies Project (Explanations)

Method: Definition

Global Strategies Project


1. Distinguishing between strategy and tactic

In both the military and business environments careful distinctions are drawn between strategy and tactics. The following distinctions, for example, have been adapted from those of George Steiner (Top Management Planning, 1969).

In reviewing such distinctions, Michel Godet (From Anticipation to Action: a handbook of strategic perspective, UNESCO, 1991), cites General André Beaufre (Introduction à la Stratégie, 1983) who defines strategy simply as "the art of uniting force in order to achieve political goals". This should not be confused with tactics as "the art of employing arms to obtain the best possible outcome", or with logistics "the science of movements and supplies". From which he concludes that there cannot be strategy without tactics as satisfactory and contingent decisions to reach a set of objectives. For Beaufre: "The aim of strategy is to attain the objectives set by policy, by making the best use of the means at one's disposal." Godet remarks that in practice strategists often forget these distinctions and assume that a set of tactics is sufficient to constitute a strategy. He sees management as "the art of placing the organization at the service of strategy" from which he concludes that "strategic management" is a pleonasm, since management is, by definition, at the service of strategy.

2. Strategy in a turbulent environment

The increasing turbulence and unpredictability of recent decades has reduced confidence in the relevance of long-term strategies. In private, policy-makers of major international institutions are liable to indicate cynically that a strategy is what they intend to advocate for the day. Similarly politicians may see strategy as that which ensures their credibility until the end of the week or through the current crisis.

As Godet notes: "Why should one set strategic objectives and invest the means necessary if, given the turbulent marketplace and changing environment, these very objectives must themselves constantly be modified?" (p. 222). He stresses the importance of contingency: "That which created yesterday's success may well be the cause of tomorrow's failure" (p. 230)

In the corporate world, Godet notes that corporate planning has been falling into disrepute. He sees the crisis in strategic planning as a crisis of the rationalist school which favours reason, analysis and forecasting. As a reaction, oversophisticated methods have been replaced by enthusiasm, charisma and will. "This is how there was a gradual shift from research into excellence, to a passion for excellence, leading finally to chaos management" (p. 223).

Increasingly the emphasis is on what amounts to tactics: "Not knowing where we want to go and why, we take pleasure in commentary -- that is, in analysis of tactical ways and means to adapt in the face of change. The ship no longer has a prow, but the captain knows all the secrets of the tiller and the ship's instruments; pre-activity and pro-activity are alien to him, he knows only the reactivity of strategic management" (p. 219).

3. Question of interpretation

Although these distinctions appear very clear, on careful inspection it is not so evident that they would be clear in strategic responses to the global problematique. For if this were so then only elite decision-makers in international organizations could engage in strategic planning with tactics left to those implementing the strategy locally and "in the field". This view would tend to be strongly rejected by local communities. Indeed for them to participate in the development process, they need to be involved in the formulation of the strategies which affect them.

The distinction as to whether something is a strategy or a tactic is therefore very much a question of interpretation. Just as one group's solution is another group's problem, so one group's strategy may be another group's tactic. Clearly the strategic planning of a local community may be perceived as a tactic by any larger organized group of which they are a part. Equally a global tactic may be perceived locally as a strategy. "Global" and "local" also need to be understood functionally rather than only geographically. Thus inter-sectoral (namely "global" or interdisciplinary) initiatives need to be contrasted with functionally specialized ("local") initiatives. Again, whether strategy is a privilege confined to the inter-sectoral level is a matter for interpretation. Few sectors willingly acknowledge the primacy of strategies emanating from inter-sectoral coordinating bodies. Many naturally accord greater importance to their own sectoral strategy, however it is perceived from more integrative perspectives.

4. Modes of action

In these circumstances, and especially since the intention was to identify a broad range of "strategies", the distinction between strategic and tactic was considered artificial for purposes of data collection. The approach was therefore to identify modes of action which could be considered as being of strategic significance, whether or not they could also be perceived as strategies.

The question then becomes how is such a "mode of action" to be defined. The approach here was to identify the ways in which organizations were acting (or planning or claiming to act), especially when they might have been conceived as the keystoneto some development breakthrough - removing the key log which would unlock a developmental logjam.

In this light any mode of action, including non-action, may acquire strategic characteristics. A mode of action becomes strategic when it is perceived as governing a global transformation -- in the sense of the transformation of the whole. It is the place given to the mode of action in a pattern of action which determines whether it constitutes a strategy. The grand strategy of one group may in this way be perceived as defensive tactics by some other group.

