Doing things right or Doing the right things
The difference between Tactical thinking and Strategic thinking. In a nutshell, Tactical thinking is “doing things right,” while Strategic thinking is “doing the right things.”
Strategic thinking is typically leadership: creating the vision. Whereas Tactical thinking is management: implementing the vision.
When it comes to strategic vs. tactical planning, it’s easy to fall into either/or thinking—that is, either strategic thinking is better, or tactical thinking is better. This is especially true when you realize which type of thinker you are. We tend to believe that our type of thinking must be superior. But regardless of whether you are a strategic or a tactical thinker, you must come to realize that both types are critical to success.
So when I use the term strategic vs. tactical thinking, it’s not to imply that they are at odds with one another; rather it’s to contrast the difference between the two, so you can begin to distinguish and appreciate those differences. It’s also critical to recognize when you are not applying both types of thinking to the situation.
Difficulties arise when one or the other, rather than both, is used to tackle a problem. Strategic thinkers tend to analyze the situation but often fail to take action. “Paralysis by analysis” is their downfall. Tactical thinkers are all about “doing something,” but they often don’t think before springing into action; so oftentimes, their action is ineffective, and perhaps unnecessary. If only they’d taken the time to step back and analyze the situation beforehand.
Think of strategic and tactical thinking like the strings of a violin. In order for the instrument to create beautiful music, each string must have tension applied to both ends. If tension is released from either side, then the music it was intended to create cannot be produced.
The apparent tension between strategic and tactical thinking is seen in the statement, “Doing Things Right vs. Doing the Right Things.” Tactical thinkers tend to focus on “doing things right,” and strategic thinkers are concerned with “doing the right things.” But let’s consider that statement for just a moment. If you do something “right,” but it’s the wrong thing to do, your efforts will be futile. Conversely, if you do the “right thing,” but you do it wrong, you’ll also fail miserably.
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat” – Sun Tzu
So let’s get away from either/or thinking, and engage in both/and thinking: both strategic thinking and tactical thinking are critical for success of any kind.