WHat is strategy?

​There are lots of different definitions of strategy. The majority of them are of limited value but the following provide food for thought and start to get at what strategy is and why it's so difficult to develop it:

‘…a course of action that integrates ends, ways and means to meet policy objectives.’

                                                                                                                        The Royal College of Defence Studies

                                                                                                                        Getting Strategy Right (Enough)

‘Strategy is a process, not an endpoint. It is a process of problem-solving in circumstances where much is outside one’s ability to control (in physics terms, an open, complex system), placing a premium on learning and rapid adaptation to develop integrated ways of achieving essential ends.’

                                                                                                                        General James Matis (et al)

                                                                                                                        Restoring our National Security

‘Think of strategy as a bridge: values are the bedrock on which the piers of the bridge are planted, the near bank is today’s reality, the far bank is the vision. Your strategy is the bridge itself.’

                                                                                                                        Gordon R Sullivan and Michael V Harper

                                                                                                                        Hope is not a Method

‘Strategy provides a coherent blueprint to bridge the gap between the realities of today and a desired future. It is the disciplined calculation of overarching objectives, concepts, and resources within acceptable bounds of risk to create more favorable future outcomes than might otherwise exist if left to chance or the hands of others.’

​                                                                                                                         Harry R Yarger

​                                                                                                                         The Little Book on Big Strategy

US National Security Strategy
UK National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015


This brilliant book by Harry R Yarger contains numerous key insights into strategy making. Published by the US Army War College, it's a 'must read' for anyone involved in the tricky business of developing and implementing strategy. Not surprisingly, we drew on it in writing 'Getting Strategy Right (Enough)'! 


'The ends, ways and means formula reduces strategy to ‘…a perfunctory exercise in allocating resources.’

                                                                                                                         Jeffrey W Meiser

                                                                                                                         [reference to follow]

Strategy is a ‘theory of victory.’

                                                                                                                         Eliot Cohen

                                                                                                                         [reference to follow]

‘Strategy requires a clear alignment of ends, ways and means, prioritisation, sequencing, and a theory of victory’

                                                                                                                         David H Ucko and Robert Egnell

                                                                                                                         Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare

​‘Defining strategy as a theory of success encourages creative thinking....it forces strategists to clarify exactly how they plan to cause the desired end state to occur.’

                                                                                                                         Jeffrey W Meiser

                                                                                                                         [reference to follow]

why is strategy making so difficult?

Because strategies aim to address problems which '…cannot be resolved by the application of good management and technical expertise alone; their resolution requires innovation and constant learning as the dynamics of the problem change, often as a consequence of strategies being applied.’

                                                                                                                         The Royal College of Defence Studies

                                                                                                                         Getting Strategy Right (Enough)

‘A Wicked Problem is more complex, rather than just complicated – that is, it cannot be removed from its environment, solved, and returned without affecting the environment. Moreover, there is no clear relationship between cause and effect.’

                                                                                                                         Keith Grint

                                                                                                                         Wicked Problems and Clumsy Solutions: the Role of Leadership

'Like statecraft itself, strategy is inherently competitive. It implies the attempt…to assert policy objectives, derived from one’s own interests or values, over those of competitors or competing forces.’

                                                                                                                         UK MOD
                                                                                                                         Organising Defence’s Contribution to National Strategy

‘Grand strategy rests on a comparison of your own strengths and weaknesses with those of your rivals, and the exploitation of comparative advantage in competitions against them.’

                                                                                                                         John Ferris and Evan Mawdsley
                                                                                                                         The Cambridge History of the Second World War

'Since strategy is an evolving contact sport, one should avoid what Lord Salisbury called the most common error, “sticking to the carcass of a dead policy”.’  

​                                                                                                                         Frank Hoffman
                                                                                                                         Grand Strategy: The Fundamental Considerations

‘Strategy, like politics, is the art of the possible, but few can discern what is possible.’

