Why Strategies Do Not Work

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  • 2014•09•22

    In this video, Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies and recent Vice-Principal of King’s College London, joins UNU Rector David M. Malone to discuss the problem and relevance of strategy, based on his book “Strategy: A History”.

    The basic theme of the book is that people who have ambitious and elaborate strategies, aiming at some distant future goal involving lots of complex steps and many players, tend to be a disappointment. Professor Freedman argues that strategy should really start with the problem you want to solve and move forward from there.

    From businesses and management consultancies, he argues, we have witnessed the commercialization of strategies – that is strategies as a product with formulas that can be applied. These also tend to disappoint.

    Rather, Friedman explains that a lot of what we call strategy is really common sense judgment and intuitive. But elaborate planning processes tend to take you away from judgment.

    Professor Freedman stresses the need to opt for an alternative approach which involves a good diagnosis of the problems, and the development of adaptive system that can identify early on when things are not working. This brings flexibility to the strategy, allowing it to be altered in relation to the continuous development of the situation.

    When put into practical terms, the current conflict in Ukraine illustrates the necessity of deviating from best practice strategies. Professor Freedman points out the irrationality of the strategy of President Putin, as it has a negative impact on the Russian economy. In order to combat this, the Western countries should support the Ukrainian government, despite it not being a NATO-ally. Hence, a strategy should not be a static prescription, but rather be adjusted to fit the immediate reactions that arise along the way.