The precise meaning of “strategy” can be tough to pin down. It’s been debated for centuries, in fact, beginning with the ancient Greeks and with Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” It is a highly-abstract concept, and is often discussed alongside its cousin, “tactics.” Things get especially hairy when you try to define each and try to articulate the difference.
Often, strategy is defined as something like “a plan of action.” To think strategically, then, is to identify an objective and then select an approach that will help you get there. This is all well and good when you have a tangible goal. Say trying to sell more widgets or move to Maui, or you’re trying to win a battle. But what if your objective isn’t well-defined? What does strategy mean when you can’t or don’t want to identify an concrete objective?
Here’s how I would do it. Live by the following mantra: Keep you options open, and keep moving forward. This is deceptively simple, because it’s easy to do either one of those things separately. It’s hard to do both, but it’s necessary. To combine them into one fluid motion is truly an art.
Keeping your options open is super simple. Historically, most people have achieved this by doing absolutely nothing. Inaction is far too frequently associated with a sense of “exploring possibilities,” “seing what’s out there,” or “finding your passion.” Unfortunately, these are often cop-outs.
To keep moving forward is a little tougher. It takes more energy, but psychologically, it’s still pretty easy. Anyone who goes to grad school just to stay busy is falling victim to the tendency to move forward while closing options. Sure, might be tough, but it’s pretty damn linear. You don’t have many options.
Good life strategy involves wrapping these two modes of thinking and behaving into a unified pattern of action. Everything must be both productive and widely applicable. This does not mean you should not seek a niche. You might start a hyper-niche blog about Smurfs, for example, knowing that you can use it for multiple things. You can use it to launch a Smurf spin-off company, show off your writing skills for a freelance gig, help land a job at Cartoon Network, design the website to show off your design chops, whatever. The point is that you’re constantly moving ahead, and you’re constantly putting yourself in a position where you can pivot to an opportunity that presents itself.
Do things that kill two birds with one stone. See the possibilities and alternate applications for the things you work on. Think in branches. I try to approach everything I do in this way.