Once upon a time I was a vice president at a small consulting firm called Creative Strategies. That was in the early 1980s–and it still exists today, due mostly to the hard work and intelligence of Tim Bajarin, who took it over after I left. One thing that struck me as I worked there is that strategy is a hard service to sell. Maybe I’m just a cockeyed optimist, but most people, it seems to me, have a pretty good instinct on strategy.

1. Strengths and Weaknesses

Strategy is about focusing on strengths. It’s about managing resources. It’s about working around the side to minimize the impact of weaknesses. And one of the hardest parts of strategy is having the discipline to say no. Focus on what’s most important.

2. The Key to Failure

My favorite quote on strategy:

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

3. About Consistency

Better a mediocre strategy well-implemented over a longer period of time than a series of brilliant strategies each implemented over a short term, contradicting each other.

4. When to Stay the Course and When to Change It

And then there’s that old country song, The Gambler, that makes life into a card game, in which the secret is knowing when to hold them and when to fold them. With strategy, that comes up a lot. When things aren’t going right, do we abandon the strategy? Or do we stick to it longer because it needs more time?

There’s no simple rule for this. That’s why people run strategies, not algorithms. But it helps to look hard at whether the strategy has been well-implemented (hint: that’s why I like business planning) and whether assumptions have changed.

5. In a Nutshell

A good friend and client, Hector Saldana, who had a brilliant career with Apple Computer from 1982 to 1994, once said to me: “Management is nothing more or less than knowing when and how to say no.” So is strategy.

(Photo credit: Worktyo Pawel/Shutterstock)

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.