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On “Knowing How or Needing the Chance”

Trying to catch up from the point when work swamped me last week.

My longtime amigo Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye voiced a disagreement with my post Ruminating on Strategic Thinking II. : Social Conditions which he set forth there, as well as in the comments section. Here’s Dave:

Knowing How or Needing the Chance? 

My blog friend Mark Safranski’s recent musings on the nature and sources of strategic thinking brought to mind an old politically incorrect joke whose punchline is “Know how; need chance.” He opens the post with a substantial list of strategic thinkers and then tries to find commonalities among them. I found his list of commonalities uncompelling. I don’t think these commonalities illuminate what strategic thinking is comprised of but rather what circumstances provide the greatest opportunity for strategic thinking.

For all we know the greatest strategic thinker of all time is sticking components onto a circuit board in Chengdu. We’ll never have the opportunity to see the results of her strategic thinking because she’s just struggling to make money to send to her parents back on the farm.

What “strategic thinking is composed of” – that is to say, the cognitive level behaviors – I speculated upon in part I – Ruminating on Strategic Thinking. I do not expect that I was successful in being comprehensive there, but I think that post is much closer to what Dave was alluding to above.

Part II was subtitled “Social Conditions”, which dealt with an informal case study of men “who had the chance”, the US leadership of WWII and the Cold War. Dave is correct that the human population of Earth or of a nation is statistically likely to yield a talent pool more able at strategic thinking than a subset of a  narrow elite groomed or self-selected for that purpose. However, the hypothetical potential of humanity at large does not provide me with case studies to examine they way that historical elites do, strategy often being intertwined with the holding and exercise of political power.

Part III, assuming I can get to it in a reasonable time frame, will look at activities that build an individual’s capacity for strategic thought


5 Responses to “On “Knowing How or Needing the Chance””

  1. Charles Cameron Says:

    Looking forward to Part III, then!

  2. Larry Dunbar Says:

    “Trying to catch up from the point when work swamped me last week.” 

    Catch up is exactly correct. It is not so much the job and luck, nor knowing how and needing the chance, its the maintaining of security, while learning how and getting the chance. Security of mind and body, between artistry and science.

  3. seydlitz89 Says:

    Schuler’s argument seems to be that “great strategists are born, not made”, but then I doubt if he’s ever worked on an assembly line or in manufacturing.  Very linear by necessity, whereas strategy and politics are both non-linear.  In other words, I think environment is the decisive factor, not innate ability.  Environment would also influence not only what, but how the young are educated making potential ability a very delicate and contingent factor indeed.
    If one has the unfortunate fate to live during times of political confusion (the result of incompetent manipulation or not) then I’m afraid the strategic performance will reflect that.  Context.  Context. Context . . .

  4. zen Says:

    Hi Gents,
    You need talent but like a knife, strategic talent needs to be shaped and honed to be useful. Societies that are comfortable, orderly, free and safe will have a harder time finding strategists.
    Dave has a background in engineering and business/consulting, if I recall accurately. 

  5. seydlitz89 Says:

    I find the whole idea that “the greatest strategic thinker of all time is sticking components onto a circuit board in Chengdu” as somehow Romantic and very American, in that it is not really the way things work in the vast majority of cases.  I have worked in heavy industry and on an assembly line and the last thing you’re considering is the “big picture” in those types of situations, but rather production by way of a linear process, strict attention to detail, and keeping the foreman off your back, that is keeping your job.  Existence comes down to drill and simply tactics, period.  Schuler’s hypothetical Chinese production line worker using her innate abilities for strategic thought would find that distracting her from what she actually has to concentrate on.  
    I agree that “we” as influential individuals within a political community have lost the ability to think strategically.  Part of the problem is our current social, political, strategic context which does not promote strategic analysis, but consistently focuses on tactics and drill.  We’re trapped in an ideological view of the world that colors and forms our assumptions, assumptions that have little or no basis in the actual contexts we find ourselves in.   

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