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What Is Your Personal Strategy?

What Is Your Personal Strategy?

by Rob Arnoth, B.A. (Economics)

A staple in the business community, Michael Porter’s article, ‘What Is Strategy’ can be applied equally to our personal lives. Creating a dramatic shift in business thinking, Porter’s famous article has helped many companies achieve sustainable competitive advantage by reconsidering their system of activities. While an organization has different motivations and constraints, three elements of Porter’s analysis of strategy can be useful to individuals: engaging in different actions, making trade-offs, and moving beyond indecision. Strategic thinking that incorporates these elements can produce immediate results in helping us pursue what we want more effectively.

Incremental improvements are always helpful, and there are certainly times when we must focus on small wins to get through difficult struggles, but this is not strategy. Strategy should involve more than doing the same things better; it probably means doing different things altogether. A long-distance runner, for example, may simply decide, ‘I’m going to run faster’�, which may well bring about an improvement in performance. A proper strategy, however, would consider how to manage the pacing at various stages of the race, possibly slowing down in uphill areas to conserve energy and thus establish greater advantage in the overall race.

Developing or committing to a strategy requires making tradeoffs and deciding what not to do. Each time we choose to engage in an activity, we are also choosing not to do something else. Thus to gain one advantage, we must often give up another, preferably smaller, advantage. In our own lives, being a leader means setting limits on the time and money we direct toward some activities. For example, over-committing to a wide array of social functions may bring a massive structure of acquaintances but few deep and meaningful relationships.

Chasing every opportunity for its own sake dissipates our efforts and ensures mediocrity. If we fail to be selective, we straddle multiple choices and become overwhelmed by indecision. Sometimes we wait perpetually for a concluding piece of information, or we are fearful of making the wrong choice. Just as a business may let a valuable opportunity escape by delaying a decision until all the details are ironed out, so too can individuals lose out through being paralyzed by indecision while we wait for perfect information. We can often get further ahead by focusing on three or four key activities that enhance what we value, doing them well, and making decisions when we have 80 percent of the data.

With the hectic and busy lives we live, it is more important than ever to get a periodic aerial view of our lives, and ensure that we are engaged in the most meaningful activities without drowning in a tumultuous sea of pursuits that lack strong strategic fit with what matters most. Strategy is easily accessible and is more about mental toughness than about brilliance. Strategic thinking is work, but becomes more intuitive with practice and time.