Strategy and tactic: Definition and actual difference
Strategy belongs to that category of terms, which, although widely used in everyday discussions (others are arrogance, morality, etc.), if asked to define them, we may either find it difficult to do so (thus ending up protesting for the actual importance of defining them, since “we all understand what we are talking about”), or we may not be able to adequately come up with its conceptual elements.
First of all, had this assumption applied in every case someone would ask to define the term we are using, then we could as well take everything for granted. Therefore any explanation and explication would be rendered redundant. Second, part of the misunderstandings occurring during the conversations are due to the absence of explanatory steps on the manner each side perceives the under discussion concepts.
For example, a self-proclaimed “atheist” or “pragmatist” will confront an equally self-proclaimed “believer” or a “metaphysist” for the existence of “metaphysical” or not, without first specifying what he/she perceives as “metaphysical “(whether, for instance, is a notion identical, contradicting or in any way similar to ” paranormal “, etc.).
Thirdly, our ability to define, even at a basic level (but at least adequately), what we have in mind reflects, up to a certain degree, our own understanding of the term we use.
What we define as Strategy, then? Here are some indicative terms:
1. “The art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy” (Liddell Hart, Strategy, 1967).
2. “A long- range plan for achieving something or reaching a goal, or the skill of making such plans” (Cambridge Dictionary online, definition in American English)
3. “Strategy is a plan, a “how,” a means of getting from here to there” (Henry Mintzberg, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, 1994)
4. “Strategy is the art by which one tries to gain advantage through competitive conditions” (Paris Varvarousis, Game Strategy, 1998 – my translation).
The average perception of strategy includes (among other things) a somewhat negative connotation, the concept being interlinked with “intrigue”, “cunningness”, “calculative mind”, and so on. In that direction, a number of people actually deny that their actions are based on some strategy, but “spontaneously”, “instantly” or “emotionally” instead. In one of the following articles, we shall focus on whether such a claim is sustainable and whether an action based on a strategy cancels the presence of emotion, or entails it as an integral part of human nature.
For the time being, though, we will focus on noting that organizing a basic strategic plan is an inalienable part of our action as living organisms. Organisms who somehow have to respond to the various stimuli of their environment. Whether our strategy has been deeply rooted to the extent that we do not perceive the sequence of our actions as the result of such (and consequently, whether we have designed an effective strategy, or we can not effectively implement an action plan) is something different than considering ourselves functioning without any internal and internalized plan whatsoever.
Gaining some form of benefits is therefore a fundamental component of strategy. These advantages can obtain miscellaneous forms, material goods, professional development, satisfying basic needs, emotional feedback, personal affirmation, prevalence in interpersonal conflicts, etc. A crucial element is the presence of a competitive situation. If competitiveness was not an inherent feature of human interactions, of relationships, and in general of the struggle of living organisms for survival, we wouldn’t seek out the most effective way of acting with the minimum possible cost for us. The opulence of choices and available ways of opting in would have rendered our strive, our labor infertile.
Last but not least, the reference to strategy as a form of art is noticeable. Much can be said on this subject. For the time being it suffices to note that the designing of a strategy can always accommodate improvements and it is not an easy (or safe, for all that matters) to say that a strategy is so well constructed and thorough so as to not require adjustments along the way.
On the other hand, a tactic (which sometimes in daily understanding is identified with strategy) is a process more limited in scale. To simplify the above, a tactic constitutes one of the steps, one of the tools that can be used to achieve the goal set through the strategy. The strategy thus expresses the ultimate goal to be fulfilled, while the tactic focuses on completing one of the steps leading to it.
For example, we aim at honing the ability to distinguish which behavior pattern and way of verbal approximation match each partner, colleague or employee in our professional field. For the successful outcome of this endeavor, we initially adopt (or adjust on the course) a series of steps, one of which is to try to talk less and listen more, while another is to look into the eyes of each of our interlocutors (coloring our look with a tone of intimacy, whether we are really interested in what it is said or not).
In terms of international relations and conflicts, the strategy reflects the overall plan to achieve victory in the war, while the tactic is about planning a victorious outcome in the battlefield.