This week, I ran across a World War II quote in a CNN article ("What images of Russian trucks say about its military's struggles in Ukraine") that got stuck in my brain.

"Amateurs talk strategy, Professionals talk logistics" General Omar Bradley

The article went on to say that "Russia has neglected its trucks largely because they are not glitzy enough for a military keen to show off its cutting edge weapons systems." and "Often glamorous dictator militaries are good at the showy weapons, they buy the fancy aircraft and the fancy tanks, but they don't actually buy the less glamorous stuff"

When retelling former glory, we often confuse excellent execution or great process with a great strategy.   We praise Steve Job's strategic vision for the iPhone but don't realize that the iPhone started without him knowing, and he had to be convinced to change his mind because he and his executives thought cell phones "sucked." So from the outset, it looks like a great strategy, but if you look under the hood, you see Jobs' process fostering experimentation, pushback, and trust. Once Jobs was on board had to execute, they delivered the phones to millions and millions of people.  

We do the same thing when viewing successful people.  We take extreme outliers, give them a halo, and view their success as a single stroke of genius.  Maybe this is the allure of Strategy. We can win the Strategic Lottery by making one Strategic decision, spending our early retirement at our beach home on an exclusive island, and sipping cocktails with one pinky up. I guess we are programmed to think this way.  The desire for this simple success into many biases we humans are famous for (Availability heuristic, Confirmation bias, and Hindsight bias, to name a few.)

How Amateurs talk Strategy

  • Talking about the latest greatest without assigning next steps, accountability, or deadlines
  • Looking for home runs when the operation is dying by 1,000 cuts
  • Being reactive instead of proactive
  • Running the business by watching lagging indicators (like slipping deadlines)
  • Celebrate big wins in their department and don't consider downstream or upstream bottlenecks.  So the system is no better than it was before.
  • It is going all-in on the next big trend because it is cool.  Getting into Machine Learning without understanding the questions you are trying to answer. Funding Data Science by addressing the organizational data gaps.

How Professionals talk Process

  • When it hits the fan, and the dust has settled, professionals look for process breakdowns. Where was the documentation, and how was the training? Be curious.
  • They talk about bottlenecks and where the system as a whole is weak.
  • They look for leading indicators of problems.  Often they put the fires out before they even smoke
  • They find and improve many little things that eventually add to greater efficiency.
  • They dig until they find the real problem.
  • They take responsibility for failing and build safety in their organization.

As Phil Knight once said, "Business is like war without bullets," If it is, make sure you are a professional and discuss the business equivalent of logistics.  Make sure your information supply lines flow freely throughout the organization. Commit to funding the non-glitzy departments, listening to the front-line operations employees keeping the lights on.  In the end, talking Strategy is easy because it changes often and lacks accountability. Whereas talking about process leads to insights about the system, it leads to questions that need to be answered. It leads to progress.