Strategy, Tactics, Operations and Doctrine: A decision-language tutorial

Note: the ideas in this post have been significantly refined and turned into a book. The treatment here is somewhat obsolete as a result, but the spirit of my revised arguments remain the same.

Suppose a job candidate walks into your office and hands you a resume. It proclaims, “strategic, systems thinker.” You wince, and almost throw her out right there, but since other parts of her resume look promising, you decide to give her a chance and proceed with the interview. Now ask yourself, how would you actually probe if there is any substance behind the candidate’s claim to strategic abilities? Here is a very good answer: ask the candidate to tell a story. Not any old story, but a relevant one, like how she views the history of development of her field. Or how she views her own personal trajectory. If you can’t figure out why this is an excellent question, read on.

(Credit: many of the ideas in this piece came out of discussions with Mike Allers, ex-US Navy, in 2003, now a philosopher. More on that story later in this piece.)

I react badly, very badly, to words like strategy. Even when people apply the term to me and mean it as a compliment, I cringe. This is because self-descriptions like strategic thinker (and dismissive insults like mere tactician) are at once irresistibly attractive, functionally unique (when you need them, very few other words will do) and so ambiguous that when they are used, the result is usually the worst sort of content-free hand-waving. Unfortunately though, you cannot dismiss every instance of the use of such terms as self-important gas from superior hand-steepling armchair generals. Occasionally, you’ll actually be part of critically important conversations where terms like strategy and tactics are used with sophistication, and consequential matters hang in the balance. Occasionally, even idiots using these terms clumsily will be saying things you need to decipher.

But hopefully, through this piece, I’ll be able to arm you with a cleaner instinct for this language. Note that my treatment is both normative and descriptive. Normative because I’ll try to convince you that you should use such language my way (and because I’ve never seen a comparable set of definitions anywhere). Descriptive because the most sophisticated users of such language I have met do in fact use the words in these senses.

The Triangle and Waves Model

Chances are, your mental model of complex decision-making, based on just the terms strategy and tactics, looks something like this picture, which is simple, elegant and wrong. I call this the ‘triangle and waves’ model because it conceptualizes the structure of decision-making with a triangle (implying hierarchy) and a set of time scales with shorter and longer cadences.

Strategy pyramid
I won’t tackle all parts of the diagram right away, but here is a sketch of why it is the wrong mental model to have in your head.

  • Relativism: Draw a bigger triangle subsuming this one, and/or longer/shorter time horizons. Everything changes, making your definition relative. You gossip that your annoying co-worker is “tactical” and doesn’t see beyond his product to the whole product line. One floor above, some managers are shaking their heads and labeling you as tactical because you don’t consider succession planning issues or morale, and are focused on just the product-line.
  • Reversal: The captain of a military unit is sent on the tactical mission of securing a bridge. “Private!” he barks at one of his men, “Place those charges at strategic points on the bridge.” (I made this up, but my military friends have assured me its not too unrealistic). Isn’t strategy supposed to be on “top” of tactics?
  • Arbitrariness: Why three levels? Why not 2, 7 or 19? If it is just a matter of zoom levels, why only 2?
  • Over-specificity: Do strategic and tactical mindsets only exist in hierarchical decision-making contexts? Can strategists and tacticians exist among a set of nominal peers? Can an individual cook be strategic as opposed to tactical? Can a writer or comic-book artist? Can people trade roles, with tacticians temporarily doing strategy and strategists doing tactics?

So why do so many people seem to have this sort of picture in mind when they talk about complex decision-making? One reason is that it can function as being practically true under specific local conditions (like a stopped clock being right twice a day). We can get away with the vague notion that strategy is about the ‘big picture’ while tactics is about the ‘details’ because, most of the time, believing this doesn’t hurt us.

