Tactical Obsession – Strategic Incompetence

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“Tactical obsession is a confession of strategic incompetence.”

– Waverly C. Young, conceptual editor

“Tactical obsession” is a term used by military reformers to describe the attitude of a senior officer who cannot think strategically and tries to compensate by focusing on tactic details or applying tactical principles to strategic matters.

At the risk of being accused of argumentum ad Nazium: a classic anecdote tells of Adolf Hitler obsessing over railroad gauges and ammunition calibers while disastrously mismanaging a World War. This may be an extreme example, but the dynamic is clear. Incapable of true strategic thinking, a tactical thinker does the only thing he or she is able to do: think tactically.

In an intellectually upside-down organization, where the strategic thinkers (or “idea persons”) have been usurped by tactical thinkers (or “people persons”), a tactically obsessed executive is likely insulated from strategic advice by a thick layer of other tactical thinkers who have all been promoted to position via social dynamics rather than by merit.

Such an upside-down organization may stumble forward on its momentum for a while, especially if there is no lively competition threatening its survival, but it cannot stand indefinitely. The weight of dysmanagement will inevitably lead to organizational crisis.


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