When you’re thinking strategically, you’re looking forward and reasoning backward (see Dixit and Nalebuff’s First Rule of Strategy).
The hard part of this process usually isn’t looking forward. Most people can do that. Most people can imagine a future. Most people can develop a vision (but not everyone can).
The hard part for most people is reasoning backward.
It’s hard to do anything backward that you’re accustomed to doing forward. We’re accustomed to reasoning forward, which makes reasoning backward hard.
When something’s new and difficult, it helps to start with a simple model.
There’s a simple model for strategy in A Spy’s Guide To Strategy that uses Positive-Sum and Zero-Sum Games.
It looks like this:
With this simple model for strategy, you focus on the questions that matter. You start with questions about the Endgame. Who is in the other side’s Endgame? Where will it take place? What resources will it need to survive and thrive?
When you answer the questions about the other side’s Endgame, you reason backward to the Zero-Sum Games they’re going to play.
Once you see their Zero-Sum Games, you reason backward to the alliances they’ll want to build to win those Zero-Sum Games.
In a few short minutes, you’ve reasoned backward. And you’ve understood the other side’s strategy. Which means you understand if they’ll be an ally or an enemy or someone who shares your Endgame.
You build your own strategy the same way.
You imagine your Endgame and reason backward through the Zero-Sum Games you’ll plan and the Positive-Sum alliances you’ll need to win.
With a simple model for strategy, it becomes easy to reason backward.
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To read more about this simple model for strategy plus a real-life spy story, the strategy of Osama bin Laden and the United States after 9/11, get a copy of A Spy’s Guide To Strategy here. It has great reviews: