Strategy and Tactics

Often, one will hear someone in the workplace telling someone else to think or act “strategically” — when what they really mean is “be smarter.”

Like the term “leadership,” it is a shorthand for a larger idea — but for most people this idea is ill-defined.

What is “strategy?”

I learned strategic planning from one of the people who helped develop our modern understanding of its application to business (he was at GE under Reg Jones). While strategic planning has changed many times since it was first elaborated in the late 70’s, this definition from my mentor always sticks with me:

“Strategy is a decisive allocation of resources.”

In other words, a strategy is something that, if you pursue it, other avenues are foreclosed. Many different tactics, on the other hand, could be used in the pursuit of a particular strategy.

In most cases, I’ve found that the answer to this question depends on the size of the theater. What is a tactic when looked at from one level can be a strategy at another level.

As an example, a company might have a strategy to use social media as its primary marketing communications tool. It would use various tactics to achieve that: blog comments, Facebook pages, Twitter, and so forth.

However, depending on the size of the theater you are looking at, a tactic can become a strategy. Just thinking about the fictitious company’s “social media” strategy, imagine the marketing department that is charged with implementing this. The fact that the overall thrust is social media will now be a given, just a parameter.

The strategic decisions at this level really will center on which tool to use and how strongly to bet on it. And then, even more granularly, there can be questions of strategy within each tool — it is possible to have a “Twitter strategy” and a “Facebook strategy.”

The key is always the decisiveness of the moves. Strategy, in whatever theater, is always decisive.

(Adapted from an earlier post.)

My Approach to Annual Review and Reflection, 2021-2022

As the year ends, and the new one begins, many people reflect upon and review their past year, and think about how they wish to act moving forward. Some call it “making resolutions,” some “setting intentions.” People do it all different ways.

Here is the way I have been ending each year since 2015. It is an approach that has served me well. I typically go over my review with my spiritual adviser and sometimes I share it with my spouse.

Aspirations (Virtues and Defects)

This, for me, is the most important. I reflect on my behavior over the past year, think about where I fell short and what patterns suggest themselves. Which defects of character were most bedeviling? I think about what the corresponding virtues might be. These become the guideposts for how I want to behave overall in the coming year. This list rarely changes from year to year. For the past few years, my list has been:

Humility (vs Pride)
Generosity (vs Selfishness)
Acceptance (vs Self-Pity)
Diligence (vs Sloth)
Tolerance (vs Judgment)

It was two years ago that I added the last item in the list. Before that, the list had been stable for many years.

Areas of Focus (Plans, Results, Plans)

I next look across the key focus areas of my life: Faith, Family, Work, Health, etc. For each, I had set plans in the previous year. I write down my results as I reflect on the past year. Did I meet my goals? Considering this, I then set out plans for the upcoming year.

Here is an example:

  • Body (health & fitness)
    • Plans 2021: Follow doctor’s orders, reduce cholesterol. Continue running — 5 mile routine.
    • Results 2021: Stasis. Periodic yoga, periodic lifting. Struggled to lose weight. Stayed on track with medical appts.
    • Plans 2022:
      • Improve fitness routine, focusing on consistency
      • Resume yoga
      • Achieve and maintain body weight below 200 lbs (185-190 ideal)

This gives me a roadmap to follow, as I check in periodically throughout the year. The plans are not static, I revisit them and adjust where appropriate.

Then, at the end of the next year, the last bullet (Plans 2022) moves to the top, and I will add “Results 2022” and “Plans 2023.

Here is my full list of focus areas:

Faith
Family
Work
Community/Civic
Body (Health & Fitness)
Mind (Learning & Creativity)
Finances
Home (Dwelling)

What are your focus areas? How do you approach year-end reviews?

The President and the Poet

Today, Joseph R. Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America, in a ceremony remarkable for both its singularity and for its normalcy.

There were no crowds, and the people were distanced, wearing masks. Onlookers told to stay home. There was a tension in the air, barricades on the streets, for just a few weeks ago rioters had stormed the Capitol. Yet after four years of unusually combative politics, where the very rules of engagement and facts on the ground were contested and fought bitterly, the ceremony unfolded as many had before it.

President Biden spoke of unity, and promised to govern for all, continuing a tradition of distinguishing governance from campaigning.

A very young poet, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, recited her work “The HIll We Climb,” continuing the tradition begun by Robert Frost of delivering an inaugural poem.

The two had different things to say about democracy. “Democracy is fragile,” said the President. “Democracy . . . can never be permanently defeated,” said the poet.

Who is right? Must we choose?

The President is correct, that democracy as a mechanism of governance is remarkably fragile and, indeed, rare. The United States represents the longest-running continuing effort at self-rule and there is nothing that dictates our system of government will always survive.

The poet, too, is correct. If democracy is understood to be the urge toward self-determination, the human impulse to collectively decide our own fate — then indeed it can never be permanently defeated. It is an impulse as old as humanity, long predating the very concept of formal government. Even under brutal conditions, I have known friends to grow and tend their own local democratic communities.

We must continue to pursue a more perfect Union, and we must guard against the loss of our remarkable governmental structures which have proven to be so inspiring.

Perhaps a way forward to strengthen this precarious moment is known by the young poet, who says today “there is always light, . . . if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

A Productive Year: New Materials for Deliberative Conversation

2020 has been a challenging year, on so many fronts. It is gratifying to be able to report that the group I work with at the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute has been able to rise to the challenge. We worked as never before, and the team were able to produce needed materials that respond to the moment, all throughout the year.

