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“You can strategically add strategy to any strategic sentence to give it any strategic meaning you strategically want it to strategically have.”  Yes indeed folks, many people add strategy to their sentences to make them sound important.  But strategy is not the same as important.  It is vital we understand the difference.

Listen to how people use the words strategy and strategic

Years ago, when I was working as a young consultant, at Price Waterhouse (yes many years ago),  I would hear people using sentences with the words strategy and strategic in them.  I was curious what they meant.  So, I listened carefully to how they used the words.  I would try to think, “What if I took strategy out of that sentence and substituted another word. Would the sentence have the same meaning?”   Very often simply changing strategic for important, had the same effect.   This had me concerned that a lot of talk about things that were being made to sound strategic were not about strategy.

Here is an example.  If your best sales person says they are ” Going to a strategic meeting, with a strategic client, to discuss a strategic opportunity”, I would suggest one of two things is going to happen.  Either:

  • You can expect a large order and 20% increase in revenues and profits next year.  Or
  • You are about to receive an enormous bill for expenses.

It is pretty clear that, in this sentence, strategic is simply being used as a synonym for important, or simply to make the sentence sound important.

Strategy is not the same as important

When I want to emphasise the difference and demonstrate that strategy is not the same as important, I often use a simple picture.  It is of a sign that says, “Stay away from the cliff edge”  Clearly, it is important to stay away from the edge of a cliff.  However it is a step too far, to claim it is a strategy to stay away from the cliff edge.  It is simply sensible and important if you don’t want to fall off and kill yourself.  It is simply important.

Let us take a more commercial approach. It is important in any organisation, to submit annual accounts on time.  It is also important to ensure those accounts have been put together correctly.  These are not strategic issues. They are issues of compliance. Compliance is important, but being compliant is not strategic, especially as everyone else in the industry or sector also has to comply.  It is just a necessary aspect of being an organisation.  There is clearly a difference between the important task of compliance and having a strategy.  Strategy is not the same as important.

Of course things that are strategic, are often important

This is not a one way street.  Whilst not all things that are important are strategic, you may well find that many things that are strategic are important.

I think this is where the confusion lies.  If we can claim something is strategic, it becomes important, and sound important.  However, claiming it is important and being genuinely strategic are two different things.  So, it is important to realise that strategy is not the same as important.  Or rather, important is not the same as strategy.

Listen and learn

Do beware of people who use strategy and strategic to make things sound important, and listen out for cases where you could substitute a different word and have exactly the same meaning.

To learn more about the language of strategy, to discover other ways in which the words strategy and strategic are used, and what is truly strategic, read our articles on What is strategy?, What is not a strategy? and visit our strategy zone.