Teaching Strategy

Hot from the press, the latest publication by the Strategic Studies Institute, Teaching Strategy: Challenges and Responses is a compilation of 11 chapters that explore what and how to teach about strategy. While the focus is on national security strategy, there are many analogies that could be applicable to non-military security professionals as well as those in business and competitive intelligence. As the different authors discuss the benefits of formal education in strategy, a common trait of the strategist emerges, not as analyst, planner or manager, but as synthesizer. That the art of synthesis is best achieved through blending art and science is nothing short of music to my ears as I have been arguing this point for years.

Below I summarize the chapters that made a particular impression on me, but the whole publication is definitely worth reading.

Chapter 2 examines seven broad categories of inquiry into strategy—(1) defining the situation, (2) detailing your concerns and objectives, those of your principal antagonist(s)/competitor(s), and those of other important players, (3) identifying and analyzing options that might be pursued, in terms of such factors as costs, risks, and probabilities of success, (4) options selection and alternatives analysis in the light of potential frictions, (5) re-optimization in light of changing events, (6) evaluation of the option in terms of its success in achieving desired results, and finally, (7) option modification or replacement.

Chapter 7 looks into reasons for teaching strategy, target-audiences and the different roles of the strategist. It compares and contrasts the roles, skills and competencies of a strategic leader, strategic practitioner and strategic theorist. Drawing from examples from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Carl von Clausewitz’ On War and Colin S. Gray’s Modern Strategy among others, the author discusses various premises of strategy according to classical strategic theory and offers a model for strategy formulation.

Chapter 9 discusses in detail the cognitive frames that inform strategic decision making. Specifically, the author addresses the importance of heuristic shortcuts as cognitive decision guides, and compares the rational actor decision model that has traditionally informed strategic decision making in the military with a sense-making framework more suitable to complex strategic environments. The final section focuses on the use of case study methodology not so much as a classroom illustration of topical issues but as a tool for developing effective heuristic shortcuts and cognitive response mechanisms, or shaping behavior patterns.

Chapter 10 distinguishes between the traditional way of teaching strategy by focusing on historical lessons from great strategists and the more novel approach of development of strategic thinking. According to the author, the most effective way to achieve the latter, i.e. to compel students to think strategically about situational environments is thinking about strategy in 3-dimensional terms. He identifies these three critical dimensions of strategic environmental reality that exist with almost all organizations – military and civilian – as (i) the dimensions of systems, (ii) actors, and targets, and goes into detail outlining each.

Table of Context:

Table of Context:
1.    Introduction – Robert H. Dorff
2.    The Elements of Strategic Thinking: A Practical Guide – Robert Kennedy
3.    The Study of Strategy: A Civilian Academic Perspective – Robert C. Gray
4.    Teaching Strategy in the 21st Century – Gabriel Marcella and Stephen O. Fought
5.    Teaching Strategy: A Scenic View from Newport – Bradford A. Lee
6.    A Vision of Developing the National Security Strategist from the National War College – Cynthia A. Watson
7.    How Do Students Learn Strategy? Thoughts on the U.S. Army War College Pedagogy of Strategy – Harry R. Yarger
8.    The Teaching of Strategy: Lykke’s Balance, Schelling’s Exploitation, and a Community of Practice in Strategic Thinking – Thomaz Guedes da Costa
9.    Making Sense of Chaos: Teaching Strategy Using Case Studies – Volker Franke
10.    Teaching Strategy in 3D – Ross Harrison
11.    Beyond Ends-Based Rationality: A Quad-Conceptual View of Strategic Reasoning for Professional Military Education – Christopher R. Paparone