But the problem is, it doesn’t help us either. You cannot compute with this mental model, making it effectively useless. You can rationalize, but not reason, with this model. Here is an example. Suppose you are the chairman of the board of a company on the brink of bankruptcy. You’ve just fired your incompetent CEO and are scrambling to find a turnaround artist. What do you need? A master strategist or a brilliant tactician? Turns out, most of the time, you will need the latter, and that’s often the type of person hired (in fact there are firms and executives who specialize in turnarounds). The triangle-and-waves model can be used to rationalize this. You could say turnarounds are “short-term” quick changes and therefore require “tacticians.” But what is the reference scale? Is 6 months short-term or 3 years? You can tell this is a retrofitted explanation because the alternate (“To turn a company around, you need long-term focus on the rebuilding the fundamentals”) sounds equally plausible.

I haven’t completely demolished the triangle-and-waves model (that would take a longer essay) but I hope I’ve poked enough holes in it that you are ready for something better. I’ll move on, but after providing you with a final question to undermine your confidence in the triangle-and-waves model. Which do you think is the more abstract construct? Strategy or tactic? If you answered “strategy” you’ve been misled by the model. Along the dimensions that actually matter, tactics are the abstract constructs. Strategies are the more concrete ones. I’ll tell you why in a bit.

Four Definitions

To get at why the triangle-and-waves models leads you astray, let me introduce to you two terms that are part of military discourses but unlike strategy and tactics, haven’t made as successful a leap to civilian language. These are operations (sometimes termed logistics) and doctrine. A popular cliche in the military goes: an amateur focuses on strategy and tactics, a professional focuses on operations (an observation validated by the fact that most video games have no operational elements). Operations is what the naive dismiss as bureaucratic middle management. Doctrine usually doesn’t even appear in the lexicon of an inexperienced decision-maker. Here are my four definitions:

  1. Doctrine: Doctrine is the set of assertions we accept as true in an action domain.
  2. Strategy: A strategy is a set of action and sequencing commitments, consistent with doctrine, and driven by the unique features of an action domain that constrain, but do not define, plans and schedules.
  3. Tactic: A tactic is an abstract action that can be applied in any of a large class of situations that conform to set criteria.
  4. Operations: Operations is the discipline of realizing strategy in the context of a background of infrastructure systems, resources and processes using a vocabulary of tactics.

I don’t (yet) have a clean visualization or metaphor, but here is how the concepts relate:

Strategies are imagined stories about possible worlds, whose constraints are determined by elements of doctrine, and whose vocabulary is determined by available tactics. Converting those stories into reality through appropriate mixes of deliberative, reactive and opportunistic planning, scheduling, resource allocation and risk management, in the fog of action, is the discipline of operations.

Quick example to illustrate the relationships. In World War II, the Germans invented the tactic of moving infantry on vehicles at the achievable speed of mobile artillery rather than keeping mobile artillery at the speed of soldiers marching, as was done in World War I. This lead to the doctrine of blitzkreig, which in turn constrained the specific strategies in the invasions of Poland and France.

Notice how, in this example, there is a complex circular relationship where the apparently low-level element (tactics) drives the apparent highest level (doctrine) which in turn rewires strategy. Hardly the simplistic case of picking a strategy and then fleshing it out with tactics.


Here are some examples demonstrating the use of these definitions in classification and short fragments of analysis.

  • The idea in the US military that one must control the tempo of a military engagement is an element of doctrine (hence “shock and awe”). So is the distinction between air superiority and air supremacy. In the corporate world, mission statements articulate doctrine. Pop quiz: what do vision statements articulate (hint: NOT strategy).
  • Strategic nuclear warheads are strategic because they can take out enemy cities and other assets that play unique roles in enemy social systems. New York, Moscow, New Delhi and Baghdad are not just large cities. They also play unique roles in their respective cultures.
  • Blowing up a bridge or securing a building is about tactics. Running a meeting effectively is tactics. Choosing not to describe yourself as a “strategic thinker” on your resume or in an interview is a tactic (based on the nugget of learned Groucho Marxian wisdom that people who call themselves “strategic” are perceived as NOT strategic).
  • A unique context can turn a tactical element into a strategic one. Blowing up any bridge is a matter of tactics. Blowing up the only bridge leading into your enemy’s capital becomes a matter of strategy. A tactical nuclear warhead can be used to strategic effect if you use it to blow up your enemy commander-in-chief’s bunker. In the business world, a crucial meeting about a merger can turn an everyday tactical skill into a unique, once-in-the-history-of-the-company strategic element.
  • The notion of “Information Superiority” in today’s US military is a matter of doctrine. The related concept of “Network Centric Warfare” is a matter of operations. Business analytics is a tactical element, the idea of Open Innovation is doctrine, not strategy. Lean Six Sigma is about operations. IBM moving to services is strategy.
  • Placing a charge to blow up a bridge (a tactical objective in general) can be a strategic matter because you must identify the unique parts of the bridge structure that, if blown up, will cause the bridge to collapse most efficiently.
  • Tactics are abstract: they can be described in manuals with toy situations (for running a meeting or blowing up a bridge). Strategies are concrete: they are best learned through case studies of specific real histories about real people and places, with names (ever wonder why military officers and MBAs train on case studies rather than game theory?)

