Over the past New Year holidays, I came across a Japanese proverb that made me reflect on strategy (yet again) in the world of business: on how much this word is used, re-interpreted; on how much people aspire to be “strategists”; on how firms develop vision-mission statements and how they are put in to practice; on how much management literature exists on strategy. Here is me adding to that clutter in a lighter vein. You have been forewarned!
Japanese Proverb & Edison
The Japanese proverb that provoked my reflections goes thus: “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare“. It made me recall a memorable quote that is timeless and generally attributed to Edison – “Vision without execution is hallucination”. Here is a visual to go with it.
Seems obvious, isn’t it? How can we ever achieve goals without proper execution?
Having seen many ambitious attempts to create value in the business world via furious execution, let me offer a corollary, much like the latter part of that Japanese proverb – “Vision without strategy is metrics“.
So What is Strategy?
Now that I am done spoofing or re-rendering the Japanese proverb, can I offer something more constructive? Let me try. How about “strategy bridges vision and execution”? Clearly that is a cop-out, taking the easy way out like they do with recursive acronyms, a la GNU (“GNU is Not Unix”). Let me try harder with this illustration.
Let’s loosely map Vision/Mission-Strategy-Execution to a series of “W-H” questions, Why-What-How. “Why” is a basic existential question to kick-start any action. It could be couched as business driver, imperative, goal etc. The “why” feeds a “what” (as in “what should be done?”). Every “what” needs an underlying “why” to mobilize people and resources around it. Every “what” needs an execution plan that addresses the “how”. Strategy is the “what” in that series, couched between the “why” and the “how”.
As we move to execute on that “how”, that kicks off another series of why-what-how’s for the next stage of execution of a firm’s strategy. If we think of execution happening at several levels in an organization, we can see that the “why” at a certain level is the “how” at the previous level. Consequently, one person’s strategy is another person’s execution. This explains the puzzling array of people at all levels in a company claiming to be strategists!
Vision to Execution: Bridge the Gap
In closing, let me pontificate on the importance of strategy with this visual to make this discussion vaguely memorable, what with the holiday cheer and all.
Happy New Year to everyone!
Also published on Medium.