Great achievement has no road map?

The title of this post is a quote from The West Wing. It comes from a third-season episode in which a highly respected physicist is trying to get approval for billions in funding to test theories about the origin of the universe. When asked by a senator about its potential practical applications or benefits, he replies that he can’t provide any, because “great achievement has no road map”.

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the West Wing, was obviously trying to prove a point about science in this episode. This point showed up as a recurring theme throughout the series, notably in episodes about – among other things – the US space program, scientific medical research into finding a cure for cancer, and even funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The common thread running through all of these episodes was that, in constantly pushing for the time frame, the budget, the visible returns and the predicted outcomes, we are limiting the capacity for human potential.

And yet, we create road maps all the time. We strategize, plan, and use road maps as tools to help us get from point A to point B.

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Strategy versus tactics

There must be thousands of blog posts out there about the difference between strategy and tactics. You can find 'em in a Google search, but don't bother. I'll save you the trouble.

See, they all pretty much follow the same formula. They start off by bemoaning the fact that nobody else in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD understands the difference between strategy and tactics. They usually cite a few examples in here of poor, misinformed clients, colleagues or even bosses, to illustrate their point that they are SO MUCH SMARTER than everyone else and that this mysterious distinction is something that only they can get. They then proceed to give their own definition, which is accurate to varying degrees, tends to make some sort of reference to ancient Chinese warfare, and is of course illustrated by an example or two. Finally, they wrap up with an admonishment against using the wrong lingo, and usually a self-plug about why they can develop kick-ass strategies that really, truly are strategic. (And not the least bit tactical.)

Here's the thing, though: Most companies don't want strategies. Most companies want tactics.

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