President December 2017

The value of strategy

Planning can help you get ahead

People have thought “strategically” since time immemorial, although for much of history they would not have labelled their thinking as such. There are now many definitions of strategy but, in essence, the term refers—at least for me—to how available means are used to achieve a desired end.

As a label for this, the word strategy came into use in the 18th and 19th centuries, initially among military commanders. But even at that time, the difficulties of applying what looks good on paper to the real world were well noted. One acclaimed German field marshal famously commented, “No plan ever survives contact with the enemy”.

Since then, the conscious act of formulating and documenting strategies has spread from the military sphere to all areas of human endeavour, including business management, the provision of public services and the search for sporting success. But the same challenges remain, of course, with former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson graphically reminding us that, “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth”.

Useful process
So why do we spend so much time documenting strategies if reality and its changing variables can easily render our plans obsolete? Well, developing a strategy is part of that vitally important planning process of setting goals, refining objectives, forming the strategy to achieve those objectives, and detailing a tactical plan of action. The process, and the discipline it encourages, are instructive.

In reality, the process is fluid, but without such rigour our lives would be at best chaotic, and at worst aimless. Planning provides direction and greater clarity about the steps to move efficiently from where we are to where we want to be.

Our plans will rarely be perfect or immune to criticism, and will be worthless without good execution. They help us focus, however, and when flexible enough to allow innovation, can provide a framework within which to refine and improve our thinking in search of more effective solutions.

From that perspective, the UK government’s recently released industrial strategy is a valuable guide to understanding how it wishes to reshape the UK economy, and where future business opportunities may arise. Experts have much to say about it—both for and against. But the focus on boosting productivity and the growth of future technologies is particularly encouraging.

Strong finish
Closer to home, I recently attended a European chambers of commerce event at which Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike commented on Tokyo’s strategy to thrive as a modern and vibrant city. Key to this is a desire to revitalise Tokyo as a financial centre, and among the concrete actions highlighted was the Memorandum of Understanding signed in December with the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Charles Bowman.

Focusing on areas such as fintech, green investment, as well as environmental, social and governance, where London has world-class capabilities, this heralds an exciting opportunity for the capital cities to share best practices in a spirit of mutually beneficial partnership. For supporters of UK–Japan business, that is a tremendous way to end 2017.