Simplified definitions of strategy and tactics

In a November 2013 Economist magazine article titled “Why a Strategy is not a Plan”, the article’s writer stated that “Over time, the word ‘strategy’ has been drained of meaning by ubiquity and overuse.”  No argument from me on that.

Type the word “strategy” into’s search box for books and you come up with over 172, 000 search results.  Now that’s a ton of books with the word “strategy” in the title or sub-title.

These books run across a wide spectrum of topics and genres – including business, military, sport, fitness, politics and gaming.  And it’s this high frequency of use that has caused – in my view – the word “strategy” to lose some of its meaning, and for the definition of the word to become a bit muddied.

So let’s get back to basics shall we?  In the visual below I give my simplified definitions of a strategy and tactics.  My definitions are based upon strategy’s root word, strategia, a Greek military term which loosely translated means generalship.

Generalship is a skill.  And the skill is figuring out the best way to achieve an important or strategic goal.

In wartime a military leader uses the skill of generalship to figure out how to defeat an enemy. It’s the leader’s primary task. But the concept of generalship can be equally applied to areas such as sport and business.

In sport, generalship is about figuring out how to win a game or sporting contest.  And in business, generalship is about figuring out how to get profitable customers.

Anyway, the strategy is the what you “figure out.” Here’s the visual to explain:


If you really want to you can simplify the definitions even further down to a couple of words:

Strategy = overall method

Tactics = sub-strategies or maneuvers

A strategy is what takes you from where you are now to where you want to be.  And tactics are the sub-strategies that drive the strategy and help you to reach short-term, tactical goals.  And that, dear reader, is a definition of strategy and tactics.