Practice Questions

  • Can you analyze the “turnaround artist” situation described earlier and propose an argument why this person must be a tactician rather than a strategist?
  • Apply these definitions to a different domain. How would you tell a tactical chef apart from a strategic one? What elements of a chef’s approach to cooking constitute doctrine? Is Iron Chef a game of strategy or tactics? What about Dinner Impossible?
  • Try art. What parts of making a portrait map to doctrine, strategy and tactics?

The Foundations

So why are these definitions justified? I’ll provide a hint, but defer a full development of the underlying theory (I promise you, I have one!) for later. Here is the hint: think about the complexity of a decision problem in terms of the number of variables involved. Now think about the processing limits of a decision maker (7 plus or minus 2 items in short term memory, and similar constraints). Now think about how many repetitions it takes to master a skill (about 2000 for a motor skill), and the time it takes to get one repetition under your belt in a given domain. How many generals do you think will have a chance to become good at leading alliances in world wars through 2000 instances? If they don’t have time to learn the “leading world war alliances” skill through repetition and practice, how do the Eisenhowers and Genghis Khans of the world come about?

To make it even simpler, consider toy examples. Why is Go, a game with a 19×19 board, and indistinguishable pieces considered “strategic” while Chess (6 unique pieces, 8×8 board) considered tactical? Why is cricket considered a strategic game with respect to baseball? Why is American football considered more strategic than soccer?

I’ll address all these interesting foundational questions in a future piece (bookmark and check back), but for now, let me leave you with some simple rules of thumb to operate with, and a little history of my own interest in these matters.

The Cheat Sheet

I’ll explain some of this in a later article (bookmark this and revisit, I’ll add links), and leave some as homework exercises. (How’s that for arrogance?) Keep in mind that individuals may display all four of these skills in varying amounts.

How to tell a real strategic thinker apart from a pretender

Strategic abilities are developed by studying case studies, which pick out unique features of histories of actions, highlight the important and ignore the irrelevant. If you tell a story incoherently, you are not a strategic thinker. If you tell a story dutifully and boringly well, respecting the canonical telling (or genre conventions), you might be a competent strategist, but are not a talented one. If you are able to tell a story in an exciting way that picks out the right elements to highlight, you might be a talented strategist. These are necessary conditions; by no means sufficient. This is one reason why ‘a sense of history’ is a symptom of strategic ability.

How to spot a doctrine artist

A doctrine artist — a priest — is a decision-maker who thinks about the consequences of asserting or denying various existing beliefs about actions, and adding new beliefs to the set of axioms. To spot talent at doctrine-setting, ask questions like “What are the fundamental assumptions of our industry today? Which of these do you think is changing?”

How to spot a tactician

Look for practiced, non-disciplinary skills. Most people have mastered at least one or two professional skills requiring specialized training, so looking for that doesn’t help. But natural tacticians tend to have developed skills that aren’t taught, but nevertheless require practice. These include conversation skills and meeting skills. Look in particular for things someone could have said or done, but chose not to.

How to spot an operationalist

Operationalists are usually the easiest to spot. They usually display a high degree of comfort with the design and maintenance of systems and processes and “getting things done.”

Despite what many people think of me, strategy is not my strongest suit. Doctrine is. I tell interesting but not striking stories. Like Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout, I am better at making up clever premises for stories than actual stories. My tactical abilities are patchy, with pronounced weaknesses and strengths, as are my operational abilities. I’ll deploy a tactic right now and not tell you what my strengths and weaknesses are.

