Some History About Strategic Thinking

The study of the role of strategy in large organizations predates those organizations’ development by several centuries.

It goes back to those times when the only large organizations in the world that were practicing strategy on a grand scale were the military. They learned how to disguise their weaknesses and exploit their strengths as a standard way of conducting their operations.

Since these were the starting points for strategic thinking, much of the original concepts have been passed down and adapted to large present-day organizations. 

Early generals such as Sun Tzu and later Carl von Clausewitz have been vital reference points for the current framework of strategic thinking. For this reason, it is appropriate to go back to those military roots to review and capture the essence of the origins of strategy and its use in the guidance of those military organizations. Even today, names such as Rainbow Warriors (Greenpeace) indicate that warfare thinking still permeates even charitable organizations.

This phenom is so taken for invested that the familiar words being used are telling. Consider the origin of these well-known business terms.

  • Mission
  • Taskforce
  • Target
  • Bullet points
  • Objectives
  • Operations
  • Making a killing
  • Front-line troops
  • Reports/Recruits
  • Tactics
  • Communication lines
  • Company
  • Command and Control
  • Deployment
  • Competition

The early history of strategy is relatively straightforward. It is rooted in the Greek word strategos, which referred to a role such as a general in command of an army. It is made up of the combined stories Stratos (“army”) and again (“to lead”). The word itself goes back to ancient times in Macedonia to Alexander the Great and his father Phillip and the Greeks they defeated.

The world has changed and grown significantly since those early times, particularly with the evolution of large religious, political, social, and commercial organizations. These organizations are operating in competition with similar organizations in the same field. It is that competition that is now bringing a robust understanding of strategic management to the forefront of management attention.

As these organizations have developed over time, the strategy has come to mean managerial skills such as administration, organization, and leadership. Most recently, it has evolved into a description of a unified system of global authority.

To be successful, ancient armies had to discover ways to exploit their strengths and their foes’ weaknesses. They had to find ways to conceal their true intentions until the last possible moment while deciding what their opponents’ capabilities and preferences were. Many of these early ways of thinking about strategy have carried over to the present understanding of the subject, while other newer concepts have emerged and are continuing to emerge.

It leads to the current role of strategic management in today’s business environment. Successful organizations today no longer depend on heroic individuals’ deeds but the coordination of many different units. It forces the effects of coordination and synergy to the lead of decision-making and strategy implementation.

What is interesting is strategy was initially perceived as a leadership task and a line function. In an exciting contrast, many organizations today view their strategic planning units as advisory or staff functions. These are people who are called in to tackle specific projects but are somewhat removed from the action.

Nevertheless, one of today’s manager’s prominent strategic roles is to be the steward of his or her organization’s competitive position in the marketplace.

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