Friday, July 26, 2019

Grand strategy -- an illusion?

Every enterprise engages in strategy.
  • It's a matter of routine to some: Driven by the calendar, it's now time to do the "strategic plan".
  • To others, it's another name for how to engage with risk -- a risk might be a tactical failure, but at the same time, it could be a strategic success: The other guy won today, but he killed himself doing it.
And, of course, there is always self-interest: To be accused of not thinking strategically is a definite career limiter.

An illusion?
But, is grand strategy an illusion? I think not! But, consider these pro-illusion ideas from a recent essay on just that point:*
"It makes sense to put stock in strategy if:
  • The [enterprise] has consistent preferences, if 
  • It can assess the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action (and make decisions more or less rationally), and if 
  • It has the capacity to follow through on its strategic choices.
But [perhaps] none of this is possible, and thus strategy is an illusion .....

In the complex and highly uncertain world of [big project and big enterprise] politics, it is all but impossible to identify the ideal strategy ahead of time. The [enterprise or project] lacks full knowledge about the threats it confronts, in part because [other businesses and markets] act [in private] and in part because their interests change over time. As a result, the consequences of [strategic] policy are consistently unpredictable.

The strategizing ritual contributes to a .... sense of insecurity. Psychological blinders, moreover, make strategizing still more difficult.
  • People suffer from all sorts of cognitive limitations that hinder decision-making—in particular, a tendency to rationalize. 
  • Instead of acting on the basis of ... beliefs, we revise our beliefs to make sense of our improvisations. 
  • We avoid identifying priorities and the tradeoffs among them.
  • Moreover, businesses are not unitary actors, and bureaucratic battles impede strategic planning and consistency.
This sounds like the "noestimates" version of "nostrategy": As a result, the consequences of [strategic] policy are consistently unpredictable.

I'm not buying the thesis that not thinking about a future that has a discriminating difference with the present is somehow a good thing. Just because -- the future is unpredictable with precision and there are unknowns and unknowables that will drive us off course -- is no reason not to tackle the hard stuff

*David M. Edelstein and Ronald R. Krebsein, writing in the Nov-Dec 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs

Buy them at any online book retailer!