The Art of Strategy: Steps Towards Business Agility

Introduction: What is strategy and why do you need it?

Erik Schön
Jan 3, 2019 · 4 min read

What is strategy? Why do you need it? How do you do it? And, how can you be more certain to succeed? The Art of Strategy provides timeless answers to these eternal questions. It is a modern reading of Sun Tzu’s Art of War using the lenses of strategists John Boyd and Simon Wardley (swardley).

和 (Hé) Harmony. Erik Schön (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Art of Strategy is a short introduction to strategy through the insights of three successful strategists: Sun Tzu (c. 551–496 BC), John Boyd (1927–1997) and Simon Wardley (swardley).

It is a modern reading of Sun Tzu’s Art of War — the strategy classic written in China around 500 BC — using the lenses of Boyd (OODA Loop inventor) and Wardley (Wardley Map inventor) who were both influenced by Sun Tzu.

Each part gently transforms Sun Tzu into a modern business setting and includes material from Boyd and Wardley in separate sections to complement and clarify Sun Tzu’s terse, poetic text. The idea is to serve strategy in 13 short parts requiring 5–10 minutes reading time each. Additionally, an extensive Glossary is provided since many Chinese concepts are purposefully abstract and ambiguous.

You will discover new thinking patterns, e.g. OODA “loops” and situational awareness, as well as visualization tools like Wardley Maps that will help you, your team and your organization to sustainably thrive in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world where the rate of change will never be slower than today. You will also improve your understanding of the (geo)political gameplays used by Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xí Jìnpíng who are all inspired by Sun Tzu, in some cases indirectly via Boyd.

I hope you will start strategizing together with your colleagues using Wardley Maps. I also hope that you will go to the sources —Boyd’s A Discourse on Winning and Losing and Wardley’s Wardley Maps — where you will find additional actionable insights, concrete examples and thinking patterns based on hands-on experiences from developing and deploying strategy.

Move beyond strategy as wars, battles and combat for power
towards strategy as individuals, teams or organizations fulfilling their purpose in situations outside their direct control, sometimes engaging with others desiring the same thing.

Move beyond strategy for survival in competitive environments
towards strategy for sustainably thriving in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world where the rate of change will never be slower than today.

Move beyond strategy development as planning, metrics and data
towards strategy development as choices for a harmonized direction for the organization based on regular assessments of stakeholders’ needs and the organization’s purpose.

Move beyond strategy deployment as execution, checking metrics and chasing targets towards strategy deployment as initiatives, decisions and actions in a harmonized direction by everyone everywhere in the organization based on high situational awareness.

Move beyond business as maximizing shareholder value
towards business as succeeding together with your stakeholders — maximizing outcomes while minimizing efforts.

Move beyond agility as a ready ability to move with quick, easy grace
towards agility as the ability to adapt to and influence situations more skillfully than competition, including timely break out of successful — but non-sustainable — patterns.

Move beyond leadership for managers and people in formal leader roles towards leadership as a service provided by — potentially all — people in the organization.

Move beyond ways of working using principles and practices
for optimizing parts towards ways of working by creating conditions and transcending trade-offs for harmonizing the whole.

The art of strategy is to succeed — by securing harmony among stakeholders and keeping competition off balance — through evolving better capabilities to influence, adapt and map.

Acclaim for The Art of Strategy

“An excellent fusion of Sun Tzu, Boyd, and Wardley that is beautifully laid out, highly readable and very straightforward in compressing the learning curve on all three!”
@ChaosAndOceans, Marine, Economist, Swimmer, Surfer

“Erik Schön has created a great example of Boyd’s ’snowmobile’ — a synthesis across a variety of domains leading to new insights and capabilities. I’m sure every strategist, business, leader, and entrepreneur will find valuable ideas for making their own enterprises more competitive.”
Chet Richards, author of Certain to Win

“The Art of Strategy is condensed knowledge that all managers, agile coaches and other leaders should have. This is three thinkers from very different contexts. But as Erik has put it, with similarities and differences topic by topic, a fourth voice appears. That voice belongs to the interaction between the three narrators and it gives as much value to me as a reader as the other three voices do.”
Staffan Nöteberg, author of Monotasking

“THE summary and independent look on modern strategy right now!!!”
Markus Andrezak, Founder and Managing Partner at überprodukt

The Art of Strategy: All Parts

Contents: A very short summary of each part
Introduction: What is strategy and why do you need it?

  1. Assessments: How to assess, prepare and shape
  2. Challenges: How to use and reduce inertia, entropy and friction
  3. Success: How to succeed together with stakeholders
  4. Setup: How to create resilience
  5. Momentum: How to use creativity focus and timing
  6. Shaping: How to shape and avoid being shaped
  7. Engagement: How to engage using surprise
  8. Adaptations: How to adapt to shifting situations
  9. Movements: How to move to optimize momentum
  10. Landscape: How to approach difficult areas
  11. Situations: How to handle difficult situations
  12. Disruption: How to disrupt and avoid being disrupted
  13. Intelligence: How to use intelligence to create foreknowledge

Annex: Wardley Mapping Examples
Glossary: Explanation of key terms and symbols
Acknowledgements: Standing on the shoulders of giants
Sources: Where to learn more
Other reading and viewing formats

This is provided as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International by the author, Erik Schön.

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