Tactics versus Strategy

Tactics are a bit of a dirty word in the business world. Often, they are positioned as remedial, reactive, rushed and unsophisticated. Whereas strategy takes the podium defined as measured, managed, structured and glorious.

But in reality, in practice – tactics beat strategy hands down…

Tactics beat strategy

The tactics that Captain James T Kirk employed to defeat the Starfleet Academy simulator Kobayashi Maru have spawned novels, blogs and many heated debates. The strategy behind the Starfleet simulator is to test a cadet’s character by placing them in a no-win situation. Strictly speaking what is being tested is leadership and in particular ethics where life and death are traded within the confines of Starfleet rules. In the latest rendition of Kobayashi Maru – Star Trek 2009 James T(Chris Pine) reprograms the simulation so that the enemy ship’s shields drop. He’s found out for cheating of course, but his defence is that a no-win situation quite simply does not ever exist.

So this begs the question – was something wrong with the strategy?

Was James T right to use a tactic to break a strategy that teaches acceptance of no-win situations. And that punishes a rejection of no-win situations with a disciplinary hearing.

You might be thinking – who cares, it doesn’t matter – Star Trek is made up.

Here’s something that is not made up for you.

Artificial Intelligence plays strategy and wins

In 2016 DeepMind (the new name for Google) played renowned boardgame player Lee Sedol at Go. At the time Lee was 18 times world Champion. Go is recognised as the most difficult strategic game on the planet. There were five matches where DeepMind, the computer; played Lee the human. Google won four out of five matches. Artificial Intelligence history was made. Match winnings of $1m were shared with charities and Lee who kept $170,000 for participating and winning one of the matches. DeepMind won the majority of matches because it was able to absorb strategic data and learn counter-strategies – how to win. Artificial Intelligence is advancing at a phenomenal rate. Machines (computers) can be programmed to teach other machines (computers) how to learn. This is great – incredible in fact; especially if you are talking about healthcare – but what happens if what machines are learning is wrong? For example; if a machine is fed bad data, or if there is an unlikely side-effect to winning or failure.

Data does not have all the answers

To give you a micro example of this I am a stroke survivor. I’ve had eight in total, though six were TIA’s – I didn’t even know that I’d had them. I had all eight episodes before I reached fifty years’ old. I baffled doctors because I have never smoked, I was not obese and to all intents I was thoroughly healthy. To make matters worse for doctors; I made miraculous recoveries to the point that doctors questioned if I’d ever been that ill, or if the results of scans were accurate. I eventually found a cure by ignoring the data and the science. I did a deep dive on internet-based research and tuned into metaphysics. I accessed every medical file that I had. Then I went to a teaching hospital and got three extremely bright consultants specialising in – neurology (brains), cardiology (hearts) and pulmonology (lungs) to work together, to collaborate. Of course; they put me through more tests and refused to test for one last thing because; all of the data from previous tests was contradictory. In the end I told them that there was no good reason not to have this one last test. They immediately spotted a problem with my lung, where I passed blood without oxygen in it to the heart. A problem with my lung, that had happened in the womb, was corrected following two minutes of nanotechnology surgery. My point – a tactical approach – one that focused on collaboration, recognising that brain, heart and lungs work together was what was needed.

Data does not recognise diversity

To macro up this micro example. Creating crop space to feed the world by cutting down rainforests is not going well for us. The lack of biodiversity that this has caused threatens the survival of our planet. Because choking off the world’s lungs is melting the ice caps faster which raises the temperature, which means a decline in seasonality and rainfall – and raising sea levels but reduction of habitat for land, ice and sae creatures. You know all this, I’m sure, already. But probably you haven’t realised that unwieldly strategies do not allow for tactical responses. That without ethics and purpose strategies kill innovation and diversity.

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