Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
Who is Sun Tzu ?
Sun Tzu is known as a general and thinker. This strategist lived during the sixth century BC in the actual China. He is well-known for his book The Art of War, even if some historians debate if he was really behind this book. Nevertheless, The Art of War is still considered as one of the main books relating to strategy.
However, it is interesting to note that this quote does not figure inside The Art of War. It can an apocryphal quote attributed to Sun Tzu. This kind of thing is common for the mains literary works or famous people.
What are Strategy and Tactics?
Strategy: in warfare, the science or art of employing all the military, economic, political, and other resources of a country to achieve the objects of war. Encyclopedia Britannica
Tactics: in warfare, the art and science of fighting battles on land, on sea, and in the air. It is concerned with the approach to combat; the disposition of troops and other personalities; the use made of various arms, ships, or aircraft; and the execution of movements for attack or defense. Encyclopedia Britannica
It is interesting that the Encyclopedia Britannica emphasis only the military side of those words. To complete the meaning of strategy and tactics I found those two definitions (those definitions are more “business oriented”):
Strategy: 1. A method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.
2. The art and science of planning and marshalling resources for their most efficient and effective use. The term is derived from the Greek word for generalship or leading an army. Business Dictionary
Tactics: means by which a strategy is carried out; planned and ad hoc activities meant to deal with the demands of the moment, and to move from one milestone to other in pursuit of the overall goal(s). In an organization, strategy is decided by the board of directors, and tactics by the department heads for implementation by the junior officers and employees. Business Dictionary
The application of Strategy and Tactics
As you may have noticed, the two of them are at the same time similar and complementary. Strategy is more than a big picture, it is a path, a tale, with a beginning and an end. Strategy is a way to express a goal, why you want to archive it and how, but it is still really general. The tactics are the way to archive each step to reach your goal, and that is how it is complementary. I will take several examples to explain how strategy and tactics are linked.
Strategy is like a picture of a long path in the forest, and tactics the way you have to walk and jump to not get mud on your shoes. If you have the path but you are not able to do big step or jump, you can finish the path but you will either take more time or have mud on your shoes. If you can only walk and jump, but you do not know where you have to go, you will get lost, no matter how skillful you are.
To take a military example, let’s say you are a captain with a small quad and you have to take a city. Your strategy is for example to take the two monitoring stations and the head quarter to get the city. The tactics is, on the battle field, to distract the soldiers to infiltrate the building, to turn off the radio, … If you and you soldiers only know how to distract the soldiers, turn off radio, … but you walk around in the city instead of targeting the important building, you will be caught and once again, even if you are skillful, if you do not know what you are doing you will eventually fail.
What does the quote mean?
If you have a plan you can success, even if you do not have the skills required to archive you plan fast. But if you have only the skill without a path to follow, you will lose a lot of time for nothing. You may tell to others you are doing a lot of different things, but with no results. And after all the noise you will have made, you will get tired and give up.
What does it imply in business?
If you are doing a business/start-up do not do it without a plan (business plan). Even if it is not really accurate, it will give you an idea of the difficulties you may face, and you will elaborate a plan to overcome it and success. But if you just focus on you experience to find solution when they come, you may see one day that you do not have enough money to pursue your dream and tell to everyone that you failed.
If you work in a company that needs to grow, and you do everything to make it more visible through TV, journals, radio, but forget to hire a business manager to organize a schedule to meet all the new prospects. It will be a lot of noise for nothing because you missed you step.
How can this be applicated in your daily life?
You have to set yourself some milestones like:
I will do those studies for this purpose, so I have to follow this class and that one.
Then I will earn that much and after X years I can buy a house, so I have to start with this work then get a promotion to reach this position and get what I want.
If I save that much money each months I can travel for X weeks without any trouble.
You need to see the overall picture and from that think about the tactics. It may looks boring, but it is the best way to not have bad surprises, like having huge depts because you did not plan something and losing all you have, or not be able to do what you want because you do not find the time, …
If you want to go further, you can read the book “On Strategy”. The book talks about the importance of strategy in a company. It regroups different articles of the Harvard Business Review specifically dedicated to businesses. The book will be a bit more useful for CEO, Managers and Project Management employees, but if you are none of these I still recommend you to read it, you will understand better the decisions of your company and maybe getting ideas to improve it.
If you do not want to buy the book, you can still listen to the free audio sample to give you an idea on how and why strategy is important in a company (you have to click on the image, it will redirect you to the Amazon page and under the image you will see “Listen”).