5. Common vision and objectives as a pre-requisite

Despite the above confusion, or because of it, great stress is now placed on the need for a common vision and common objectives as essential to the formulation of any coordinated action.

This derives directly from the original understanding of strategy in a military context where such clear vision and objectives could be a vital basis for any strategy. This understanding is seen as equally vital to strategy formulation in a business environment. Most discussion of successful major corporations centres around the manner in which a shared vision is articulated and communicated throughout the corporation and how corporate objectives are to be understood with a minimum of ambiguity at all levels of the corporate structure. A multitude of consultants offer their services to enable corporations to reach this desirable condition.

Political parties, faced with a need to communicate a fresh image to voters, have also made use of such consultants to formulate a "clear message". Governments too have been persuaded to elaborate national visions and national plans. But in an increasingly complex society, the many efforts to plan "for the year 2000" have lost their significance. Governments are increasingly concerned with the short-term, as are career politicians and career bureaucrats.

It is in this context that efforts are still made to formulate international grand strategies, usually focused on specific concerns such as health or environment. Much effort is devoted within the international community to building consensus as the necessary pre-condition for any such strategy. In a turbulent environment, such consensus can only be ephemeral. As a consequence "international strategies" for five or ten year periods, and "development decades", tend to be of relatively little strategic significance shortly after their formulation.

With respect to corporations, Godet on this point notes: "it is better to devise a company plan and shared vision without saying so than to talk about it without really making one; small concrete projects are better than one grand, illusory plan and shared vision, for the process of appropriating the plan and shared vision counts for more than the plan and shared vision itself" (p. 232).

6. Towards an ecology of strategies

As discussed elsewhere (see Note 5.1), the concern here is to configure information on a multitude of modes of action which are together of strategic significance.

The requirement of a global shared vision, given the number of factional and other conflicts in the world today, would seem to condemn conventional understanding of strategy as inadequate to the challenges of the international community. There is a need to shift from reliance on "shared vision" and "common objectives" to a more complex understanding of sets of strategies, tactics or initiatives. To assist this process, a database of such strategic elements could prove to be of significance. In this exploratory mode, a broader and looser definition of what might later prove to be of significance is essential.

It is possible that new forms of grand strategy may emerge from understanding how polycentric action initiatives effectively self-organize to constitute what has traditionally been understood as strategy. But given the dynamics of such a context, it is probable that significant strategic elements for one period may lose their significance for another, only to regain it again at a later time.

The definition of what is included here as "strategies" is therefore designed to respond to this dynamic of shifting significance -- on the understanding that a sense of strategy only really emergesfrom how they are combined -- or from the dynamics of how they are constantly recombined.

7. Varieties of framework

As with other sections of this Encyclopedia, definitions are deliberately broad to permit inclusion of a very broad range of actions that advocates may choose to perceive as strategic.

It should not be forgotten that actions that appear irrelevant or meaningless to some are considered absolutely essential to others. It would be an extremely foolish politician who did not see the strategic value of "praying" (and was prepared to condemn it openly). Whether this is done individually or collectively, as a cynical ploy to build an image in the eyes of voters, or as genuine effort to maintain a relationship with a higher order of reality, would seem to be irrelevant.

A prime concern is the actions which capture peoples imagination and attract their commitment and resources. Whether such actions are approved or condemned by particular authorities, whether academic, religious, ideological or political, is not the concern. Of vital concern is that some people choose to find a particular action of greater significance than others, and choose to allocate resources to it. It is their sense of relevance which somehow needs to be woven into a larger context, rather than marginalized by dubious criteria designed to privilege particular modes of action (whose track record may increasingly be viewed as questionable).

8. Appropriateness

It is not the purpose of the Encyclopedia to impose criteria of appropriateness on the strategies selected. As noted above, strategies that were once highly appropriate may no longer be so, although they may become appropriate again under new circumstances. Specifically it is not the purpose of this volume to endeavour to profile the 10 or 100 "best" strategies.

In this spirit it has been considered useful to include, as discussed in a following note, strategies which can easily be considered "negative", destructive or highly inappropriate. Again such strategies may also prove appropriate under certain conditions, or may need to be better understood for their inappropriateness to be more readily apparent.

The purpose is to include a wide varieties of action to enable richer discussion as to the appropriateness of one or other and to help to provide an understanding of how a context made up of many strategies may affect judgements concerning the appropriateness or inappropriateness of particular strategies at any one time.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential