A plan is a set of steps to follow to achieve some final goal. If you are able to follow the steps completely and in sequence, then the goal will be achieved. On the surface this seems like a great way to achieve success. It’s absolutely foolproof, right?
A strategy is much less definitive than a plan. It focuses entirely on a goal and tactics that can be used to achieve it. Strategic thinking encompasses creating a plan, but takes a larger angle on solving the problem. But less definitive means it won’t be successful, right?
The trouble with blindly following a plan is that circumstances change. No large, real world problem can be solved without something going wrong or changing. Somebody following a plan will be lost and fail when some minor aspect of the plan needs to change, but they don’t know how to change the steps appropriately.
If you just maintain a strategy, then you have the ability to see the problems that may occur and alter your plan accordingly. By maintaining a focus on the final goal, you maintain a fluid path to achievement.
Put into a ridiculous visual example – let’s take parking in a parking lot as an example.
A plan may tell you to park in the 3rd space on the left every day of the week. In three weeks, you’ll win employee of the year because of your reliability, which is apparently based entirely on your parking ability. This plan is flawless.
A strategy focuses on achieving the employee of the year award. You think this can be achieved by a clever parking strategy. You design a plan to park in the 3rd space on the left every day of the week. The strategy is ambiguous but the plan is flawless.
Then, something changes. The lot is repaved and repainted. Or maybe, someone parked in your spot one day.
If you’re blindly following a plan with little thought, you’re now lost. You don’t know how to recover from the change. You can’t skip to the next step because it doesn’t make sense and you can’t complete the current step. The plan fails. You’re fucked.
If you’re keen to the strategy, then you improvise when the plan no longer works. You realize that you just need to park in the best spot you can find. As long as your car is in the lot and you get into work then you’re still in the running to win the award. The circumstances change, so you change the plan.