Video Update: Strategy vs. Tactics

I recorded this short video while on vacation at the Oregon coast a couple weeks ago. It’s all about strategy vs. tactics — and why changing the world is more important than which email program you use.

If you can’t watch the video, here’s a summary —

Every day I talk with people about building something. Building a blog, a business, an empire, whatever. I’ve noticed that most of the questions I hear are all about logistics and tactical decisions: which shopping cart? Should I use WordPress? How do you host the images? And so on.

I’m happy to talk about anything related to the logistics; that’s how we all learn. You can ask me anything and I’ll tell you how it works for me. But… the thing is, none of that stuff really matters.

Changing the world is more important than having a tricked-out website. You can have the best website in the world, but if you don’t have a clear vision for what you want to do with it, no one will care. You can have a super-optimized business model, but if no one wants to buy what you’re selling, you don’t have a business.

Most important: You can learn all about tactics as you go along, but you have to have a clear strategy from the start.

After you have a clear strategy, then you can go back to some of the tactics. Then you can figure out what you’re doing and how to make it better, and you’ll see more of an impact. But starting with the tactics is almost always a mistake.

Bonus note (not from the video): when you start to succeed in getting your message out, a number of people will usually try to emulate your success. The interesting thing is that they tend to copy the tactics but not the strategy. Too bad for them, because they’ll only see a fraction of your success. This is another reason why you don’t need to worry much about competition.

In short, it’s like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

Do you know where you’re going?

Here’s wishing you an amazing and ass-kicking week.


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  • Sandi says:

    I think of it as – know where you’re going and then you can enjoy the journey whether your ride is by train, plane, automobile, motorcycle, bicycle, or your feet – you can choose according to the terrain.

  • Sheila the Wonderbink says:

    That was one thing I rather liked about your Unconventional Guide to Art and Money–instead of having One Specific Way To Go About It, it was more along the line of “here are some things to try, here’s a list of resources, here are the advantages and disadvantages of each, pick what works best for you.”

    Everybody is built a little bit differently, so there’s really no such thing as a one-size-fits-all business model. What works for an introvert might be a huge strain on an extrovert (and vice versa!) It becomes easier to figure out what will work best for you when you quit trying to be somebody you aren’t and get a feel for who you really are. Then you can more easily discard What Won’t Work For You and move on to what will.

  • Melissa says:

    Well said. I’ve seen several good projects grind to a halt in my short career because everyone involved got caught up in the tactics when we didn’t even know what we were building.

  • Betsy Talbot says:

    Love the “learn as you go” mantra. We get so worried about details sometimes that we forget the big picture. And if you keep working on the big picture, the solutions for the details usually present themselves.

  • Benny says:

    Well said Chris – the message in your video reminded me little of the Ted talk recently put up by Simon Sinek about focusing on the “Why” rather than the “What” of any business model.

    In getting bombarded with so many different approaches for my own projects, I am definitely seeing that having a passionate mission and being focused on the “why” more than anything else has brought me way further than getting every aspect of the plan working perfectly. As you say, you can come back to these to tweak them later if you need, but if you aren’t heading in a particular direction then you aren’t going anywhere really.

    Thanks again – don’t comment much, but appreciate much 😀

  • Tim says:

    If you don’t know where you’re going, then the road you’re taking shouldn’t worry you, and you should just keep on it until you find a map in the dirt on the side of the road.

    Not knowing is very useful if taken in the right light.

  • Matt Ray says:

    I agree with your post, Chris. Logistics isn’t as important as message and vision. However, I believe that something needs to be said about aesthetics. When one goes to your site, one instantly knows that they’re dealing with a professional and everything is aesthetically appealing. So in my opinion, more money/time needs to be spent on making sure your site looks good than on how it works. Message then presentation then logistics/technical.

    Thanks again for the great posts.


  • Devin says:

    Nice video Chris,

    I think you hit the nail on my head with this one. Truthfully, I probably just need to sit down and write a mission statement and put every idea I can think of in it and then whittle it down into something exact. My problem is that there are so many ideas and too many plates to spin that keeps me from seeing the forest through the trees. As always, I am still plugging away.

