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The Art of Strategy: Look ahead and reason back

Anyone who has worked with Crisis Solutions will know that strategic thinking lies at the heart of our crisis management training. In a serious incident we think it essential that a Strategic Intent is identified at the outset. This device provides an over-arching goal for all those involved in overcoming a crisis. A Strategic Intent provides focus and essentially asks the question ‘What are we trying to achieve?’

Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff recently published a book called The Art of Strategy. In their world, strategic thinking is all about outdoing an adversary. Businessmen must use strategic thinking to crush their opponents. Politicians must think strategically to get elected and sports coaches have to plan strategies to outdo the opposition. I wonder if the cerebral Gareth Southgate is a fan?

Successful crisis management is all about using strategic thinking to crush a crisis.

Where the book aligns well with crisis management is its Rule 1 of strategic thinking: Look ahead and reason back.

In effect, select the final outcome you are after and travel backwards identifying the decisions you will need to take to arrive at the desired destination. If you are the chair of a Crisis Management Team (CMT) it’s going to be up to you not only to set the direction of travel, but to bring everyone else along with you on the journey. It’s called crisis leadership.

This is of course complicated by the fact that no one and no organisation acts in a vacuum. Everyone is surrounded by active decision-makers whose choices interact with yours. This interaction will have an important effect on your decisions and actions.

To illustrate the point, think of the difference between the decisions of a tree surgeon and a general. When a tree surgeon cuts down a tree, the tree doesn’t fight back. But when a general sends a battalion into battle the enemy might not be so compliant.

If you are a crisis leader, you must recognise, like our notional general, that during a serious incident, others will have aims which are in conflict with yours, but there will also be people who are potential allies.

In a crisis, your own choices must allow for the conflict, and utilise the cooperation. Such interactive decisions are called strategic, and the plan of action appropriate to them is called a strategy. Or at Crisis Solutions: A Strategic Intent.