Friday, January 06, 2017

A set of principles does not make a strategy

I often find World of Warcraft a useful vehicle for explain basic concepts of strategy. In this example, I want you to imagine two teams preparing to fight for the first time in a battleground - Warsong Gulch. Both teams have a short time to prepare before the game of capture the flag. Neither have been to Warsong Gulch before or have experience of fighting battlegrounds.

One team (the Alliance) outlines its strategy for how it's going to win the battle. It consists of what they describe as five "universal" principles that they've all agreed upon.

1) We're going to capture the flag and win the game! We're not going to just fight the opponents.
2) We're going to do this with great people! We're going to be the best fighters (tanks, good for taking damage), mages (damage dealers) and healers. We won't just let anyone be in the team.
3) We're going to be prepared to take risks and fail fast! We're not going to just play it safe.
4) We believe in a supportive culture! We're going to help each other when asked.
5) We're open to challenge and asking the hard questions. 

The team is enthusiastic and ready to go. Facing off against them is a team of Horde players. They've also spent their time preparing but the result is somewhat different. 

Focus : capture the flag and win the game

Doctrine (i.e. universal principles) 
1) Develop mastery (perform your role the best you can) - tanks take the hits, mages dish it out, healers heal.
2) Act as a cell (unit) e.g. use concentrated fire, work and move together.

Strategy (context specific play) :
1) To begin with team will act as one cell in an initial all out attack. Group will quickly move through central tunnel towards enemy base, taking out opposing players that interfere. Always take out opposing healers first, then damage dealers and then tanks.
2) Once their flag is captured by our tank, cell will work to take out opposing players and camp in their gaveyard (as per map) killing off opposing players as they are resurrected and before they create any form of group. Taunting opposing players is encouraged.

3) Once graveyard is contained, cell will split into two smaller cells. An offensive group consisting of a few mages to take out opposing stragglers and the remaining group (including flag carrier) to camp graveyard. Once opposing players are contained in graveyard the cell will reform and a solo mage will keep running the flag. If the plan fails then the group will reform around our flag carrier.

Now, the later has focus, principles and some form of strategy. It might not work but then the Horde players have the possibility to learn. I can almost guarantee that when the battle kicks off, the first question from the Alliance players will be "Should we attack or defend?" and "Where do we need to go?" 

Arguments will then happen and before they know it the Horde will be upon them. The next cries you'll hear will be "Help!" and "Why is no-one helping me, I need help here!" followed by endless bickering that this or that player isn't good enough to be part of the team and lots of shouts for "what is going on?" or "where is everyone?" or "should I grab their flag?". With luck, the Alliance team will be quickly broken.

The point I want to emphasise is that principles are fine and yes strategy has to adapt to the game but don't confuse the two. A set of principles does not make a strategy. Though it's certainly better to have a set of principles than to have no principles and no strategy.

This is equally applicable in business.


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