                                                                                                                         Williamson Murray and Mark Grimsley

                                                                                                                         [reference to follow​]


This seminal book by Richard D Hooker and Joseph J Collins was commissioned by the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to try and identify the lessons from the US' interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is crammed full of insights into strategy making and strategic leadership.​ Again, we drew heavily on the 'Lessons Encountered' in writing 'Getting Strategy Right (Enough)'.

Getting Strategy Right (Enough), a guide to the development of strategy

The Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) teaches post-graduate level courses in international relations, strategy making and strategic leadership. 'Getting Strategy Right (Enough)' has been written to support the College's flagship 11 month course in strategic leadership and the development and implementation of strategy. It incorporates many of the key lessons identified in reports, such as that published by Sir John Chilcot into the UK's intervention in Iraq, and books, such as Hooker and Collins' seminal examination of US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, published over the last few years.​​

strategy and leadership

strategy formulation and strategic leadership

Strategy book - Getting Strategy Right (Enough) - edited by Craig Lawrence


‘The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives and that the UK military role in Iraq ended a very long way from success.’

​                                                                                                                         Sir John Chilcot

                                                                                                                         The Report of the Iraq Inquiry

‘...strategy making for Basra and for Helmand was marked by a failure to grasp the nature of the campaign, to adapt once new realities came to the fore, and to resource these efforts both politically and financially, to achieve a clearly established objective.’

​                                                                                                                         David H Ucko and Robert Egnell

                                                                                                                         Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare

‘We have seen no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya...UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence.’

                                                                                                                         House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee

                                                                                                                         Examination of the UK’s Intervention in Libya

'First of all, strategic leadership is that which is exercised at a level of an organisation where the individual is truly determining the azimuth for the organisation.'                                           

                                                                                                             David Petraeus


Following the successful publication of ‘Getting Strategy Right (Enough)’ in September of last year, I’ve been asked to give more lectures on strategy and strategic leadership and to write more about the subjects. As I do the research to support this,I thought it would be helpful to put some of my favourite quotes on the website. For those interested, you can download a free pdf copy of 'Getting Strategy Right (Enough)' by following the link in the books section at the bottom of the page.

David Petraeus
Lessons Encountered - Learning from the Long War
Chilcot Report - Executive Summary


The UK's 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence Review (NSS & SDSR) is a great example of a strategy au milieu as it sets out how the UK will seek to enhance its prosperity, security and stability. It gets a number of mentions in 'Getting Strategy Right (Enough)' and provides something of a template for other NSS.


After reading through all the strategy stuff, you're probably ready for a bit of light relief. That's why it's brilliant news that, on 18 January 2018 and after several months of asking, Amazon eventually reduced the cost of the Kindle version of best-seller 'The Legacy' from £5.99 to £3.99. This brings the price into line with that of other works of fiction by authors such as Lee Child, Dan Brown etc.

You can use the link on the left to take advantage of this reduction, or to just browse the reviews on Amazon! If you've never used a Kindle, use the link on the right to see what I think is Amazon's lowest priced Kindle offer and read what purchasers think of it. If you'd rather go back to strategy, then have a quick look at the below books.

Craig Lawrence author, military historian and lecturer in strategy


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the report of the iraq inquiry - the 'chilcot report'

Although the final report runs to some 2.6 million words in 13 volumes, the executive summary - pictured left - is a much shorter read. It is so full of insights and recommendations about strategy making and strategic leadership that it is a 'must read' for anyone who is serious about strategy.​ Perhaps not surprisingly, we drew heavily on the 'Chilcot Report' in writing 'Getting Strategy Right (Enough)'.

Harry Yarger - The Little Book on Big Strategy

books about strategy and strategy making


The US's 2017 National Security Strategy is another example of a strategy au milieu. Like the UK's strategy - above - it sets out how the US intends to promote its prosperity, security and stability. It does this using four 'pillars': Pillar I, protect the American people, the homeland and the American way of life; Pillar II, promote American prosperity; Pillar III, preserve peace through strength; and Pillar IV, advance American influence. For those pushed for time, I recommend a quick read of the President's introduction as it's a good example of a strategic narrative, giving people a reason to care and a reason to act.