  • linda esposito says:

    Yes!! I’m going to strategize and think abstractly (as opposed to concretely and rigidly) on how to share the most helpful tips to increase mental wellness, and decrease anxiety and depression, so that adults do not negatively impact children’s lives.

    Thanks for the video–nice close-up!

  • Heather says:

    Light bulb moment! That was well said, much needed, and very much appreciated!

  • Raam Dev says:

    Hey Chris! Fantastic message, and perfect timing for me. I just finished writing a post about my vision after realizing that not having one in writing was holding me back.

    If we find ourselves focusing on tactics when we have no clear idea what our vision is, we should take that as an indication that we’re avoiding the tough but extremely necessary task of looking inward and deciding what we truly want. It’s like putting the pin down on the map to choose our destination instead of sitting down counting how many pins we have and figuring out which color we want to use.

    The tactics are easy. They’re tangible, clear problems that we can get answers to. A vision is something that needs to come from within us — it needs to be genuine and come from the heart. Without that vision — without putting that pin on the map — all the tactics in the world won’t get us anywhere. We may as well play the lottery!

  • Anne-Marie says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Now that I know what is my strategy, what I want to offer to the world, I just seem to attract people who needs me to help them change their world. I just need now to decide what way or tactics I want to use and up to where I want to go.

  • Henny says:

    Great ideas, as always. Now why did you use Viddler instead of Vimeo? 😀

  • Chris says:

    Thanks! Vimeo doesn’t allow any commercial use – and since some of my projects are commercial, I need to stick with Viddler.

  • Tory says:

    Intention is everything. When we know the why/where, the rest really can fall into place with a maximum of pleasure and excitement and a minimum of confusion and loss. Great post, Chris!

  • dezy walls says:

    So, what’s the most important thing in Showbiz? … Timing!! Your article hit my inbox as I was beginning to write about ‘creative beings’ who first ‘play’ the piano and only then decide which notes to use … it was like I’d asked you for imput. Thank you

  • Melissa Dinwiddie says:

    Great post and video, Chris, and absolutely spot on. It reminds me of how people learning a new skill will frequently obsess over the tools their heroes use, as if playing *that* brand of guitar, or painting with *that* brand of paintbrush, or wearing *that* brand of basketball shoes, or using *that* WordPress theme is what will launch them into greatness.

    The reality is more mundane: figure out what you want, and DO the things you need to do to get there. *Play* your guitar, or *paint*, or *play* basketball, or *write*, or whatever, as much as you possibly can. Yes, good tools are important, but there’s nothing that replaces the hard work of just *doing* the thing you want to excel at.

    That goes for changing the world, too. 🙂

  • Leah says:

    Hi Chris,
    I think that you are right on with this. I find that being clear and connected to your vision for what you want to create is essential! The details always fall into place once you have this down. I will also point out the importance of referring back to your vision often, especially if you are feeling lost. Doing this will get you right back on track.
    You Rock!

  • Katana Barnett says:

    How timely!!!!

    This post gives me some clarity into what I’m writing about- I’ve been writing about How To do things lately (my last post being about how to build a website from scratch, because so many of my creative, awesome friends are so lost in this department)

    However, after reading this post, I am going to be cognizant of the Important stuff- so if I’m writing How, I’ll be sure to include the “WHY”

    …. answer, being, as you say, to Change The World.

    I love it!

  • Mike Carlson says:

    Right on Chris! This is exactly where I went WRONG in the past. I spend days, weeks, months working on the infrastructure, and never really getting a message out there in any kind of meaningful way.
    My new model is as you described. I am focusing on the message and the affects I want to have. If I am consistent with that, then, as you pointed out, I can adjust my tools, networking or what have you, as I go along.
    I think several motivational guru’s have said it correctly “you don’t have to get it right, you just have to get going”.

  • Etsuko says:


    Great message – I think about what’s been troubling me these days and I realize that it’s all about tactics (which email marketing tool I should use, for example). I should step back and look at the bigger picture. In my case it might as well be not doing any of that at all for now….we’ll see.


  • Eric Normand says:

    This is just what I’ve been thinking about recently: why am I blogging? What am I trying to achieve? What principles do I adhere to?

    So, thanks for reiterating and confirming this approach for me.

