Strategy is compression

Strategy is the practice of intentionally improving one’s world-model and acting in the world according to the dictates of the model.

A world model is a mental map of the world. It includes a representation of the way things currently are, a representation of the ends that would be good to get to, and a representation of the available means for getting from here to there. 

Human action is always mediated by a world model. Even when we’re acting ‘on intuition’ and not thinking explicitly about our map of the world, the brain is maintaining a model and evaluating possible actions within it. 

Sometimes our world-models are very robust and accurate. Sometimes they are sketchy. We can think of a “good” world-model as similar to a good compression: it drops the information that won’t turn out to matter, and focuses attention on the small bits of information that will matter. 

The better our world models, the more effective our actions will be at attaining the ends they’re designed for. 

Being strategic and acting on intuition are different, but they’re not opposites. To be strategic is to invest time and energy into improving your world-model. It happens ‘offline’. It’s preparatory. It’s done in moments of quiet reflection and abstract conversation. To act on intuition is to trust the ideas and feelings generated that your nervous system generates on the basis of your world-model.

To be successful, we want both: we want reflective planning time in which we strengthen our world-models, and we want live action time in which we go forward with the best mental models we have at the time. This difference — between investing to improve one’s model and going out and acting in the world — explains why Eisenhower’s famous quote resonates with us: plans are useless, but planning is essential.