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April 03 , 2009

Categorical Confusion? The Strategic Implications of Recognizing Challenges Either as Irregular or Traditional


Strategic concepts and the theories they encourage and enable are discretionary intellectual constructions. Strategic concepts are not dictated to us; rather, we choose them and decide how they can serve as building blocks for the edifice of theory we prefer. When strategic theory is confusing, misleading, and not fit for its practical purposes of education and even advice, then it is akin to bad medicine that we take in the mistaken belief that it will do us good. Unfortunately, it is necessary to alert Americans to the inadvertent self-harm they are causing themselves by the poor ways in which they choose to conceptualize strategic behavior.

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A quadripartite argument serves to summarize both what is causing confusion, and how much of the damage can be undone and prevented from recurring. First, it is an error amply demonstrated by historical evidence to divide challenges, threats, war, and warfare into two broad, but exclusive categories — irregular and traditional (regular, conventional). The problems with this binary scheme are both logical and historical-empirical. Challenges and wars tend not to follow the optional purity of strictly irregular or traditional characteristics.

Second, it is not a notable advance to add a third arguably exclusive category, hybrid, to the now longstanding two. The hybrid concept is useful in that it alerts people to the phenomena of strategic occurrences and episodes that have mixed-species parentage, but on reflection this is a rather simple recognition of what has been a familiar feature of strategic history universally and forever. Strategic big-game hunters who sally forth boldly in search of hybrid beasts of war can be certain to find them. But having found them, the most classic of strategists' questions begs in vain for a useful answer. The question is "so what?" while the answer does not appear to be very useful.

Third, by analogy with systems analysis in contrast with operations research, the wrong question inexorably invites answers that are not fit for the real purpose of theory. The right question is not, "How should we categorize the wide variety of strategic phenomena that may be challenges and threats?" Instead, the question ought to be, "Should we categorize strategic challenges at all?" The most persuasive answer is that we should not conceptually categorize challenges and threats beyond their generic identification as menaces (and some opportunities). The general theory of strategy provides the high-level conceptual guidance that we need in order to tailor our strategic behavior to the specific case at issue.

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Date release: March 13, 2013

Nonfiction, History
Categorical, Confusion?, Strategic, Implications, Recognizing, Challenges, Either, Irregular, Traditional, Progressive, Management, download, Amazon Kindle, Adobe DRM, DOCX, Torrent

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