Where this is coming from

Someday, I’ll do the full version, but here is the short version. Back around 1994, I sat next to an Indian Air Force pilot (he flew Mig 29s) during a train ride, and had a long conversation about the differences in warfare driven by the differences between Soviet and American military hardware. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, that was the first conversation I ever had about doctrine. I was an undergraduate at the time, and still not over my infatuation with encyclopedias of military aircraft.

Skip ahead to about 2000. I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan, and playing a small part in a US Air Force research proposal our department was submitting. We talked a lot about some very complex problems with very loose language. We used, and drew diagrams of, nebulous ideas like “strategy is about what you want to do, tactics are about how you do it.” We proposed fluffy “three layer architecture” diagrams based on such foggy arguments. No wonder we lost the contract. Substituting one pair of ambiguous terms (“what” and “how”) for another (“strategy” and “tactics”) just makes things worse.

I survived and found other ways to fund my PhD, but was left with an uncomfortable sensitivity to clumsy language in this domain and wrote up some notes. In 2003, I met Mike Allers, who had just quit the US Navy to pursue a PhD in the philosophy of language. After a series of excited brainstorming sessions, we actually co-authored a proposal to study the semantics of the terms “strategy” and “tactics.” We didn’t get funded, but the ideas stayed with me and fermented. Between 2004 and 2006, I spent my time doing more Air Force research as a postdoc at Cornell, this time on things like command and control systems and notions of “situation awareness.” In the process, I plowed through reams of military literature (mostly around the concepts of network centric warfare) and had some interesting conversations with Fred Zeitz, a retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel. The ideas finally started coming together.

Somewhere along this long journey, two simple words, “strategy” and “tactics” become a 3-ring binder full of half-digested notes and thoughts on this sort of thing. You’ve just read the first of my attempts to finally process that 15 year line of thinking (and hopefully be done with it).

It’ll take me some time to work out all these ideas in beta, so apologies for any incoherence. Any ideas you can add to flesh out my snowballing theories (Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and Kautilya beware) appreciated.

About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Congratulations on the article, and good luck delving deeper into the matter. For a non-tactical comment: It’s “Blitzkrieg” not blitzkreig (capitalization of German nouns and a typo).

  2. This is a very interesting topic; it certainly has given me pause with respect to my prior understanding of the terms “strategic” and “tactical.” Having come from a military background myself, I am familiar with the day-to-day application of these concepts as they are commonly accepted and used. But as I read further into your article, I realized that this was an incredibly one-sided and therefore narrow-minded acceptance of the ideas at hand.

    Just as you indicated, my preexisting mental model of strategy vs. tactics was very much like your “triangle and waves” graphic. I would likely have included several more layers in the pyramid in an attempt to match the complexity of modern decision-making systems, but I am on the same page with you (I think) in relation to the fallacies of the model on the whole. As with any system, there are inherent shortcomings whenever one tries to limit the roles of an individual actor within the system to something as specific as either strategy or tactics, specifically excepting one or the other.

    I began to type up a response in Word but quickly spilled over what would commonly be accepted as a polite length for a comment box post. The document is already two pages long and not yet complete! Perhaps I’ll post it on my own blog in response to the original article.

    Take care!


  3. Very interesting thoughts.

    Just to put across a possible counterpoint, there are ways in which strategy is “higher level” and tactics are “lower level”.

    Making lower-cost versions of my products for the rural market could be a strategy to survive and grow in a competitive scenario, the specifics of how to reduce the cost, package and position it differently, and which specific villages to start a campaign, could be tactical decisions.

    In general, strategy seems closer to intent and broader decisions with a longer time horizon while tactics seems to connote shorter, specific and action-oriented decisions.

    P.S. My fifteen seconds of contemplation has not produced a profounder insight than your fifteen years of mulling over this ;-)

  4. Many thanks for the best article I have been able to find on this subject- something that is discussed much by uninformed people like myself.

