Meanings: “Strategy”

April 6, 2012

I recommend a terrific essay on “strategy” by Peter Mattis, a guest post on Tom Rick’s consistently excellent The Best Defense blog for Foreign Policy.

Mattis’s focus is on military strategy: he discusses (for example) Grant’s 1864 peninsula campaign as well as China’s ambitions in the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979.  But what he has to say about strategy is wise with regard to organizational strategy in any realm.

He urges keeping a clear focus on one’s ultimate objectives.  Money quote: “Does a good strategy guarantee success? No. A good political-military strategy however does mean that individual operational and tactical successes (or failures) are far less important.” Sometimes you fail at specific projects but still make progress on your larger objective.  But you have to know which is which.

He also argues that good strategy is learned by experience, which often is acquired by making mistakes AND learning from them.

“Strategy” derives from the Greek, and loosely means ‘leading that which is spread out.’  I hadn’t really thought before about the metaphor underneath the word “general” as a military commander.  Here’s the entry:

strategy Look up strategy at
1810, “art of a general,” from Fr. stratégie, from Gk. strategia “office or command of a general,” from strategos “general,” from stratos “multitude, army, expedition,” lit. “that which is spread out” (see structure) + agos “leader,” from agein “to lead” (see act).

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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