Monday, January 29, 2007

discipline and strategy

Lots of people have talked and written enthusiastically - and sometimes even knowledgeably - about strategic thinking. Google the phrase and you'll find almost 1.2 million sites. If you google "disciplined thinking" instead, you'll find less than 30,000 references. Both strategy and discipline are systematic approaches to problem solving and achievement. Why is strategy so much more popular than discipline?

Typically, people use the word "strategic" to describe two kinds of activity: 1) activities that do not seem to serve an immediate purpose that are described as having a value that overrides short-term priorities or 2) activities that yield immediate advantage although they are not part of plans or routines. In other words, strategic is a term that often allows one to have the cake and eat it too - it offers both a reason to stay on task and an excuse to be distracted.

Discipline is a much tougher word. Discipline means accepting a set of rules and practices and applying them in order to discover value, solve problems and make progress. Discipline means giving up the chance to rationalize what you want as being more useful than what you know. Discipline means sitting down to write in order to discover what you have to say rather than waiting for inspiration or opportunity.

Discipline and strategy are not really incompatible. At their best, they work hand in hand with natural neurological processes to create routines that allow us to make good choices quickly. At their best, they allow us to balance strength with flexibility. At their best, they allow us to marry individual insight with collective wisdom. At their best, they work together.

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