    PS Is the answer to the pop-quiz ‘tactics’?
    PPS Feel free to reply to me and not post this in the comments section of your blog. But I am really curious about the answer

  5. Oh, I don’t mind. It’s not like I am handing out grades here (hmm… maybe I should rewrite this material as a short online course and do that) :) In my model, a vision statement is a description of a prototypical ‘possible world’ that can be reached by a prototypical story that can be told around the constraints of strategic commitments. The mistake people make is in thinking of it as the “goal” and the desired outcome of a fixed single plan. One way to remember this is via the phrase, the vision is a prototypical desirable and plausible outcome.

  6. Great stuff. I think I will have to read it as many times as you have probably written and thought about the topic for me to get the full effect of the precise language.

    The only part that gave me pause was the statement that strategies “are best learned through case studies”. My history has taught me that case studies are too often a substitute or proxy approach for learning the true, underlying fundamentals or criteria of a field. As an analogy, early attempts at flight show people and machines flapping wings because the best case study at the time was the flight of birds. When the fundamentals of aerodynamics were discovered (lift, weight, thrust, drag, etc.), man was no longer compelled to flap like the case study.

    Why do you think the case study is the best approach? Wouldn’t that promote copied strategies? Are there not enough fundamentals known that one could learn what makes an appropriate strategy separate from using cases? If competitive strategy in business requires one to differentiate, would learning through case study be the appropriate approach? What learning can one rely on in a novel situation where the pre-existing doctrine has been made obsolete?

    Thanks for so much to think about. It has made for a great day.

  7. I have been evolving a response to your questions Dave, and unfortunately/fortunately, it is snowballing into an article in its own right :) So here is the short (by my definition!) response, and you can look out for the longer article.

    You are hitting on a key issue: the relation between decision-making systems on the one hand, and organizational knowledge management and learning processes on the other. You are also bringing in the problem of conceptual creativity — where a decision involves the synthesis of a new conceptual model, as opposed to making commitments within an existing one. This is tough to address in general, and I’ll address that in the article.

    Your specific case: some things to consider.

    1. Flapping mechanical flight is not impossible :) People have built prototypes that work (I am an aerospace engr. btw). Knowing foundational principles, when they exist, is neither necessary, nor sufficient to build systems (which is another way of saying ‘make design decisions’). Working computers had been built before Turing figured out the fundamental principles.

    2. Also try focusing on the aspects of the Wright design commitments that did not derive from physics but were merely constrained by physics — the decision to pusher instead of puller prop, the biplane lifting surface, warping instead of hinged control surfaces…that’s the domain of strategy. The constrained, but not defined design space.

    2. Some domains (political governance, corporate management, and war) may not have foundational principles in them, at least not at the level of solidity of the laws of physics or aerodynamics.

    When you put 1, 2 and 3 together with the observation that knowledge is captured and formalized largely through repetition and iterative accumulation, you get the conclusion that in some domains (which I call phenomenological domains) fundamental principles are missing, inductive learning is practically impossible, and therefore case-study based narrative knowledge capture/learning/application is the only thing that works. These are the fundamentally strategic domains. There may be “closed” domains where eventually all knowledge can be formalized, which means it gravitates to doctrinal (what) and operational (think-how) and tactical (skill-how) levels, leaving ‘strategy’ empty. Cookbook domains essentially.

    But this is an incomplete answer. I’ll need to write that pesky Part II. Thanks for nudging me out of my laziness and getting me started thinking about those natural next questions.

  8. Venkat,
    Thanks for the thought-provoking blog. Your description of these principles as recursive is especially intriguing. It make me reflect on the possible parallels between systems thinking and subjective mental modeling. Also, there is a parallel between these concepts and their relations and the concepts/relations of data, information, and knowledge. Typically people will sagely nod their heads if you diagram data–>information–>knowledge (knowledge created from information and information created from data). However, the elements are contextually recursive, the arrows (transformations) are ill defined and vary by context and by person, the ‘higher’ order constructs both set the bounds or definitions for the lower order constructs (implying, for example, that data emerges from a definition of what knowledge you want and the questions you ask), and all three elements are present at every level of each element.

