When you don’t call a thing by its Name, don’t be surprised if you come up with something different than what you thought you said.

To define Strategy and Tactics is a challenging one because there is an unspoken social agreement to define each as opposites. Meaning that when someone says that strategy is high level stuff, it is understood that tactics is the opposite: low level stuff. Another example is when tactics is defined as “small scale” we agree that strategy is the opposite “large scale”. To classify a thing as strategy or tactics based on opposites is mistake in the name of simplifying things. Let’s put these and other common examples to the test:

 Strategy is high level stuff & Tactics are low level stuff

When a support representative defines a plan to solve a customer complaint and does successfully without the need of telling the customer what the plan is, the same principles of Strategizing are applied as when the C.F.O. of an organization defines a plan to convince the shareholders about a complaint on next quarter’s investment priorities. Then it is true that a Strategy can be applied at any level of an organization.

Tactics are small scale and Strategy is large scale

Deploying a new product feature across a 300+ sales force requires constant training and feedback in order to confirm if the message gets through. While this is a large scale task it involves con-tact with each sales professional. Therefore it doesn’t stand that tactics are small scale. 

 Tactics are How and Strategy is What

Negotiating with a partner about a new pricing structure is often regarded as a tactic as it requires back and forth contact until an agreement is reached. The negotiation covers many specifics about How prices will change. But inevitably I will talk to the partner about What these changes are intended to achieve. What and how are not useful for distinguishing tactics and strategy. 

I can continue with similar common examples of defining tactic and strategy that don’t always prove correct. There is a way that does always stand correct. It is not about defining Tactics and Strategy as opposites, but as complements. It starts with the etymology of each concept in order to achieve a practical definition: 

Strategy:

What I conduct to spread out

stere (to spread) + •ago (I drive/conduct out)

 

Tactic:

Art of arrangement

taktikos (to order, arrange)  /  •tag (to touch, handle)

What these definitions mean is that tactics is every time I come in contact (touch) with something or someone else and strategy is every thing I want to spread out in order to make contact. Meanwhile I haven’t made contact with another I’m in the terrain of Strategy, but once I make contact I’m in the terrain of Tactics. Following this line of thought we can come up with a memorable way of distinguishing both:

Strategy:

What I do in the absence of others

 

Tactic:

What I do in the presence of others

Illustration

Why would a Gift be related to Strategy and Tactics? Well, let’s review what makes a gift a gift. When I choose a gift I don’t publicly share out what the gift is. I wrap it in order to surprise the receiver in the right moment at the right place. Then all I do before I deliver the gift is in the absence of who will receive the gift. What we’ve just described is pure Strategy: all that I do in the absence of other.

The moment the gift comes in contact with the intended receiver I make sure it is opened in the right moment and in the right mood. I can only know that the moment is right when I’m in contact with the other part: the receiver. What we’ve just described is pure Tactics: everything I do in the presence of the other.

Application

When I’m negotiating with a sales partner a new price structure I’m in the terrain of Tactics because the partner is for the moment outside or not related to the new price proposal. What ever analysis I planned before the negotiation is in the terrain of Strategy because I was doing it in the absence of the other part: the partner. 

In another example within the same scenario: If I’m building a sales plan with the same partner that will allow us increase sales for the next quarter, I’m in the terrain of Strategy because the partner and myself are in it together as one and the Other part in this scenario is the customer. When the time comes to convince the customer the best practices of tactics will be needed, but until no contact is made with the customer we are in the terrain of Strategy.