  • Simon Sinek says:

    Amen. We can’t help ourselves. We focus on tactics because they are tangible: easy to see and easy to measure. We pay lip service to strategy because it is about planning (which so many of us hate to do, especially when we’re excited or in a now-now-now state of mind). We nearly always completely ignore the cause – the reason WHY we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place.

    Every single company, organization, even our own careers, function on three levels- What we do (tactics), How we do it (strategy) & Why we do it (purpose, cause or belief that explains the reason the organization exists in the first place). Because the WHY is the most philosophical component, the hardest to measure and exists in the part of the brain that controls behavior but not language, we just ignore it. We don’t even have a word for it in business (vs. strategy and tactics).

    Thank you Chris for reminding us to focus on our purpose before we even think about tactics.

  • Jeannine Grafton says:

    What a timely and inspiring post, and so glad to see you visited Astoria, our fantastic and creative community here on the north coast. I’ve been getting your email newsletter for several months and have found that often there’s an inspirational nugget that helps me to review, refine and clarify. Now I have linked to you from Facebook and hope other business owners in our area will discover you.
    Thank you so much!

  • Meg says:

    Ah, this happens all the time in racing…. Instead of just getting out there and getting the experience actually needed to get better, people will make up excuses as to why they can’t until they get such-and-such part or upgrade this or that. (Yeah, that was me for a bit, ashamed to say. I thought racing a stock car wasn’t cool…. Though I *did* need to replace an entirely blown suspension, so it wasn’t just made up. :P)

  • Norma Vela says:

    I attended a Writers’ Guild seminar in 1984 which was only open to members of the WGA (they had to have sold a script to be a member – so these were ‘experienced’ writers, with some knowledge, it was hoped). The major speaker was an extraordinary writer, Harlan Ellison, and the audience could have asked him any of a billion thought-provoking questions. What did they ask? “Mr. Ellison, do you write longhand or on a typewriter?” “Do you use a pencil and yellow pad or a pen and something else?” I was appalled. (I asked him how someone could know if they had talent…) But just chiming in that Chris hit it on the head, and that this isn’t an issue that began with the internet and computer programs.

  • Robbie Mackay says:

    Good point.
    As a web developer I’m a professional in the tactics.. but my work makes the most difference when i can contribute to the strategy too.

    This is a problem I’ve hit when thinking about starting a business … i’ve got lots of technical skills, but I’m still struggling with the business idea and goal yet.

  • Olivier Wagner says:

    You know, the reason why you get a lot of questions regarding tactics may be that people know what their strategy is but they may be unsure of the tactics to get there.

    So, hopefully, the lack of questions is more due to the fact that they know their stategy (as opposed to the idea that they would be oblivious to the need of having a strategy)

  • April says:

    Exactly. I have a friend who has a business that she wanted to start (services). She has a website, business cards, training, business licenses and even clientele…and within a matter of 2-3 months, she ditched it all for a 9-5! I was impressed that she was “buying” all of this “stuff”. I thought, “You go girl!” But what you spoke about in this post is exactly why people fail. They have “stuff” but no vision. I liken it to having this beautiful home with all of the furniture outside. Instead of going inside to visualize and plan what you want it to look like, you stand out in the yard (for days, weeks, months, years) mulling over whether the couch is brown or burnt orange….MAKE THE HOUSE A HOME ALREADY!

    All I have is a free blog. I have jumped shipped a few times concerned about the trinkets, colors, readership, nothing to sell right that moment, etc,.. I ditched all that and started focusing on my mission…to advise, entertain, and inspire. All I have is my blog. 🙂

  • Wyman says:

    Thank you Olivier Wagner. I have bought so many programs on strategies but light on the technical side. You are left with out sourcing or finding a Geek partner.

    Robbie Mackay, maybe we can get together.

  • Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things says:

    Good call Chris. Sometimes we worry about the details and logistics of a mission instead of focusing on the vision. I see so many people worry about executing perfectly but they really have no greater goal/scheme that the actions result in. Worry about the vision first & then focus on tactics.

  • Paul Dunn says:

    As Benny says, Chris, Simon Sinek is on a similar path — you can check out his brilliant TEDx talk here. 18 minutes of great stuff. Just started reading his book ‘Start with Why’. Also Kotler’s new Marketing 3.0 book ‘from Products — to Customers — to Human Spirit’ has some great examples of Vision/Mission differentiation too.

