There is no problem with strategy per se. It’s certainly better to have one than not to have one, all things being equal.
Nor is this a lament about what seemingly passes as strategy these days often being no such thing.
What I do think is a cause for concern is that many of those that have crafted good strategies have done so without considering whether they have the capacity to execute them. That is the real problem.
Let’s start sensibly by defining our terms. I think it’s fair to broadly frame ‘strategy’ as a planned and structured response to a challenge. Framing strategy this way gives us enough scope to capture most of the strategic players on the planet.
Let’s put strategy in perspective. Even a golfing neophyte could read a good book about golf strategy and that afternoon craft a plan that, if executed, would make winning The Masters a real possibility.
For all you aspiring golf champs, here it is: Hit a perfectly-placed drive, follow that with a pinpointed approach shot (or two) and sink an effortless put. Rinse and repeat eighteen times for a few days.
Yet, armed with that strategy, I think it’s fair to say that even an accomplished club golfer would not be a serious Masters contender, and for obvious reasons.
As obvious as it is, it doesn’t stop underwhelming performers in offices and cubicles all over the world pursuing strategies without the functional capacity to ever execute them.
Indeed, there is now mainstream acceptance of the fundamental irrationality of human beings when it comes to decision-making. A significant portion of my work with people struggling to execute is rooted firmly in behavioural psychology and economics.
I could fill an article or two (and probably will) discussing how the various biases and effects we now understand combine to give a hopeless veneer of plausibility to a hopeless strategic plan.
What is certain, though, is this: This complete disconnect between the strategy and the core capacity of the planner means only one thing: the strategy (and the person) will fail.
The storied venture capitalist and OKR evangelist John Doerr has described capacity as ‘goal muscle’, and that simple and earthy version of the concept is sufficient to make the point here.
If your strategy to overcome the challenge and reach a goal overloads your goal muscle, then it’s game over. That’s the real problem with strategy.