Building a Strategy - The Queen and the Mad King
Just when I feel I have my head wrapped around strategy here comes the whispering voice in my head that says, “Hey, are you sure that’s strategy? You sure you’re not doing a cannonball straight into tactical thinking?”.
When this happens I revisit an analogy that helps in defining the difference between strategy and tactics.
As you’re dancing a jig and drinking to your latest win in the forest pub outside the castle, one of the queen’s maids runs up to you yelling, “Todd, save the queen!”. Seemingly, your objective is simply to save the queen.
It’s not that simple.
If you were to react immediately, jump directly to tactics and run towards the castle screaming “I’ll save you queen!”, there’s a good chance you’ll be mowed down by the 400 archers lining the top of the castle walls. Failure for sure.
Build a strategy instead.
There are three things you must identify: context, objective and challenges. With these you can then formulate a strategy.
Cue interview with the queen’s maid.
“Queen’s maid, I need to know exactly what’s going on. Tell me the full story”, you ask.
“Oh, okay, yeah. The full story. You know the castle over there. The big one?”, she points. “Yeah, right, so the king has gone insane and today he completely cracked.”
“Now he’s holding his queen hostage in the castle, dancing around, spewing mad rants. Something about how “the queen bee MUST provide honey”. It’s okay, I’m not sure what that means either. At this point, the queen simply wants out until the king can get the medical help he needs, but he won’t let her leave the castle’s kitchen and he’s charged his men with protecting the castle to keep everyone in, and anyone out. That’s when I snuck out to find you!”
Now with the context you have everything you need to form the true objective. The objective is no longer ‘save the queen’, but instead ‘Get into the protected castle’s kitchen and save the queen from the mad king’. A bit more detail, and important detail at that.
Knowing the context and objective it’s time to identify the challenges. A bit of research. A little asking around here and there. Maybe a late night stakeout, or two, in your wagon outside the castle. What you find out is that there is a 16 foot moat around the castle filled with alligators, guards are changed out at 3am with an hour window of time, 400 archers on the castle walls during the day, the king is hard of hearing and passes out from too much wine around midnight, there is one doorway into the kitchen and a secret passageway in the back of the castle that leads to a vent in the kitchen.
Fully armed with context, objective and challenges, you have everything you need to create your grand strategy.
Approach the rear of the castle at 3am under the cover of night, cross the alligator moat, enter the secret passageway into kitchen, get queen and sneak out the way you came, all before 4am.
Okay, so that’s the strategy. What’s the difference between it and tactics?
Strategy is the culmination of research, analysis, and thinking into an overall approach.
Tactics are the details in how you execute the approach. For example, crossing the alligator moat is part of the strategy, but building an alligator proof chain mail suit out of micro-lite titanium is a tactic. Entering the kitchen via secret passageway is part of the strategy, however, wearing only socks because the king is hard of hearing is a tactic.
So, when that nagging voice in our head asks ‘what is strategy really’ or ‘are you crossing into tactics’ this is an analogy we can bring to mind. Perhaps a more condensed version, but it’s enough to trigger a comparison and keep us from skewing off track.
What are some questions you ask to build a deeper strategy?