strategy is…


In his seminal treatise, The Art of War, Sun Tzu notes that

“…the wise strategist only seeks battle
after the victory has been won.”

But what makes a winning strategy?

It focuses on the end, not the means

Strategy is not just about finding an answer; it’s about finding the most appropriate answer – the most efficient and effective route to get from where you are now, to where you want to be.

It’s more about questions than answers

Improving an existing answer delivers diminishing returns with each iteration. The best way to deliver revolutionary results is to change the question.

It prioritises efforts

There’s a big difference between what you could do and what you should do. Focus your resources at the point of maximum leverage to deliver disproportionate returns.

It employs the art of sacrifice

Strategy helps you identify when to give up something good for something even better.

It sees the forest and the trees

Effective strategies deliver synergies – when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A key part of this is recognising that the long term is made up of a series of inter-dependent shorter terms.

It bends in the wind

There’s never only one right answer – what worked before may not always work in the future. Monitor your progress, and evolve to changes you encounter along the way.

It is more about the future than the present

Strategy is all about looking before you leap.

It harnesses common sense

The best strategies are rarely complex; simple logic and reason are your allies.

It emphasises the why over the what

True strategy addresses root causes, not just symptoms.

It’s considered

Never stop at the first plausible answer, but acknowledge that it may still turn out to be the best.

It’s realistic

Always aim for perfection, but accept that you’ll never achieve it.


What would you add?

Share your suggestions in the comments section below.

With a respectful hat-tip to John. Sun Tzu quote from here.


3 Responses to “strategy is…”

  1. 1 Corporate Sleuth September 4, 2009 at 03:08

    Good post, I think we can all learn alot from the Art of War as employed in daily and corporate surroundings. Your readers may also enjoy my similar post “Career Advice from Sun Tzu” at or on my blog at

    • 2 Casey Longden November 5, 2009 at 20:54

      As a graduate currently working my way into the ad industry I think this is an excellent post.

      I’m interested in Planning and the industry bods I’ve been lucky enough to talk to all say things like ‘Planners need to be highly strategic’. For a while I struggled to get exactly what they meant. I think I understand now but this post sums up the hours of reading I have done to get there.

      Plus these are all good things to bear in mind for the ubiquitous ‘tell us about an ad you liked and why it works’ questions on the grad application forms.

      • 3 eskimon November 6, 2009 at 10:02

        Thanks Casey – glad it helps! I think you’ve picked up on a great topic with your comments though: there are many words like ‘strategy’ that people throw around without really giving them enough thought. ‘Holistic’, ‘integrated’, and ‘synergy’ all suffer the same fate; they’ve become abused through inappropriate over-use.

        Ironically, advertisers love this kind of jargon, but it goes against everything that advertising should be about – namely, the most efficient and effective ways to share understanding.

        I’d suggest taking time out to define what you think those wordsreally mean, and what you think they might bring to potential clients. A great way to do this is to work out how you’d explain it to a toddler. Children under 5 are the harshest audience, because they don’t accept bullshit: if it’s nonsense, they’ll let you know!

        Anyway, best of luck with your applications – just in case you haven’t seen it already, this post might be useful too: gradual graduation.

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