Here is what we published this year, in reverse chronological order.

Youth and Opportunity: What Should We Do for Future Generations to Thrive?
(December 2020)

What should we do to address unprecedented challenges that may hinder future generations from leading successful and economically secure lives?

This guide raises crucial questions for which there are no easy answers.

  • Will the next generation, like those before it, be able to build an economically secure future, or will it face too many unprecedented challenges that undercut its prospects?
  • Should present-day priorities be more important than our obligations to future generations?
  • Is the next generation receiving the education and support it needs to succeed?
  • Are there disparities that we should be addressing today to enable future generations to prosper tomorrow?

Each issue guide comes with an introductory video that lays out the topic and introduces the options for deliberation. I am especially proud of the video work this team was able to do this year, under COVID-19 restrictions and with great care. This one, the most recent, is particularly good:


Continue reading A Productive Year: New Materials for Deliberative Conversation

Brad’s White Bread Recipe

I originally wrote this in 2003, when my kids were young and we were a small, growing family. I edited the text below slightly to make it more contemporary and take into account that it is now nearing the end of 2018.

If you want to feel like Super Dad, just bake a loaf of bread for the family. Your home will fill with the sweet smell of a bakery, and will feel especially inviting.

This bread recipe is a slight modification of “Neil’s Harbor White Bread” by Christa Bauman. Neil’s Harbor is in Nova Scotia, and once I discovered this recipe I developed a fascination with the place. I have yet to visit, but I have traveled there many times in my mind. I imagine it to be a small, harbor village with fishermen and children and dogs all running about.

This recipe increases the sugar and butter slightly. It’s really the most basic white sandwich bread you can imagine, everything that Wonder bread should be and isn’t. I used to make 3 loaves every Sunday using a mixer, but you can make it a loaf at a time just using a bowl and a spoon (the directions below are for one loaf). Can you believe it, growing up my kids actually liked this better than store-bought. And, my dad used to come over every Sunday for his loaf.

One Loaf

2/3C Lukewarm Water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1/3C Milk
4T Butter, Melted in the microwave
3T Sugar and 1T Sugar
1T Yeast – Active Dry or “Bread Machine”
1t Salt – Kosher
3C Flour

Three Loaves

2C Lukewarm Water
1C Milk
½C Butter, Melted
½C Sugar and 1T Sugar
2T Yeast
1 1/2T Salt – Kosher
9C Flour

In a large, warm bowl, stir 1T of the sugar into the milk and water until it dissolves. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let it sit for five to seven minutes. Once the yeast has dissolved and is beginning to bubble, mix in the sugar, salt and butter until you have a sort of soup.

Stir in one cup of the flour. Once it’s mixed together, stir in another. Continue adding a cup of flour at a time – don’t add too much at once. Once there are about twice the number of cups of flour as there are liquid, it will be hard to stir. (If you are making three loaves, you should be using a big mixer, and switch to the dough hook after about five or six cups). Keep adding flour until there are three cups flour to every one cup water. Then, you may need to add more flour at the end– it should be a little sticky but not too wet. Knead it for ten to fifteen minutes. Once it’s elastic and feels like a damp, deflated football half filled with water, roll it into a ball. One loaf will be about the size of a softball; three will be the size of a cantaloupe.

With olive oil (use vegetable or canola oil if you don’t have olive oil), coat the sides of a large bowl and put the ball in. Flip it once or twice so it’s covered with oil. Cover it with a dishtowel and set it aside in a warm spot away from drafts.

In anywhere from 40 minutes to 1-1/2 hours, the dough will have risen to about double its original size. It will feel moister, and won’t be as dense. Flip it out onto a hard surface (coat the surface with a bit of flour so the dough won’t stick to it) and punch the dough down until it’s flat. Then, roll it into a loaf, about the diameter of a soda can or slightly smaller.

Now, turn on the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees.

Oil the inside of a large loaf pan (Pam will work fine) and put the shaped loaf into it. If the dough has a “seam,” put it on the bottom. Cover the loaf with a dishtowel and let it rise again. It should grow to about double size again, so the dough is just about an inch below the top of the loaf pan. This second rise will take anywhere from 40 minutes to 1-1/2 hours as well. It all depends on your climate, the ingredients, and luck.

Once the loaf is up to about an inch or so below the top of the loaf pan, bake it for 18 minutes at 400 degrees. It will puff up nicely, and turn golden brown. When it’s ready, take it out of the oven and turn it out of the pan. It will sound hollow when you thump it. Let it cool on a rack if you have one or on a wooden cutting board.

D48F3A52-F65F-499B-9A8D-A8AAD98D5548Now, go get your family and give them some fresh, warm bread with butter spread all over it!

This bread freezes well; just wait until it’s cooled to room temperature before you put it in a plastic bag and toss it in the freezer. Since it has some fat content, this bread will keep up to about four days once it’s sliced. Don’t throw away the heels and old pieces; it makes great French Toast.

Things I Don't Understand

Just a few things I don’t understand:

  • Why are 90% of beauty salons named with a pun? (“Shear Energy.” “The Mane Event.”)
  • Why do real estate and insurance agents have their photos on their business cards, when it actually makes them seem less trustworthy?
  • Why do bureaucrats (and people who aspire to bureaucratism) say “at this time?” What is that supposed to mean?

What don’t you understand?