An Unexpected Strategy Lesson by Alistair Campbell 2

Last week i went to the US, and while i sat waiting in the departure area i spotted a “unattended” book not far from where i was sitting. I didnt think too much of it, went for a walk, got a bite to eat and spotted that my flight had been delayed. So i went and sat back down, not far from where i was previously. The book was still there. I picked it up, and had a peek – it was “Winners and How They Succeed” by Alistair Campbell – Tony Blair’s director of strategy and communication. I must admit, it’s a very interesting read with a vast array of ‘winning’ examples from across the world of sports, business, economics and politics. The first chapter, about Strategy, particularly resonated with me – here’s why:

Strategy Confuses Me

I am often in meetings where some bright spark starts talking about strategy, and initially it sounds good and pretty interesting. The guy gets a few brownie points, cool! So not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to sound and look good, others start talking about strategy and before you know it the word and idea gets mixed up. Strategy in these meetings is sometimes confused with objectives and tactics, and the words are used interchangeably and everything gets very confusing. And before i know it, i dont know if people really mean strategy or if they mean something else — their message is in turn confused.

Strategy – It’s Easy as ABC

Well, not quite ABC. But Alistair uses a neat little acronym – OST:

  • Objective
    • You must know what your objectives are
    • The objective(s) must be clearly defined:
      • What is success and what does success look like?
      • What is failure, and what does failure look like?
    • Make your objective SMART – many corporate bods will have heard of SMART – Specific, Measurable Achievable, Relevant and Time-limited
  • Strategy
    • Once you have an objective, you need to understand what you need to do in order to achieve it
    • Your strategy must be a simple and clear vision of the big picture – what does it look like
  • Tactics
    • Your tactics define how you will realise your strategy, which will in turn help you achieve your objective

In the book, Alistair highlights a number of examples (from Steve Jobs at Apple through to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United) that really bring home the differences between Objectives, Strategy and Tactics. Read the book for the juicy details and quotes. But in my mind, if you understand OST – you can very obviously see the differences and can apply it to your own world.

Strategy – A Personal Example

Today i was in a meeting, and the strategy word was used multiple times and that is what led me to think of the book and write this article — really to reaffirm my understanding. I started thinking of OST and wondered if i could relate the acronym to something very simple and personal to me. Something that i could keep referring to during those moments of confusion. Here is what i came up with:

Thanks for stopping by – Take a look around…!!
  • Objective
    • Run 10k in 45 minutes, or less, before 31st December, 2016
  • Strategy –
    • Motivation – Staying motivated during my training
  • Tactics –
    • Run at lunch times
    • Identify different routes to run
    • Mix running sessions between hill runs, speed runs and “normal” runs
    • Mix running with some other training – perhaps swimming…?

The more i thought about the above, the more i liked it. The objective is SMART, the strategy is simple and will help guide the tactics i deploy. The tactics will change, but my strategy should remain the same. What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, in the comments below, about strategy, objectives and tactics….



2 thoughts on “An Unexpected Strategy Lesson by Alistair Campbell

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