Where have all the tacticians gone?


My experience is when you get into discussions associated with Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Tactics, Stratagems, Tacticians and the like, it quickly turns into a fuzzy semantical stew that leaves everyone full but always slightly unsatisfied.

Goal [ɡōl] NOUN— the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result

Objective [əbˈjektiv] NOUN— a thing aimed at or sought; a goal

Strategy [ˈstradəjē] NOUN— a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim

Tactic [ˈtaktik] NOUN— an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end

Stratagem [ˈstradəjəm] NOUN— a plan or scheme, especially one used to outwit an opponent or achieve an end

Tactician [takˈtiSHən] NOUN— one versed in tactics

and the like [and, (ə)n] [T͟Hē, T͟Hə] [līk]— and similar things; et cetera

See what I mean?

After all these years whenever I find myself getting into the stew I always ground myself with a simple story that was told to me many years ago... 

A very long time ago there was an island city named Andorra that was the envy of all the land — the only way to reach the city was over four bridges that linked the city with the mainland. One day a particularly envious King in a neighbouring kingdom called his council together and said this — 

  • My goal is to conquer the city of Andorra and make it part of my kingdom before the end of the year.
  • The strategy to do this will be to starve the inhabitants into surrender.
  • The tactic we will use to accomplish this is destroy the bridges so the city cannot get any food.

And with that, the King went about the task of achieving his goal.

I've always liked this story because it is a reminder of how we can complicate things with nuisance and semantics, and it is a strong example of what a goal, a strategy and tactic truly represent — something easily translated into various situations.

I also like this story because you may have been saying to yourself that just destroying the bridges won't work because the people of Andorra can always fish or have food brought in by boat (which is a very good point, as well as a very important reminder) — there is one goal, maybe a handful of strategies, and a large number of tactics needed to ensure the goal is achieved. 

Unless you are tactically effective, you will never achieve your strategies and most definitely not your goal.

If this is true, and I believe it is, why does everyone want to be a strategist? Why do many people, in some form or another, say they are good at strategy, a senior marketing strategist, or a strategist to something (or someone) very important? Is it because deep down we all want to be king? Although, if we are all king, how does anything actually get done — I mean, who is actually going to destroy the bridges?

Where have all the tacticians gone? Maybe they are just strategists in disguise.