IT Strategy Part 3: Lessons from History 

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Part three of our multi part series on IT Strategy. Today will be looking at strategy in a broad sense, and what lessons can be learned from history. Later articles will apply that knowledge to IT strategy.

“ Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances “ – Sun Tzu

Throughout history the mightiest strategists have been rewarded with distinction, wealth, land, recognition, and respect. They have earned this through their incredible devotion to innovate, understand, and prevail. All that they knew and understood they poured into their master strategy in order to succeed. Military, sports, and business have one thing in common: a competitor. In order to dominate the competition one must have the best strategy. Read on to learn about elements that create a winning strategy.


Famous Military StrategistLiving Strategy

The opening quote is from Sun Tzu, one of the greatest military strategist in history, and the author of The Art of War. He recommends too never repeat a tactic, merely due to its past success. Every single situation has its own set of unique circumstances and potential consequences. A strategy must be living and breathing in the sense that it reacts to change – it innovates. Repetition in the face of competition is arrogance and laziness. Your competitor is an intelligent entity that constantly looking to usurp your position, present success is no excuse to relax.

This is not to say that repeating elements of past successes is strictly forbidden. Rather that two identical situations will very rarely appear, and as such two identical responses should rarely ever appear.


To Move Forward, You Must Look Back

This is the Japanese principle of ‘hansei’: the ability to deeply and critically reflect on where you have been and what you have learned. Even the most decisive victory in history was not without flaws. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote in the 19th century: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”. Analyze every past tactic made by both your organization, and the competition. What elements brought about success? Which elements where redundant? In the case of failure, a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis can be incredibly useful, but only if its conclusions are applied into the grand strategy, and not merely seen as a standalone conclusion.

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”

Every decision that both an organization and the competition make must be both respected, and fully analyzed for strengths and weaknesses.


Marathon Thinking

Alexander the Great is considered a great strategist, but even he was not without flaw. When he was only 30 years old, he had conquered much of the known world and was undefeated in battle. As he tried to initiate a final campaign in India in order to reach “the Great Outer Sea”, his exhausted troops forced him to abort. He died during the return trip at the age of only 32. He was a genius of military tactics, but he accomplished tasks at a rate much faster than what is sustainable. His empire collapsed in only a few years after his death. He did not pace himself, or exhibit any self-control when things were going so well.

How does one win a marathon? It is through proper pacing and training. Competition is won through the marriage of short term tactics, and long term strategy. What good is a brilliant tactic, if it does nothing to benefit the long term goal? Often it will hurt more than it can help, since it will display your greatest strengths to the competition, while achieving nothing in the long run. Without a long term strategy an organization is relegated to the unsustainable goal of struggling to achieve constant short term success.

Competition is won through the marriage of short term tactics, and long term strategy

Pace yourself: a smart marathoner will sometimes slow down, even when he or she has abundant energy in reserve. When slowing down they are aware of both the end goal of winning the race, but also the short time milestones that are in between, and must be achieved to get there. Leadership guru, Jim Collins, makes the argument that the mark of a great organization, is how much self-control it exercises when things are going extremely well. Always keep short term projects and long term goals in balance in order to avoid burning out before the finish line.



The main goal of any strategy is determining how to manage resources effectively in order to achieve success. Technology is the most game changing and contested resource in today’s world. Technology enables the few to triumph over the many. How a business applies it technical resources, and the end goal for its activity regarding technology is a cornerstone for any successful businesses overall strategy.

All strategy must be living and breathing – able to adapt to the infinity variety of circumstances. All strategy must be derived by looking back on what works and what does not. Finally, every strategy must be designed to run the marathon of competition – properly balance short term goals with long term strategy. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but three aspects taken from the past, that every IT strategy can benefit from.

IT Strategy Part 1: What is IT Strategy

IT Strategy Part 2: Important Aspects of IT Strategy


IT Strategy Part 4: Creating an IT Strategy



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