Wrestling with “strategic schizophrenia”

The word “schizophrenia” can be defined as either:

  • A state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements
  • A situation or condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities

The literal translation of the word is “splitting of the mind” which is how it came to be used in the clinical setting.  I am more concerned about the non-clinical definitions offered above in context of employing a strategy.  It is my belief that this is the core challenge of strategy and why there are so many more strategic failures than successes.

Perhaps Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher & theologian, offered the same thought in a much simpler (yet profound way) when he said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.”

This is where we, who dwell in the realms of strategy, routinely find ourselves.  We try to cobble together the past and the future in order to take action in the present.  Our main challenge is our own frames of reference.  The arbitrary concepts of control & time cripple our ability to act effectively because we are so desperate to maintain one and create more of the other, we routinely lose both.

I believe the Marines got it right in their book Warfighting:  The U.S. Marine Corps Book of Strategy. In Chapter 1 as they address the “nature of war”, they address fluidity.

“…But no episode can be viewed in isolation.  Rather, each merges with those that precede and follow it – shaped by the former and shaping the conditions of the latter – creating a continuous, fluctuating fabric of activity replete with fleeting opportunities and unforeseen events.  Success depends in large part on the ability to adapt to a constantly changing situation.”

I am not suggesting that all is hopeless but I am saying we need to live in reality if we wish to have any chance of success.  This means embracing the fact that we are not now, nor will we ever be, “in control”.  I do not see this a bad thing because it frees you from the constant frustration of trying to predict the future.  That said, we still have to forecast and plan and that is a good thing.  As General Eisenhower said, “I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

In order to remain competitive, we must shorten the cycle.  We need to build in feedback loops that provide data on actions we have taken so we can quickly adapt the strategy is need be.  In order to move more quickly (this is not faster), simplify the process.  Success is simple, we must fight the urge to make it harder than it is.

In closing, what word do you believe is defined as:

“…an activity of human creativity and intuition powered by the strength of the human will.”

According to the Marines, that is the definition of war


1 Comment

Filed under Adaptation, Complexity, Strategy

One response to “Wrestling with “strategic schizophrenia”

  1. This is timely Perry. We’re struggling with some of these decisions right now as we launch TweetMyTime. In a sense, what we are doing is shortening the cycle. What we have built a business on has become a commodity. By we, I mean all people who build websites and internet marketing vehicles. We cannot control how fast technology advances.

    These are good words to keep in the back of your mind. Thanks!

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