Opinion – The Abuse of Strategy – John Gelmini

Santi di Tito’s famous portrait of Niccolò Mac...

Santi di Tito’s famous portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli, now residing in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy; headcrop. Deutsch: Niccolò Machiavelli; Ausschnitt aus dem Portrait von Santi di Tito. Македонски: Портрет на Николо Макијавели во функционерска облека. Санти ди Тито, 1500. Денес во Палацо Векио, Фиренца, Италија (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

George S. Patton signed photo by U.S. Army

George S. Patton signed photo by U.S. Army (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Genghis Khan statue before his Mausol...

English: Genghis Khan statue before his Mausoleum in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I share Dr Alf’s concerns about strategy and about President Obama and like Dr Alf have developed strategies for businesses and even the public sector.

The problem is always about execution, the money to effect execution and the relevance of the strategy within risk landscapes which are full of new threat actors and where people do not behave in predictable ways as they once did.

Most strategies are not future-proofed with inbuilt “windows of invulnerability” with which to buy time.

Most are predicated on the anticipated behaviors of those most affected by the application of strategy at grass-roots level being of the same mindset as the people who devised it in the first place.

Most are executed too slowly, which is why they fall foul of John Boyd’s OODA LOOP which says that the person or country or entity that goes through the loop the fastest is the one who prevails because the opponent is reacting to events which have already happened.

Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, along with Hanni

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

bal, Alexander the Great, Doolittle, Montgomery, Napoleon in his heyday, Patton, Henry the 8th, Peter the Great, Machiavelli, Vespasian, Hadrian, William the Conqueror and Genghis Khan, all understood this extremely well but our present crop of political leaders, and those above them are very slow to grasp what needs to be done.

We know from McKinsey’s that any given business today competes with companies, 50% of whom did not even exist more than 2 years ago and we know that unlike the 1950s and 1960s when the world was a more predictable place, at least 50% of everything that happens is a random, unquantifiable “Black Swan” event.

As the world becomes more populated, as more of us live in cities and as people travel more and communicate more the pace of these processes is going to increase.

Therefore strategies have to embody certain characteristics if they are to stand any chance of being implemented or implemented successfully:

These are(iter alia):

–They must be relevant to the circumstances which prevail at the time of implementation
–They must be capable of being implemented quickly and be properly resourced

–They must be relevant to the lives of those most affected, with contingency arrangements to assist losers under the new order of things

–They must be robust, agile and flexible

–The people that devise them must also be robust, adaptable and flexible, capable of metamorphosis, and able to think clearly and act decisively seeing the world and people for what they are not looking through rose-tinted spectacles.

–Their thrust must be capable of rapid metamorphosis without pause so that as things happen they can remain ahead of and in tune with the evolving strategic landscape

The idea that any President, Prime Minister, Business Leader etc., can sit down in a room, devise a strategy, put it in a draw, or computer file and then watch it seamlessly roll-out is fanciful, yet this is what they do time after time after time.

In the UK, laws are prepared and grand strategies announced without the money to execute them and without the slightest comprehension of how ordinary people think and live. Then when it fails, we are told lamely that “we underestimated the scale of the problem”, that we are now “listening” and that a “Royal Commission “” headed up by a Judge is going to look at it again”.

With President Obama, the sorry excuse of a man, who is supposed to be “leader of the Free World”, we have a man out of his depth, slow to act, patrician, aloof from the concerns of ordinary people and incapable of devising anything that remotely meets any of these tests, let alone the more detailed ones that must be encapsulated in a winning strategy; these might include decision-treeing and war-gaming as many of the likely impediments, choke-points and areas of greatest risk that the Strategy has to overcome before it can roll-out properly.

The EU is populated at the top by Eurocrats who imagine that the world will bend to their conception of reality and they are right all the time. This overrides all commonsense, all reason and all scientific or evidence based advice. They see no need for strategy at all but to create the illusion that there is one they instruct their apparatchiks to put the word on the cover of any document so that to the stupid and the uninitiated the final document, rather like a cardboard cutout of a police officer in a store at night,appears to be the real thing.

As to Dr Alf’s point about failed military strategies in more recent times, the problem there is often the politicians not providing the right equipment and meddling behind the scenes to create delay and confusion and then emasculate the military by not allowing them the scope to do their jobs properly even at the cost of people’s lives.

Sun Tzu in the masterpiece “The Art of War”, originally written on tiny bamboo strips 2,500 years ago,described this as “deranging the military”. This happens too often and both President Obama and our own David Cameron are incapable of performing at the required level which is why the Chinese and people like Vladimir Putin take the pronouncements of both these men with a pinch of salt.

John Gelmini