    I’m still trying to get my head ’round conceptualizing the doctrine-strategy-tactics-operations relationships. Still processing the definitions and trying to come up with a good story to tell myself that feels right. Could you perhaps rephrase the bridge demolition example so that it illustrates doctrine, strategy, tactics and operations from two different viewpoints? Similarly, I have the feeling that the iconic case of Encyclopedia Britannica being blindsided by Microsoft Encarta may be a good business case to illustrate perfectly good doctrine, strategy being destabilized by a different set of tactics and operations. Haven’t quite figured that one out yet either, but thought I’d throw it into the ring.

  9. Hi Matt: You are bringing up some extremely good questions, and I cannot answer them in a comment for the very good reason that I am writing a book on decision-making that vastly expands on the ideas in this (and other) posts :). Hard to think “book length” and “comment length” at the same time.

    If you’d like to keep track of the book in progress, please check out this page.


  10. I don’t feel this article has done anything to make me want to change the current military sense of Strategy-Operations-Tactics. The main arguments were that the definitions were arbitrary & relative while also being over-specific. Read the following military definition of the strategy-operational & tactical levels of military thinking:

    1. the strategic level, which includes both the National level and the Combat Command (theater) level, 2. the operational level, which extends from the level of a joint task force including the combined forces of naval and air power with amphibious and ground operation to the maneuver brigade echelon, and 3. the tactical echelon, that extends from the maneuver brigade to the lowest fighting elements including individual soldiers.

    Can you say this is relativistic? Not really, there is nothing larger or smaller for the military organism. Is this definition arbitrary? Well yes, all definitions, distinctions, divisions, etc, are arbitrary, but these are also useful. Is it over-specific? It’s clear, if that’s what that means. What about the reversal example? “Well someone says that we should do a tactic in a strategic way.” We understand what that means but the word strategic seems out of place here, for this set of definitions. So what? It’s simply another sense of the word, it’s just common nomenclature and we can separate the two senses of the word easily. Someone could tell me it’s “cool” to be in Florida, I know they don’t mean it’s cold. The Strategy, Operations, Tactics hierarchy is simply a means to better define the terms for use by organizations, specifically organizations with hierarchy. We could easily swap the terms tactics or strategy, or invent new ones if we wish. Actually that is what has happened over time. The distinctions and “holes” made in this article simply take a clearly defined concept, muddles it down using the relative/arbitrary sense all definitions have and makes nothing out of it that is more useful. Therefore I don’t see the point.

  11. Dan: I was analyzing the broader use of the terms strategy/tactics, where the military context is missing, and the various connotations bleed into each other. Even within the military though, I have had enough military people resonate with these ideas that I doubt your sense of clarity about the various connotations is shared by all.

    Your defense of textbook military definitions though, reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s comment about reductively defining common-use notions down to their formal counterparts: “it is as deeply trivial as saying ‘murder is wrong because it is against the law’.”

    Or in other words, it is NOT the case that “Well yes, all definitions, distinctions, divisions, etc, are arbitrary.” Words and language do yield to careful analysis, even if synthesis can at most be influenced (at least in common-use domains, where one does not have the luxury of policing language).

    But to each his own. I accept that not all may find something useful in this exercise :)

  12. Venkat,

    Although I found your article interesting and thought provoking, I agree with Dan. I have used the strategy – tactics – operations framework for 20 years in large multinational organizations and been very successful initiating organizational change and then mobilizing entire organizations to hire the people, design the systems and refine the processes needed for a successful implementation.

    In these settings, its more important to provide clarity to a diverse organization with lots of individual thinkers than it is to be cerebral and overly complex.

    I have a 12 year old daughter who is remarkably intelligent. In her opinion, however, she’s not the smartest kid in the class. That title belongs to another girl who everyone else thinks is the smartest girl in the class too. I’ve always been of the opinion that the smartest kid in the class is in reality the person that the majority of people believe is the second smartest kid in the class. You know why? Because the perceived second smartest kid in the class is smart enough to know that the perceived smartest kid in the class is rarely popular and often ridiculed. No one likes a know it all. In an organization, to get things done and truly initiate real change, you need to be self-aware, know how to connect to people and be clear in the direction you provide – traits often found in the perceived second smartest kid in the class who in reality is THE smartest kid in the class.


