Strategy. The word comes from the Greek to refer to the art of leadership; military leadership, as the Greeks had a great need for this. The strategic plan of those long-ago times was designed to achieve long-term goals while contending with uncertainties, and the Greeks knew all about uncertainties posed by warring opponents.
A tactic within a strategic plan was to deal with the uppity Trojans, to whom they had been laying siege for ten years or so without any obvious success: build a wooden horse and fill it with troops. Were the Trojans really that stupid? Maybe they were, and the Greeks’ long-term goals were finally achieved.
The meaning hasn’t altered over the millennia, just the contexts. The business world is replete with books and articles about strategy; millions upon millions of words have been dedicated to it. The long-term goals of many a consultant have included becoming enormously wealthy by pumping out strategic tomes and being as revered as certain ancient warlords who some have drawn on in watching the book sale dollars mount up.
Business truly began to discover strategy some sixty or seventy years ago, aided by the first wave of the management gurus and their capacity to fill the pages of the Harvard Business Review. Somewhere along the line, the world of government took note of all this strategising that was going on, and it hasn’t stopped talking about it ever since.
One suspects that governments had been coming up with strategies for many a long year prior to the consultant-led crossover from the business world. It was just that no one had written a book. Long-term goals are and have been inherent to governments; that’s part of the reason why there are governments.
But as with pretty much any other term or concept to have made the transition from business to government, e.g. team, quality or project, strategy has been rendered comparatively meaningless because of the regularity to which it is referred; as equally meaningless as in the business world, it has to be said.
Governments are nothing without strategies; or rather, they would be diminished if they failed to constantly refer to them. Having a strategy for this, that and the next thing enables the politician to puff out his or her chest and to command admiration because he or she is shown to be doing something, taking leadership, setting goals for which roadmaps - so many roadmaps - point the way along the journey.
Marc Pérez-Ribas either is or isn’t spokesperson for Ciudadanos in the Balearics; one can never be entirely sure from one day to the next who does what with the Cs. This aside, he is in a way the very model of the modern-day progressive liberal (to quote his Twitter account) who is unlikely to get very far because the liberal centre is largely anathema to Balearic and Spanish politics (one can also say British). He has a business background, the Cs are pro-business, and so one can well imagine that Pérez-Ribas would have pored over many a Harvard Business Review article in his time.
The other day in parliament, he raised a question or two about strategy. He was directing his questions towards the tourism minister, Iago Negueruela (formerly of the national ministry of employment and social security’s “superior body” of employment inspectors). Did the government actually have a tourism strategy, he asked, noting that it was now on to its third director of the Aetib agency, i.e. the Balearics tourism strategy agency.
Oh yes, came the reply. The government’s strategy is all about ensuring that the Balearics are on the UK’s ‘green list’. Really? Are we to conclude, therefore, that when the government started introducing its bar and restaurant restrictions back in December that the goal of this apparently strategic approach was to appear on a green list that hadn’t even been mentioned?
Strategy is not geared to what one individual government may or may not decide. The green list happened along, something to be added to the roadmap being cobbled together for what is the true strategy - that of total economic recovery, which will be some years off.
It was a convenience to call it a strategy, given the seemingly solitary aim; a glib expression for media regurgitation. And it highlighted how, unfortunately, Balearic government strategic intentions are overexposed to the uncertainties posed by external forces. The short-term goal of the green list is wholly dependent on the decisions of a foreign government; the Balearics are not an ancient warlord commanding the field of battle in pursuit of the strategic goal.
Likewise, whatever the strategy for recovery is - five to ten years down the line and linked to a transformation of the economic model which continues to be only vaguely defined - this is dependent on Madrid and on Brussels for the financial wherewithal.
Strategy - easy to say, far more difficult to mean it.