How to be Strategic in an Uncertain World: Four Tips from Harvard Business Review’s Blog

02.01.2013 | Heather Campbell

Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada and author of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, recently posted a piece, “Placing Strategic Bets in the Face of Uncertainty,” on Harvard Business Review’s blog network that offered helpful advice on how to think strategically.

In the business of PR, and in life in general, you are constantly coming upon opportunities to strategize your next move(s), whether for your company’s five year plan or your own career and personal goals. However, as Martin points out, the concept of strategy can be a little deceiving—after all, you can’t effectively chart out the future simply by taking the time to craft a formal strategy. What, then, is the role of strategizing? How can you adjust your perception of strategy to work within our “uncertain world”?

The post addresses these questions by helping to define strategy, outline how it can be effectively used and establish its value. Below are four overarching tips Martin gives:

1.)    Understand that there are no guarantees

As Martin states, a common misconception is that strategy is about “turning uncertainty into certainty.” This is not the case, however. The world is an uncertain place, and “no choice made today can make future uncertainty go away.”

2.)    Define strategy

With no guarantees, the purpose of strategy is to deal productively “with life’s inevitable uncertainty.” Rather than thinking a strategy can prepare you for anything, think of a strategy as an outline that will help you make good decisions as you move forward, and react to various issues as they arise. Strategy, as Martin puts it, “means making the best possible choices you can make today and then being responsive when the bets do or do not come in as hoped.”

3.)    Prepare to be flexible

Be prepared to make revisions to your strategy as things come up. Strategy should be flexible and responsive to changes in outcomes and environment. For example, if you’re starting a company, and you write out a business plan for the next 12 months, something might come up in the first few months that causes a delay—issues in production, for example. Be comfortable with editing your strategy to overcome such obstacles.

4.)    Appreciate the value of strategy

After emphasizing the fluidity necessary for comprehensive strategy, you might be pondering what the value of strategy really is. While you shouldn’t expect strategy to eliminate uncertainty, outlining a formalized strategy is an excellent tool to understand what areas of your business/ life are rapidly changing, and help you understand how to improve upon them. In the example above, for instance, if you write a 12-month business strategy and then are having problems with production, you now can improve upon tactics to address production issues and effectively learn from your experience.


Martin does an excellent job of bridging the gap between an idealistic business practice and reality. Next time you’re frustrated by an unanticipated change that is going to throw off a business plan or strategy you are executing, be mindful of Martin’s tips. Setbacks to a strategy help it serve its purpose.

Have you ever experienced a setback that helped you better implement an overall business plan or strategy in the long run?

For more on strategy from Communiqué  PR, see:

How to evolve pitching strategies in response to “Page-view Journalism”

When Should a Start-up Business Hire a PR Firm?

The Power of Mission & Vision Statements


For more on Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network from Roger Martin, see:

Strategy and the Uncertainty Excuse

How To Make Companies Think Long-Term

CEOs Must Model the Behavior for Creating Societal Value

You Can’t Analyze Your Way to Growth





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