Focus On Strategy, Not Tactics

Home » Strategy » Focus On Strategy, Not Tactics

What’s your plan? Are You relying on Strategy or tactics?

Whether it’s life in general or business in specific, we often realize we need a plan to get “from here to there”. And while not all plans work, one of the key sources of failure is that we confuse strategy and tactics.  Strategy is the action plan that takes you where you want to go, while tactics are the individual steps and actions that will get you there

In the presentation context, we first build a strategy in which we outline the compelling issues we want to communicate to the audience. Then, tactics are selected to drive home the strategy (e.g., structure for flow, use of data and case studies to make specific points, and colors, fonts and length to time to encourage the audience to pay attention). All too often, poor presenters spend more time on the tactics than they do with the strategy – which is why they fail to close the deal. As Sun Tzu notes “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

In longevity, your chronological lifespan is determined by your strategy for nurturing your physical, mental, cognitive and spiritual health. Your health span – the quality of how you actually live – is determined by the tactical decisions you make in eating, exercising, sleeping, etc. 

Dr. Peter Attia, in Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity, relates a story about the power of an excellent strategy.  In 1974, Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman to regain his heavyweight title in the famed “Rumble in the Jungle”. Foeman was younger, stronger, meaner and favored to win in devastating fashion. Tactically, Foreman was literally “invincible”, so he needed to focus on a winning strategy: mindset differences. Ali understood that he was faster, more experienced and mentally tougher; the foreman was hotheaded and prone to anger. Therefore, rather than fight tactically – punch for punch – he decided he needed a strategy to even things out. He decided to goad the younger, less seasoned fighter to wear himself out, leaving him frustrated and tired – and thus vulnerable. Only then would Ali mount an offensive.

Alis strategy is the “rope-a-dope”. He trained to absorb Foreman’s punishing punches until he exhausted himself. When the fight started, Ali came out fast and unloaded a series of hits, while disrespectfully taunting Foreman. Sure enough, Foreman got angry. Ali moved around the ring forcing Foreman to chase him; then he pressed Ali up against the ropes and wasted energy hitting Ali, who was now focused on minimizing the damage he absorbed.  While it looked like Foreman was crushing Ali, Ali’s defensive strategy worked. By the fifth round Foreman was exhausted; Ali now began fighting. In the eighth round, he won via a knockout.

So when you’re presenting, focus on the strategy. I had a public company client in the middle of a bad recession attend an investors relation conference. Three other bigger companies were presenting. We were offered the first presentation, since we were the smallest firm. I rejected it, asking to be last. My client thought I was crazy; but I had a strategy. Each of the others shared the truth: they had a losing quarter – each a little worse than the last, and they focused on the new technology they hoped would turn things around. Then my client looked at me and understood the strategy. He got up and said “Well, I’m not sure I should be here. Unlike my competitors, we did not have a loss; we’re profitable. Let me explain why.” And with that he explained our synergistic, multi-market approach.  Within 18 months, the company doubled its market-cap, which was our main objective.

Ali once said “I never won a fight in the ring; I always won in preparation.” Focus on building a solid strategy;  don’t get lost in the tactics.