I’ve heard a number of clever academicians say that strategy can’t be defined, it can only be studied on a case by case basis after the fact. Bull.

I define strategy as the intelligent allocation of limited resources through a unique system of activities to outperform the competition in serving customers. No, I didn’t get this from a Dilbert cartoon. It’s a big topic and deserves a definition that captures its essence.

We begin with “the intelligent allocation of limited resources…”. With large companies like GM and United Airlines going bankrupt, we see today that having the most resources guarantees nothing. It’s what we do with those resources that counts.

The second part of the definition covers “a unique system of activities to outperform the competition.” Doing the same things in the exact same ways as others is a tried-and-true formula for failure. Our strategies need to emphasize the differentiated value we provide. Since the concept of strategy originated in the military arena thousands of years ago, strategy is inherently about defeating something or someone, even if that something is simply customer apathy to change.

The final aspect of the definition is “serving customers.” Sometimes we get so caught up in what our competitors are doing that we forget why we’ve created the strategy in the first place–to fulfill a customer need.

During the next week, ask five of your co-workers what their definition of strategy is and write them down. Want to bet you get five different answers?

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