  • Vincent Leleux says:

    Very true.

    It makes me wonder if I have a vision, although I quite know that I have one.
    But it seems not to be enough, I need to take action and believe in my vision. I believe in it but sometimes the doubt is more important and prevents me to take simple action.

    If I push things at the next level, I am eager to help people succeed in one way or another, and I want to help them get in contact or discover their vision and strategies. I realize then that I am in a certain lack of tools to actually help them

    Finally these 2 questions come to the same: if I was able to help me to be sure enough to take action, I could in the same time actually help people to do the same.

    I feel I am on the edge to discover by myself the means to answer these questions.

    I would appreciate any guidance about these questions.

    Could you help me, even just a little bit? And all the others too, who have the same questions and don’t dare to ask…

  • Vincent Leleux says:

    I have to add that I know quite well the answers to the tactics questions, but it doesn’t help without a clear vision and a strategy, which I still have to work on.

  • Hannah says:

    Your post made me question what clear strategy evolves from. I think it has to be informed by the following:

    1. feeling passionately excited-about, identified-with, and/or in-love-with something
    2. observing how that emotion affects your choices
    3. seeing how your emotion is reflected back to you by others
    and 4. recognizing your gifts – that serve, impact, or inspire others

    p.s. these gifts can go unrecognized until some kind of dramatic life experience happens that cause you to question what’s *really* important in life.

    Maybe that’s your next post topic: where strategy needs to come from. I’m very curious to hear what you have to say, since I know your enthusiasm for travel is backed by (among other things) a passionate desire to improve basic living conditions for people across the globe.

  • Thomas Nelson says:

    This is one of the most prescient posts I’ve seen. And guess what folks, we train you to make this mistake, especially in business schools. We give you class after class of tactic based learning, then one ‘strategy’ capstone course (the final course you take) that is designed to move your focus to the big picture. I’m not complaining, the right place for a new business graduate to focus IN HIS JOB is on tactics. But in your life, not so much. Having a strategy from the beginning reminds me of the old (and still completely relevant) chestnut from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits: “Begin with the end in mind.” And at the risk of being entirely cliche, if you’re going to begin something anyway “well begun is half done….”

    Take care world changers!!!!
    Thomas E. Nelson

  • Annie Stith (Gr8fulAnnie) says:

    Hey, Chris!

    Thanks for the summary. I’m one of those who unfortunately assumed my BlackBerry would have Adobe Flash, Bad assumption.

    Love your message. As one of your “Empresses-in-Training,” I appreciate the consistency in your lessons and posts.

    I’ve known my Mission for a long time, and am now setting up a website to help me achieve it. It’s the clarity of and passion in that Mission that’s leading me. The details can be challenging, but they can be learned. One can’t learn a Mission from a book — or a training program. One can only find it.


  • Cynthia Schuerr says:

    I agree 100% with you, Chris. While both are important, you must focus on the heart of what it is your trying to do, say or create, then put your head into it.

    Warm Wishes!

  • Barrie Davenport says:

    Yes, a vision is your compass. If your vision includes serving and contribution, you are 90% there. Always ask, “How can I serve the people who read my blog?” “How can I contribute to the world?”

    The rest is just logistics, as you say.

    Thank you for sharing your vision with us!

  • My name says:

    This is one of the most prescient posts I’ve seen. And guess what folks, we train you to make this mistake, especially in business schools. We give you class after class of tactic based learning, then one ’strategy’ capstone course (the final course you take) that is designed to move your focus to the big picture. I’m not complaining, the right place for a new business graduate to focus IN HIS JOB is on tactics. But in your life, not so much. Having a strategy from the beginning reminds me of the old (and still completely relevant) chestnut from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits: “Begin with the end in mind.” And at the risk of being entirely cliche, if you’re going to begin something anyway “well begun is half done….”

  • Pamela Miles says:

    As someone who has a clear vision and strategy, it would be so helpful to me to have a respected mentor lead with the logistics and vet the many choices of tactics.

  • Linda Gabriel says:

    Great post Chris. Trying to come up with a strategy that is meant to excite the imagination of others is harder to do without the feedback of, well… others! This is where I feel so-called Mastermind groups can really be helpful. Other people can often see what we are about more easily than we can see in ourselves. Even if they don’t, when they are off the point, we then can get clearer by saying, “No that’s not it, it’s more like THIS.”

