What is Strategy? Why is it easy to get wrong and so hard to get right?


Strategy

Structures in Life

This is the first post of a ‘Structures in Life’ Series.

So, in short, what is Strategy? Strategy is everything related to getting from one point in concept-space to other points in a predefined direction by predefined actions.

What do I mean by that.

Concept-Space

Okay, in my usage, concept-space here is a multidimensional space with similar concepts clustered in ‘clouds’. In this particular instance, I am talking about concepts that correlate with states of the real world. For example: You, in the situation you are in right now, whatever that is. There is a different point for every other person as well, for their situation, and for every situation that no one is in as well.

These Concepts are connected with each other, e.g. the concept for ‘bread’ is connected with the concepts for ‘eating’ or ‘cheese’. So then everything related to eating would form a small cluster of concepts. Everything related to you being in school would also form its own cluster, including the friends, classrooms, and teachers you have (had). Maybe at some point you changed schools, then there is two overlapping clusters, with mostly similar concepts (they all have classrooms, whiteboards, but they look differently).

Our limitation regarding concept-space is that we can not fully map it in our brains. It is not possible to know about any and every detail every other human has known or will know. So our minds are only showing us the parts of concept-space that we have encountered, or thought about.

Getting from one point to another

Okay, this is slightly trickier. Remember that we can not know all of concept-space. Still, as time passes on we get from one point to another (conceptually as well as in the real world). We might, for example, go from school to our home and eat something (what about some bread with cheese?). We got from one point to another. So this happens automatically all the time either way. But that is not what I meant.

In a predefined direction

Direction is relevant. Back to the school-setting, you might want to graduate with some good grades. This is an absolutely existing point in concept-space, no matter if you are an A+ or D- student. The concept exists. So what do I mean with ‘direction’ here? You know, the location of concepts in concept-space is more or less fixed, so where you want to go is the same. However, the angle at which you need to go there, the direction is different, since you start out somewhere else, even if the goal is the same. Conceptually, for you get there from being a D- student, it is obvious that you would need to do a lot more (it is conceptually farther away) than from being an A+ student already.

Picture from https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-many-stars-are-in-the-sky

Stars as Concept-space analogy

Here is one more analogy if you are still confused from Concept-space. You can think of Concepts as stars when looking up from Earth at night (get a clear sky for that!). Now, getting from one to another would be to travel from one star to another. Not that we can do this (yet), but we can at least think about that. Now, from that other star, the sky would look somewhat differently. That is how concepts are relative to another. Also, stars naturally form cluster. There is galaxies, nebula, superclusters, and more. Well, concept-space would have some ‘wormholes’ connecting areas that are farther away again, but basically, that’s it.

Again to the direction: To get to one certain star, when starting from two entirely different stars, the direction you would need to go in, would be different. That’s it. Well, conceptually that means doing different things. There would be other stars (concepts) in your way, maybe more, maybe less. However, different stars, when starting from a sufficiently far away concept.

By predefined actions

Apparently, it is not sufficient for us to just be wanting to go in one direction. Let’s say: Study more. It is the default for humans to procrastinate. The start in concept-space, as well as the direction are determined, but without clear starting action it is likely that nothing will happen. Determination and discipline are also important, but are entire topics for another day.

Strategy in Life

Now, looking around you, how many examples of Strategy can you see? Every Company is a living example (well, except for the direction part, not every Company has a direction they want to go in. Big ones had a direction, those new usurping ones usually still have). Every club/society has a direction, for a tennis club the actions would be to offer it’s members to play tennis. The same for every other sports club, it is either the continued playing of this sport, or sometimes even winning competitions (these are the direction), the actions more or less directly follow (ground-keeping, washing uniforms, cleaning equipment, play, social events, …). Heck, even a study group is a perfect example: The direction being ‘getting better at certain subjects’ with the actions being ‘studying together’ and ‘exchanging information’ among others.

Looking around you, you will also see some examples of ‘not exactly what is described here’. If you take a better look at them, most of them are not really working. Some fail at having an actual direction, but most fail at putting the direction in actions. Strategy is hard.

Know your surroundings

How often did it happen to you, that, looking back, there would have been some way simpler method to get to your goal? Well, this happens all the time. So, before we get to how to create a new Strategy, let us talk about looking at your surroundings for a second.

Your surroundings, the location you are at in concept-space, is enormously important. It is also enormously important that your mind has a map of the surrounding concept-space. Beware, however, concept-space is way bigger than reality, and not every concept (fact, relation, …) you may have in mind, is actually true. Make an actual effort to research the actual facts, and maybe even more than would be necessary.

Also, simply from knowing where to go, there usually still are a lot of different directions you can start off from. Usually, goals are clusters of concepts (different context is creating a different concept, a game of chess can be won many different ways), so the direction you start off in only needs to ‘roughly’ head towards your goal, you can always correct later with more information. However, if you can’t find a direction to head in (to reach your goal), then finding actions to actually get you there is basically impossible.

Creating Strategies

Let’s put it all together. Creating a new Strategy is not that hard, continuously using it is way harder. First, make sure you know your surroundings. Know the difference between map and territory, and have a pretty accurate picture of things happening. Then, you need some goal you want to achieve. Some cluster in concept-space, for training purposes ideally not too far away. Now, if you have the direction, collect some actions, that get you closer to your goal. Actions, that actually bring you forward towards your goal. Actions having the same direction. The most fatal actions are those being unrelated and bringing you away from your goal. Procrastinating instead when you wanted to study, or eating unhealthily if you wanted to lose weight. That’s the hard part. It is immensely important for your actions to not go backward. Worst case, they are allowed to go sideways, but not ever backward. This requires some discipline, but you are bound to get close to your goal, or at least not further away.

Using Strategies

When having set the goal, the direction and some actions towards the goal, make sure to continuously update your direction slightly (e.g. from ‘studying’ to ‘study physics primarily’ for an upcoming test), if conditions change. Also: at some point you need to consciously run through the actions you did, and devise new ones. Some actions may have been one-time applicable, and other possibilities may have opened up for you. So you need to update your set of actions bringing you towards your goal continuously. Can you do that?


Summary

This was quite the abstract post, but I hope you could follow. Here is a quick summary:

  • Concept-space are related concepts next to each other, different concepts further away
  • Concepts form ‘clusters’ of related concepts
  • Goals are ‘directions’ to clusters in concept-space
  • Actions always propel you in some direction (in concept-space)
  • Successful strategy is filtering from all available actions only those that get you closer to your goal
  • In real life, a lot of things are called Strategy, some entirely unrelated
  • A lot of things actually work like this, even though most people are not aware of this
  • Stagnant points in concept-space usually do not apply these concepts correctly (people as well as companies, …)
  • If you are not successful for some time, maybe learn more about the world. Concepts also include possible directions you can think of.
  • Ask other people for help, different points of view are usually worth a lot.