The Problem with Strategy

Strategy is a troublesome topic.  Here we identify 6 problems associated with the traditional approach to strategy and the case they build for a new approach.

1. Strategy & Failure

Strategy should be all about success – as in all about ensuring the success of the organization (business unit, department, project or team). But it is not.  Indeed, strategy has traditionally had more in common with failure than success.  That is because of the simple statistic – evident from countless research studies – that put the failure rate of strategies at up to 90%.


The failure rate of strategy should come as no surprise – it has been discussed for more than 20 years.  For example as far back as the 1990s leading strategy gurus were publicizing the death of strategy.


The problem is that even good strategies fail.  In other words strategies that are well thought through, perhaps even visionary, regularly fall.  Indeed many fall at the first hurdle – that is implementation.

Even good strategies fail

2. Strategy & Cynicism

Past experiences with promising strategies failing to deliver have lead to a deep cynicism regarding strategy.  This is reflected in the following narrative:


3. Strategy & Reality

To understand why this happens we have to review the traditional approach to strategy creation.  That is where strategy is set by one or a handful of senior executives.  Strategy often has its head in the clouds and more often than not it fails to come down to earth.

Strategy-is your head in the clouds2Traditionally strategy has been crafted in office suits and board rooms often far removed from the realities of the market.  They are full of ambition and aspiration, but struggle to balance thinking with acting, or reconcile the need to follow a plan with the requirements of adapting to changing circumstances where necessary.  Put simply the problem with many strategies is that the ‘rubber never meets the road’.


4. Strategy & Confusion

There is no easy answer to the question ‘what is strategy?’  Indeed almost everybody having their own interpretation as to what it means.

what is strategy

Strategy is a confusing subject.  But if people cannot agree on what strategy is then how can they agree on the strategy for their business.


5. Strategy & Speed

There is one thing that most people would agree on with respect to strategy – that it is slow. Slow to devise, implement, adapt and ultimately to succeed.   That is one of the reasons why it is often compared to chess.

How slow is slow strategy?

Accepting strategy is slow is a limiting belief.  In this age of accelerated change the advantage goes to the most agile.  So wouldn’t a racing car be a better icon for strategy than chess?


6. Strategy & Agility

Fast markets require fast strategies.  Companies must be able to speedily adapt to changing competitors, customers and technologies if they are to win.

SLOW Strategies Don’t Work In FAST Markets

Traditionally it was held that once the strategy was developed it should be adhered to rigidly.  Strategy was like a railway track it allowed for little deviation.  The problem is that even if the strategy was right at the time of creation, it can quickly be invalidated by a change in the market. Today a great strategy leaves room to maneuver, adjust and most important of all to; learn.  The strategy is the road side barrier, not the railway track.