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Whilst watching a nature programme, the narrator described how “the film crew strategically placed the cameras to watch the wildlife”.  What did he mean?  Is being strategic, simply Strategy as ‘we thought about it’?  Can we tell the difference between genuine strategy, and something carefully thought about? Lets explore further….

The back story to Strategy as ‘we thought about it’

Now I must admit I like to listen to how the word strategy is used and collect different uses. One way I do that is to find a word that substitutes for the word strategy, strategic, or strategically, and the sentence still has the same meaning.  This one puzzled me for a while,

Then I realised.  What they meant was “They had thought carefully about where they positioned the cameras.”

Is thinking about something carefully, the same as being strategic?

At this point you might ask the question, “Is thinking carefully about something, being strategic?”  I do not think so, but it might be in some circumstances.

However, I think there is possibly a deeper meaning  here.  That they used their judgement and experience to chose a place for the cameras that they knew was likely to work.  Is that being strategic?  Or is that simply “Using experience”?

Well I would argue that the camera operators have developed ‘a strategy’ for positioning the cameras for these particular animals that they know works.  They have established a pattern that is successful.  Now in the wider behavioural sense of “having a strategy” then this is a strategic. A choice based upon a strategy to make those choices.

There is a scale of interpretation here

I think there is a scale of how we interpret this phrase. If someone claims they “Strategically” choose something. That might be:

  1. Sounding important: The choice might simply be a guess.  There is no strategy or pattern.  It was simply, we put it here, and made it sound important by saying it was strategically chosen.
  2. This is a new situation and requires thinking about.  They are genuinely thinking about it, trying to work out what might or might not work.
  3. Testing a hypothesis: That choice might be on the basis of a guess or a hypothesis about what might work.  In this case, if they have an idea or a hypothesis they are testing, they are testing a strategy.    One that they can adapt and refine.
  4. They had a strategy: They actually have a set pattern of choices for how they set up these cameras and they looked at the situation and applied them.  They have a strategy.  they have a considered and established approach that they have found to work.

I suspect in this case, with experienced wildlife photographers, that they are applying (3) their existing way that they know works, and it it does not they are reverting back to testing other ideas top develop their strategy for camera location.

However,thinking about and developing a strategy to address an issue or situation, is different from merely “We thought about it”.

The language of strategy

This is one of a series of posts about the language of strategy, how we use the words and what they mean.  All aiming to help us be better at creating good strategy.  You can read more in “The language of strategy” and in “The Strategy Zone“.