While no one would confuse Mike Tyson with Aristotle, his observation that “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth” is instructive.
In fact, Tyson’s insight serves as the foundation for a far deeper and profound examination of the role of planning in Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy: A History.
In recent years, strategy has become one of those words that gets thrown about in seemingly every situation. “We need a strategy before we can get started.” What is your strategy to solve the problem?” Now that you’ve graduated, what is your career strategy?” etc., etc.
Freedman details how strategy has become ubiquitous in so many areas of our lives. In today’s world, he writes“…there is no human activity so lowly, banal, or intimate that it can reasonably be deprived of a strategy.”
Strategy has become one of those “all things to all people”, whether as a filler, a solution, outcome, or explanation.
When trying to appear thoughtful while no valuable thought is at hand, the mere utterance of strategy is hoped to take the pressure off until something better comes out.
A solid strategy is purported to be the way forward in finding solutions to difficult problems. Who in their right mind would proceed without one? In such a complex world, “by the seat of our pants” thinking is reserved for the shallow and unenlightened.
Desired outcomes, the notion holds, are the result of strong strategic thinking and reasoned planning. The most successful in any arena are the ones who had a strategy, stuck with it, and saw it through.
Strategy also serves as a reference point to explain things not easily discerned. If we can understand the strategy behind something, it goes, we can then discover its essence.
This is all well and good, and, yet, as Freedman points out, holding up strategy as some kind of an ideal diminishes the role of luck, fortune, and irrationality that so often dominates our world; as when you unexpectedly take one on the chin.