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What Batman Can Teach Us About Strategy

Posted February 01, 2017 by caperion

Over the years, I’ve encountered multiple situations where there’s been confusion about the difference between a goal, a strategy, and a tactic.  There have been a few occasions where I’ve struggled with such distinctions as well.  And for my own intellectual sake, I’ve given a lot of thought as to how one makes such determinations.  Is there a guide that helps to explain the differences?

And then it dawned on me that there’s a great metaphorical/literal example.  One that has identity with just about all of us.  An example so simple (and as you know, simple is better) that we all can assimilate it.

It’s the Caped Crusader.  Bruce Wayne’s alter ego.  The Batman.

For the sake of our study, let’s begin our discussion by focusing on his mask.  Multiple factors to consider here when thinking about his mask…concealing identity…confusing the bad guys….protecting his family….looking cool…etc.

So… a simple question:  What goal is Batman pursuing in wearing a mask?

When I’ve asked folks this question, the overwhelming answer is “To conceal his identity”.  A good answer, but not the right one.  If we consider the notion of strategy as a component in a continuum (and I’d submit that when done correctly it’s a cause-and-effect continuum), it looks like this:

Goal (Objective) —> Strategy —>  Tactic

Pretty fundamental, right?  So if we go back to the question, “What goal is Batman pursuing in wearing a mask?”, to answer with “…conceal his identity” actually describes his strategy.  More accurately, applying the above continuum to our study of Batman, the answer to the question shapes up like this:

Goal: Protecting Loved Ones –> Strategy To Achieve Goal: Conceal Identity –> Tactic To Execute Strategy: Wear A Mask

From the above, you can see just how linear the conceptual stream is.  And, how it draws out the distinctions between the elements.

As many of you know, I attended an advanced strategic planning course at Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, last autumn.  While there, our professors offered this fine set of distinctions:

“A goal is a dream, the strategy is deciding how to achieve it, and the tactics are what you’re going to do.”

I can think of no better clarification.

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