• United States



Tactics versus strategy

Dec 12, 20113 mins
IT LeadershipIT StrategySecurity

Good strategy requires tactical execution. New tactics open new strategic possibilities.

Don’t you have any outside interests that teach you lessons applicable to security? Of course you do. Mine is chess. So it’s time for my quasi-annual chess column.

In my May Editor’s Letter, I sideswiped the topic of strategy and tactics. The difference—and balance—between strategy and tactics is very important in chess, which, like security, is a competitive endeavor. You’re fighting an adversary who tries to outthink you.

Here’s one definition of the difference between strategy and tactics:

Strategy is deciding what you need to do; tactics are the specific steps you take to do it.

I agree that they are two distinct things, but they are also inextricably intertwined.

It’s very hard to create a meaningful strategy if you have no tactical ability. In chess, many decent strategic players (especially older ones like myself) lose to strategically inferior tactical wizards (often young kids).

“Clearly I would have won if I could have gotten my knight to that particular square,” says the old guy in the post-game discussion. And the kid replies, “Um, yeah, but you couldn’t.” The specific tactics of the position prevented the execution of the strategy. So it was a bad strategy.

On the other hand, when a young tactician plays a Grandmaster, the kid’s tactical prowess frequently never has any impact on the game at all. The kid spends all his time allotment calculating very specific tactical sequences—”I go here, he can go there, then I can take his knight,” and so on.

But the Grandmaster replies, “That may be, but your position was already lost after you traded your bishop nine moves ago.”

The Grandmaster’s strategic approach is so much stronger that he knows his position will win without having to calculate his moves, except at a few critical points.

So our December print issue of CSO is brimming with all kinds of ideas, almost all stolen (as is our custom) from CSOs, CISOs and other security leaders. (If you don’t get the magazine, you can download a shorter version in 68 Great Ideas for Running a Security Department— CSO Insider registration required.)

Some of the ideas are tactics, and some are strategies. Some cover the minute details of your job; some suggest that you take a step back and adjust your big-picture goals.

The end of the year is traditionally a great time to pause and reflect. The strategic ideas presented in this issue will help you do just that.

But don’t ignore the tactics.

You’ll need both to win the game.