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Strategy is about power and how to create it,” writes Sir Lawrence Freedman in his authoritative 2013 book simply titled “Strategy,” but it is also about the ability to understand the limitations of power.
Read our summary to find out what he means – and why it directly affects you.
Who Should Read “Strategy”? And Why?
Sir Lawrence Freedman is Emeritus Professor of War Studies and has spent his life mostly analyzing how strategy is employed in military tactics.
However, since strategy is now omnipresent (whether in politics or business), his life’s work, “Strategy,” is a book about everyone who wants to understand the dynamics of power in modern society.
In other words, just like Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” or Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power,” “Strategy” is a book which certainly deserves a wider audience than the one which it primarily targets.
So, read it, whoever you’re and whatever you’re doing.
You will not be disappointed.
About Lawrence Freedman
Sir Lawrence David Freedman, KCMG, CBE, PC, FBA, an Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London, is widely considered the “dean of British strategic studies” as well as one of the most important scholars of strategy in the world and in history.
After receiving a BA from the Victoria University of Manchester and a BPhil from the University of York, Freedman obtained a DPhil from Oxford, defending his thesis – “The Definition of the Soviet Threat in Strategic Arms Decisions of the United States: 1961–1974” – in 1975.
Since then, he has written numerous books of importance, such as “The Future of War: a History,” “Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam,” and “A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East.”
In 1995, Freedman was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, and a year later, he was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
“Strategy PDF Summary”
If you want to make God laugh,” quipped once Woody Allen, “tell him about your plans.
Plans are worthless,” added Dwight Eisenhower, “but planning is everything.
And really, Lawrence Freedman notes, it’s all but impossible to have total control over any situation; but acting as if you have makes all the difference, putting you well ahead of your more fatalistically oriented opponent.
And that’s why, since the earliest times, once they understood that even the best plans could go awry and that (to quote Sun Tzu) “every battle is won before it is fought,” people turned to something much bigger than planning.
Strategy is different from planning in that it is much more fluid and flexible, i.e., it takes into consideration the very fact that plans will fail. So, it sets numerous of them – all interrelated and malleable – and attempts to fight back against those forces which usually thwart our plans: fortune, circumstances, people.
In other words, God may laugh at your plans, but he will have to work hard to obstruct your well-thought-out strategy.
And he knows this full well, since he may have been the very first Strategist.
Just consider the story of the Exodus:
The point at which God asserted his greatness to his chosen people was when he arranged the escape of the Jews from Egypt, where they were kept as slaves. One reading of the story of Exodus is that it was not so much about freeing the Israelites from slavery as about asserting God’s greatness by establishing a people beholden to him and ensuring that they – and others – were in awe of his power. Under this interpretation, the Exodus story becomes a gigantic manipulation.
In laymen’s terms, God didn’t have to torture a whole nation or two – he could have merely secretly teleported the Jews out of Egypt – but he chose to assert his authority by consciously forcing the pharaoh not to free his chosen people.
That way, he put Himself in a better position to sell his story to the world.
Because, let’s face it, a miracle is the best strategy to assert your divinity – especially if it’s of such a magnitude that everybody is affected by it. And ten miracles of blood, grasshoppers, and plagues – well, they are million times better.
So – sneaky God!
Speaking of which, this example of God’s strategy – sneakiness, guile – was one of the two primary modes of strategy for the Ancient Greeks as well.
They called it metis and the image on the cover of “Strategy” portrays it perfectly in action.
You can’t beat your enemy with sheer physical force – which is the second mode of strategy, bie – even though you spend a decade attempting to?
Then, hide your best soldiers inside a Trojan horse!
If you can’t beat them… well, trick them.
If you expected the more usual “join them” to end the phrase, then you’re absolutely right!
Contemporary strategical analysists consider coalitions a third form of strategy, which, just like physical force and guile, is observable in both chimpanzees and humans.
For a reason – sometimes, a battle is unwinnable without the aid of an ally!
Key Lessons from “Strategy”
1. Three Forms of Strategy
2. Stories Have Saved Us from Total Annihilation: The War of Narratives
3. Military, Political, and Business Strategy
Three Forms of Strategy
Whether in chimpanzees or humans, whether in wars, politics, or business – strategy always takes one of three forms: physical violence, guile, and coalitions.
Physical violence is the oldest and most straightforward form.
This one boils down to one simple premise: just beat the enemy.
Ants basically have no other strategy! Their foreign policy is one of “restless aggression, territorial conquest, and genocidal annihilation of neighboring colonies whenever possible.” In other words: we’re lucky that ants don’t have nuclear weapons!
Guile or cunning is the second form.
It is usually used by underdogs to counter the superior strength of their opponents.
Both Sun Tzu and Machiavelli were fascinated by people (whether generals or politicians) who were able to strategically outsmart their opponents, either by demoralizing him or by disrupting his decision-making abilities.
Finally, coalition is the third form.
Its formula is: “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
Stories Have Saved Us from Total Annihilation: The War of Narratives
Facts tell,” claims James Carville, “but stories sell.
However, do you also know that in the absence of narratives, we would probably not even exist?
Because narrative is not just “another way the weak [can] take on the strong: less muscle but better stories.” It’s also a way the strong can keep their powers in check.
The Cold War was actually a war of narratives.
Everybody knew that if the conflict escalated, the whole world was in danger of a nuclear catastrophe. So, realizing that actual war has suddenly become unwinnable, they transferred the warring from the battlefield to the media.
A battle of narratives was to be preferred to a real battle.
And this war is still on.
And, if we’re lucky, it will go on raging as long as humanity exists.
God help us otherwise.
Military, Political, and Business Strategy
Throughout history – and especially since the 19th century – generals and military analysists developed numerous strategies which were meant to help one beat his opponent, almost regardless of their comparative strength.
Some of the more famous ones are the “strategy of exhaustion,” “brain warfare,” Sir Basil Liddell Hart’s “confuse-the-enemy” strategy, or John Boyd’s influential analysis on how to disrupt your opponents’ “OODA loop” (observing, orienting, deciding and acting).
In time, people started understanding that the same strategies were applicable in almost any other field of human endeavor, especially business and politics.
Because, ultimately, strategy was about gaining an edge and creating power advantage by any means possible:
So the realm of strategy is one of bargaining and persuasion as well as threats and pressure, psychological as well as physical effects, and words as well as deeds. This is why strategy is the central political art. It is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power.
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Our Critical Review
“Strategy” by Sir Lawrence Freedman is a 768-page masterpiece: it’s been called “magisterial,” “a tour de force” and a most ambitious book.
Encyclopedic, erudite, wise – “Strategy” is certainly Sir Lawrence Freedman’s magnum opus. And just as certainly it will probably be a reference point for many decades to come.
Learn more and more, in the speed that the world demands.