Defining Strategy Through the Trojan War

by Hector Gonzalez

What’s your Strategy? This question comes up on a daily basis when interacting with clients and colleagues. Organizations seem to use the “S” word to justify a variety of actions—you are perceived as a smart professional if you include strategy or other buzzwords in your delivery. For example, “We developed a powerful marketing strategy that works in tandem with our grassroots sales efforts to help move more product and increase ROI for Q1.” More often than not, the statement should read, “We developed powerful marketing tactics…” The lines between strategies and tactics are often blurred, however, it’s important to focus on the difference in order to properly formulate strategies to solve a given challenge.

I was not always able to clearly differentiate between the two. Several years ago, at the beginning of my career as a strategist, I was on a train from New York City to Baltimore and I picked up a Harvard Business Review magazine someone had left behind. Call it serendipitous–that particular edition was focused on the topic of strategy. It was full of information that got me thinking and set me on the path to better understand how to become a purposeful strategic consultant. Unfortunately, in my move a few years ago, I lost the magazine, but I will always recall one key takeaway.

The article defined and differentiated strategy from tactics through heavy use of academic and business terminology throughout the article. However, a simple Trojan War analogy brought a clear understanding of the topic. It went something like this: When the Greeks were thinking about conquering the city of Troy, the horse was not the first solution that came to mind. It was the objective—Conquering Troy. Once the Greeks knew what the end-game was, they needed to understand the challenges and opportunities that a fortified city like Troy presented. Based on that knowledge, they were able to formulate a sound strategy—infiltrate the fortified city of Troy when least expected. They knew that scaling or flying over the wall was not an option. Key entry points into the city were heavily guarded. So among other considerations (so I think), they landed on the iconic tactic—a giant Horse that would be presented as a gift. I will assume that you read the book or watched the movie so you know how the rest of the story unfolds.

This simple analogy helped bring clarity to me when working on strategy and has supported me in developing the right questions to ask clients in the planning phase. So next time you find yourself developing a strategy or evaluating one remember the following steps:

  1. Start with the end in mind—clear objective
  2. Fully understand the challenges and opportunities—fact gathering
  3. State what needs to be accomplished—strategy
  4. Define how you will execute on it–tactic
  5. And lastly, take a risk—act on it

If you’d like to talk strategy directly, feel free to contact me at [email protected].