The Power of Strategy: A Whackadoodle lesson about the difference between tactics and strategy, along with some good advice regarding building a strategy. If you have entered this story in the middle, click here for the prologue.
“Ironic,” I admitted at last. “We have to do a Whackadoodle episode on strategy, but I have yet to develop a strategy for writing it.”
“I think we should begin by explaining the difference between tactics and strategy,” she suggested. “Lot’s of people get confused by the difference.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Because I get confused by the difference, and I’m pretty smart.”
“Okay,” I considered for a moment. “In chess, it’s the difference between knowing how to move the pieces, and knowing how to checkmate a king.”
“That explanation does not help,” she informed me dryly.
“Tactics,” I began again. “That’s where you know how to move the pieces, so you keep moving them around hoping to keep all your pieces, and every so often you find a move that can take one of your opponent’s pieces without losing one of your own. If you get lucky, you get to take the king. Make sense?”
“I suppose,” she admitted.
“Now in strategy,” I continued. “You keep your eye on the king, and you attempt to move your pieces into a position where they can trap him without being trapped yourself. You are working towards a vision, a goal.”
“So in strategy, you have to keep your eye on the king?”
“On a goal, a vison, an outcome, yeah” I nodded. “Then you create plans, tactics, and actions designed to achieve those outcomes.”
“Can you explain how it works in the real world, and not just in chess terms?”
“Unfortunately, it is often easier to explain how strategy doesn’t work in the real world.”
“Well, too often strategy is ignored, and tactics take over. People lose sight of their vision. They get distracted; or even worse, they may never have had a clear vision in the first place.”
“What do you mean by clear vision?”
“Well, sometimes visions can be made up of inaccurate maps and misguided assumptions.”
“Okay, to accept that statement, I really need an example.”
“I will accept that challenge,” I replied, then took some time to think. “How about if I’d been taught a lie since childhood. I might use that lie to guide myself, and I so long as I never question that lie, I will be attempting to navigate my life with an inaccurate map.”
“You really love that river metaphor, don’t you,” she accused.
“Yeah, I do,” I admitted. “Much less divisive than practical examples.”
“But what if I need a practical example?”
I found myself tapping my fingers against my lips as I considered my response. “A practical, real-world example, huh?”
“Yes,” she insisted.
“Then let’s talk hurricanes,” I suggested. “As you know, just last week, on September 28, 2022, America had one of its most deadly and destructive hurricanes tear through Florida. Over one hundred deaths and counting. The cost to rebuild estimated at 63 billion and climbing. Not to mention, it may financially ruin Florida’s insurance industry. “
“Hurricane Ian, right?”
“Right,” I acknowledged. “And while almost everyone accepts that saving lives, finding survivors, and providing the essentials of water, food, and shelter to those left homeless by the disaster is the first priority; people don’t always share the same vision as to how to rebuild.”
“What do you mean ‘almost everyone’,” she asked. “Doesn’t everyone believe in helping the survivors?”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure that at least one percent of the population thinks that if people are stupid enough to build on a flood plain in a hurricane zone without flood insurance then they shouldn’t ask tax payers to pay for their stupidity. Luckily for them, most people do not feel that way. Most people will come forward to help the best way they can.”
“And who do you agree with?” she demanded. “That one percent, or the other ninety-nine percent?”
“Isn’t it possible to agree with both?” I replied. “Aren’t I allowed to feel compassion for the loss of so many, while still wondering why someone would chose to build communities on small barrier Islands, with only one bridge in and out. Aren’t I allowed to wonder about a planning department that would design a road system where people who were given twenty-four hours to evacuate can find themselves in thirty hour traffic jams? Aren’t I allowed to question why FEMA provides assistance based upon proof of loss, so that the rich always seem to get more assistance than the poor? Aren’t I allowed to wonder why anyone would insure a home not built to withstand hurricanes if that home is built where major hurricanes hit every few years?”
“Sure you’re allowed,” she interrupted before I could go on. “I’m just not sure that I like where you’re allowing yourself to go.”
“Like it or not,” I said. “Those kinds of questions are the first step to rebuilding with an accurate map.”
“How do you mean?”
“Vision one: Rebuild fast, so people’s lives can get back to normal as soon as possible. Vision two: Take a moment to make sure that what we rebuild won’t cost another 63 billion dollars and over 100 lives when the next hurricane hits land.”
“In other words,” she offered. “Take a moment to create a strategy.”
“Exactly,” I confirmed. “Unfortunately, the first step in strategy is to work from an accurate map, and the first rule of leadership is to make sure that the people you lead buy into your map.”
“There you go with the river metaphor again,” she accused. “What exactly do you mean by an accurate map?”
“People seldom question their beliefs,” I began. “They might not see the same problems that I do when they start to rebuild. Right now, I see that they will build back what they had before only to be devastated again. The first step of strategy is to have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish. When a community lacks that vision and leadership…” I tossed up my hands without completing the sentence.
“So the community has to come together with a vision of how they want to rebuild?”
“To ensure that their rebuilding can withstand hurricanes, yes.” I nodded. “The old ways are not good enough. We can’t keep doing what we’ve always done and expect our lives to get better.”
“And I suppose that the whole hurricane thing is just another metaphor for how to approach life, right?”
“Possibly,” I smiled. “You tell me. I do know that if you want to navigate life effectively you need an accurate map, a steady rudder, a full sail, a moral compass, a solid anchor, a loyal crew, and a personal commission.”
“That’s from your first book, right?” she said, and began quoting from memory. “The rudder was about self-discipline and focus, the full sail was about following your passion, the moral compass was about listening to your conscience, the anchor was about discovering your values, the loyal crew was about how to treat the people around you, and the personal commission was an exercise to help you keep it all in focus.”
“Very good,” I said, then added, “But all strategies fall short if you are working from an inaccurate map.”
“So is that my homework for the week?” she snickered. “Making sure that I am using an accurate map, and not being misguided by my beliefs?”
“That’s the homework for everyone, every week,” I told her.
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- Navigating Life in a Whackadoodle World
- Finding Sense in a Whackadoodle World
- Teaching Logic in a Whackadoodle World
- Navigating Life Through Turbulent Tides
- A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life