“Let the Wookiee win….”
Warning! Thinking out loud in progress…..
Strategy is often described as the alignment of “Ends-Ways-Means” and “planning” to achieve important goals and several other useful definitions related to matters of war, statecraft and business. That great strategists have come in many forms, not just between fields but demonstrating tremendous variance within them – ex. George Marshall vs. Alexander the Great vs. Carl von Clausewitz – indicates that strategic thinking is a complex activity in terms of cognition.
What are some of the mental actions that compose “strategic thinking” or “making strategy”? A few ideas:
- Recognition of important variables
- Assessment of the nature of each variable
- Assessment of the relative importance of each variable
- Assessment of the relationships among the variables
- Assessment of the relationship between the variables and their strategic environment
- Assessment of current “trajectory” or trend lines of variables
- Assessment of costs to effect a change in the position or nature of each variable
- Assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the variables as a functioning system
- Recognition of systemic “choke points”, “tipping points” and feedback loops.
- Probabilistic estimation
- Logical reasoning
- Horizontal Thinking
- Imagination (esp. at “grand strategic” level)
- Logistical estimation of costs
- Normative evaluation of potential benefits
- Understanding of temporal constraints
- Recognition of opportunity costs
- Recognition of boundary conditions
- Recognition of physical constraints of strategic environment (terrain, weather, distance etc.)
- Recognition of patterns in the history of the strategic environment
- Net assessment of the maximum capabilities of a political community (first ours, then theirs)
- Understanding of organizational structure of a political community
- Recognition of stakeholders in the political community
- Understanding of decision making process of the political community
- Understanding the power relationships of the decision making process of the political community
- Understanding the distribution of resources within the political community
- Recognition of the touchstone points of the cultural identity of the political community (positive and negative) and worldview
- Assessment of morale of the political community and the community’s moral code
- Assessment of psychology of individual adversary decision makers
- Identification of points of comparative advantage
- Recognition of how different bilateral outcomes/shifts will affect third parties
- Assessment of relationship between the adversaries and between them and third parties
This list is not comprehensive. In fact, I have a question for the readership, particularly those with military service and/or a good grasp of military history:
Where do the interpersonal skills or “emotional intelligence” abilities that comprise the activity we term “leadership” fit into strategic thinking? Or is it a separate but complementary suite of talents? We often assume that great strategists are the great leaders, but we tend to forget all of the generals who were popular yet mediocre in the field and gloss over the human faults of those who won great glory.
I have some ideas but I would like to hear yours. Or any additional suggestions or comments you would care to make.