  13. Very interesting stuff. I’ve always been annoyed with the abuse of the term ‘strategy’, especially when applied to games, and especially “RTS” or “Real Time Strategy” games.

    I’m not sure how much I agree with your take on what strategy & tactics are, but it’s an eye opener. It is a great idea to nail down the terminology properly in precise ways so they are more useable and actually say something specific.

    Do you think this example of strategy meshes up with your definition?

    To set into motion a set of events that influence a person’s or group’s situation, which as a result, limits or pushes their behaviour into fairly predictable responses, and being ready to exploit that.

    • I won’t comment/respond now, since this article is basically obsolete, and I’ll save my revised definitions for the book.

      Your example, I think, is too general and too specific at once to easily analyze. You are talking about basic manipulation, and depending on how it is done, manipulation may or may not be strategic. Actually children are very good at the behavior you describe, and use it to manipulate adults :)

  14. Hi Venkat,

    Is it not sufficient to say that in a Mission, the Strategy deals with Planing, Operation deal with Requirements and Tactic deals with execution.

    Your hierarchical model comes in when you talk about who is involved and flow of orders example, top level management for strategy, Middle level management to fulfill requirements, and people who execute the plan at the lowest.

    It is not true when it is said that it takes lesser time and fewer people for planning when compared to execution. The frequency wave model is also not true.

    The only correct model is the triangular model but it is only for showing hierarchy. In reality there could be more than one Mission, Strategy, Operation, and Tactic.

    Strategically placing the bombs actually means to place them as per the plan!
    I believe this model would clear a lot of confusion.

  15. R. Williams says:


    While you have stated this article is obsolete, I found the article to be very interesting. In fact, in response to Dan, I came here in search of someone challenging the military definition of the levels of strategic, operational, and tactical because as I move up in rank in the military I find myself questioning where the lines end and begin. Specifically, I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly where tactical ends and operational begins and where operational ends and strategic begins. While the definition is clear, the reality is not.

    I think your comment “Strategies are imagined stories about possible worlds, whose constraints are determined by elements of doctrine, and whose vocabulary is determined by available tactics. Converting those stories into reality through appropriate mixes of deliberative, reactive and opportunistic planning, scheduling, resource allocation and risk management, in the fog of action, is the discipline of operations.” Actually paints a clearer realisitic picture of the ‘line’ than the military definition. My question to Louis would be “Just because it worked does that make it perfect?” The miltiary actually changes their definitions of each level as warfare evolves, shouldn’t the business world as well? I can give multiple examples of this, but this point is likely clear to readers.

    I as many feel that the comment about strategy is best learned through case studies seems like an oversight to me. You mention how did Eisenhower develop into a great strategist, did he have 2000 or however many hours or cases of practice? Having attended a Military Academy, I have had many discussions regarding if a leader is born or can be made. I’m of the opinion that a leader is made, however, I believe they are made while growing up. It’s the old nature vs nuture argument. I believe leaders are made how they are raised. Let me give you an example, perhaps Eisenhower did have 2000 opportunities to think strategically. It’s completely possible both his parents were strategic thinkers and thus each time they taught him a lesson, the lesson was taught with a stategic ‘flavor’ if you will. Is it not possible that can lead to a strategic thinker? This portion isn’t really an answer to your article as much as it’s just food for thought. Enjoy!

  16. QQ:

    what app did you use to create the graphic? Appreciate any pointers. thanks


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  3. […] and no company operates this way routinely today. You need to understand the intricate interplay of strategy, doctrine, tactics and operations in a modern enterprise, and understand the art of opportunism – a key skill in the 2.0 world. You […]

  4. […] Queen-side means. This forms the what Venkatesh Rao calls, the "key organizing insight" (…)Without It's easy to pick a random opening, muddle through the middle looking for […]

  5. […] a passing outline of the element that qualify and differentiate tactics and strategy (though I like this post which goes into detail to investigate difficulties with wholesale application of the […]

  6. […] som tycker att strategi och taktik inte räcker som förklaringsmodell är Venkatesh Rao som utifrån sin militära bakgrund analyserar hur dessa begrepp används i organisationer. Han […]