  • Sue Anne Reed says:

    Chris, Great post and video. I think it’s important to not only know your strategy and where you’re going, but also to have signposts along the way to mark if you’re actually on the right path. When setting up your strategy, set 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, etc. goals and then give yourself the time to re-evaluate the strategy and the tactics to make sure that you’re accomplishing those goals.

  • Stella Stopfer says:

    Great point. When you share your story, your “way of changing the world” with others, even if you make some mistakes along the way, people will relate to you and to what you’re doing more easily as opposed to trying to be perfect and getting too involved with the technical side of it. In the end, that’s how we inspire each other.

  • Danny says:

    Wow! “I could’ve had a V8!” I am passionate about mentoring and I hope to create a social media business which will allow me to be a better mentor. This post hits the mark for me and I thank you! I’m been stuck in my head and sitting on my a** stressing the tactical.
    It’s on!

  • Phil Richards says:

    A lovely reminder thanks Chris. I love the thought that people tend to copy tactics rather than strategy. It seems tactics are what are visible to the “outside”, strategy is what you really have ownership of as the small business entrepreneur, and it is a big part of what makes your business stand out from the rest. Hope your having a wonderful holiday.

  • Darragh Kelly says:

    I dont think it is a case of one or the other more so puting your táctics in context. Imho your táctics are and should be an integreated part of your stradtegy, they answer the question “How you are going to achieve your objectives”. They need to be included in your Strategy as you need also answer the question “with what resourses”. Thats to say, if you dont how you wont be able to provision.

    I think the problem lays in our understanding of strategy. For the same people hold on tightly to taticts or process as they aré tangible. First you have to be able to explain to yourself clearly what a Strategy is and define your own, point by point.

    Personally i didnt understand what a Strategy was up untill a year a go although i was supposibly executing various.

  • Richard says:

    “Mistakes! I don’t want to make a mistake!” I think that’s the biggest obstacle that I face every day. But each time I take a risk, publish a new blog post, upload my first podcast (mistakes and all – YIKES!), I find it gets a little easier. I like what Larry Shallenberger has to say:

    “…God adopts as many urchins as are willing and makes them his prized children. He give us gifts– freedom, passions, dreams, and talents– and asks us to play. And maybe we’d rather we told what to do because we’re just not used to having a spiritual parent like this.”

    Tactics are like, “tell me what to do.” Strategies are like, “let’s go out and play.”

  • Steven says:

    Chris – I’ve found that tactics often result in short term gains (having an item to sell that no one else has – at the moment) and the strategy part is how to keep one step ahead of the people who see your tactics and are willing to cut your throat on price to get some of the action. Of course, that results in NOBODY making any money. I once knew a guy who was so good at staying out in front of other people that he always had a nice income. He changed what he was selling first and left the rest of the imitators to fight it out over the scraps. I often think about how he did business and I try to emulate his ‘strategy’ for finding the newest and hottest, most in-demand merchandise. I think this lines up nicely with what you are saying in this post.

  • Tanya Monteiro says:

    Oh so what I needed to be reminded of today! Just sat down to go through old mails and so appreciate your reminder! Deep appreciations what you do and share!

  • Jeff Tong says:

    Strategy triumphs over tactics, great tip!

  • Pat Chiappa says:

    My guess is that we (collectively) tend to be action oriented, doer’s, people who get stuff done – so when we are building a website, learning WordPress, getting answers to those tactical questions – it make us feel like we’re doing something.

    Thinking and planning just don’t feel the same. It’s harder to have a checklist of the big picture stuff, like sitting down and writing a business or marketing plan. Those things are more challenging to complete and cross off our to-do lists.

    In the end maybe we are just hardwired to look for the fastest/shortest way to get from point A to point B.

  • ian anderson says:

    Thanks Chris,
    That was very helpful!

    Having moved to Norway and finding that my online earnings don’t go very far compared to New Zealand, my strategy needs a serious makeover!

    Of course the in-laws don’t understand why I don’t want a ‘proper’ job and work till I am 70………….like they did.

    Enjoy Africa Chris!
    Stay well

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