Sunday, August 9, 2009

Some Words About Words

To start, consider the following definitions:

Strategy: a sequence of deliberate and spontaneous events that are initiated to achieve a pre-determined goal or objective, such events commonly characterised by their deceptive or even duplicitous nature. Individually termed a "stratagem".

Tactic: an event or method used to achieve an aim or task; the means by which a stratagem is enacted.

Plan: the formal itemization of a given entity's capabilities; most often utilised as a mechanism to compare two or more disparate entities against, or in support of, each other.

Training: the mental and physical exercise necessary to develop or maintain the particular skills required to enact a tactic; commonly structured as individual activity within a group as part of a complex and variably orchestrated combination of events taking place both simultaneously and sequentially. Such activities are often impossible to directly control or activate on an individual basis, so training emphasises the ability to self-direct and self-initiate action within pre-determined parameters.

Study of strategy is my hobby (it takes all kinds, you know). In my less productive moments, I frequently ponder the underlying philosophy contained within Sun Tzu's The Art of War (go here for a free .pdf download: And, as do most people I presume, I routinely seek to better my understanding of the world around me while bettering my position therein. From the truly mundane advancement from figuring out my new cellphones camera function (I don't think it's actually possible to photograph the inside of one's pocket, but I expect I'll put that to the test soon enough) to the more practical development of job-related skills and knowledge, it should be obvious that my interest has much broader applications than mere war. The four definitions I offer above are the result of my study and are based upon the proposition that strategy is an individual discipline and not a militaristic exposition.

Taking them in reverse order of presentation:

Training ought to be self-explanatory, but it should be emphasised that training is not really synonymous with "education". The well educated likely are not trained in numerous aspects of applying the content of their syllabus, while the obverse doesn't actually apply either; the well-trained machinist likely being insufficiently educated to read da Vinci's description of his invention in the original being only one possible example. Training is the process through which large numbers of people and groups gain sufficient mastery of particular concepts and actions so as to demonstrate the ability to reliably perform them to a stipulated degree of proficiency under stressful and chaotic conditions (it being reasonably assumed that more convivial conditions will not make performance more demanding).

If you ever feel the urge to declare your affection for a plan's having "come together", immediately assume that your "plan" is out of date and erroneous. Should you ever begin to feel certain that you have a good understanding of an enemy's capabilities and/or intentions, consider said enemy to be succeeding at his strategy rather better than you intended. Similarly, the degree of confidence you might experience in your own groups preparedness is likely influenced by the cumulative creativity your allies and colleagues have resorted to in their reporting. To wit, a plan is only an approximation of capabilities (one of the most oxi-moronic statements in human history has to be: "No plan survives first contact with the enemy". Of course not, he's the enemy! He's supposed to deceive and mis-direct you, not to mention act unpredictably.), having the principle purpose of guiding training content and schedule selection. A plan tells you what a given ally or enemy (the classification being both variable and only marginally reliable at any given moment) is thought to be pursuing, in possession of, or capable of accomplishing as of the time the discovery was made. Tempus fugit for everybody pretty much equally, so take it as a given that things has changed in the interim.

Tactics is where we get down to actually implementing all those training scenarios and mostly being disappointed by our own side only ("the enemy" being quite expected to not disappoint by doing something unanticipated). This is when everybody gets to discover whether or not a given participant actually did train "harder than the real thing". The concept of "tactical doctrine" is the mechanism whereby large and often complex organisations classify and categorise different tactical options both as to compatibility in support, or effectiveness in opposition, to a given circumstance or objective. Mastery of such doctrinal procedure is the measure of professional competence, but it is the successful application of such when innovative response to unanticipated threat is required, that is the hallmark of great leadership.

Finally, strategy is the philosophy (there's that word again) used to organize and coordinate the method and direction whereby a position is advanced, relative both to its previous circumstance and to the position of others. Now seems an appropriate time to observe that every nation (or other political demarcation), corporation (or other business structure), affiliation (or other fraternal, political, social, religious or-any-other-category-of-group association) as well as each and every individual person alive on Earth (can we all agree to leave ET to the ministrations of John Ringo and his fellow Bain-iacs for the nonce?) is a separate and variably allied or opposed position. All of them pursuing advancement by their participants.

To sum up; a strategy employs tactics to achieve an advancement of position, commonly through varied association with other positions, by means of also variably shared training, derived from the plans developed to ascertain the positions of all involved on their own merit as well as relative to one another. If what you are saying doesn't bear some substantial degree of alignment with the sentiment just expressed, then maybe the words you are using don't mean what you think they mean.


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