The One Hour Strategist

An entire strategic education in 300 words

I once asked whether one could “educate a strategist in an hour,” a question I now consider silly.

Of course we can.

The basics as they pertain to military strategy are easy enough. (Same goes for strategy in other endeavors, though this exercise is specific to military strategy.) There are a few terms that form the backbone of most practitioner education. We can learn these key terms to leverage the Pareto Principle - the idea that 80 percent of output comes from 20 percent of input. In this case, I chose 50 terms to define.

The goal is to whittle each key term down to an essential kernel. In this case, I worked each key term down to six-word definitions/descriptions. (Why six words? I was inspired by the legend of Ernest Hemingway supposedly being challenged to a six-word story, to which he is alleged to have replied: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) 

By mastering a few key terms one can engage the world with some strategic competence. As someone who would know, understand, and be able to apply strategic concepts to analyze and appraise modern conflict. 

But here’s the catch. These terms are the building blocks, not the Taj Mahal. These are the raw materials, not the finished product. So memorizing 300 words in 60 minutes may get someone to competency we associate with a strategist, but no farther. 

Because no amount of education is sufficient to make a strategist successful. Strategists are like painters and piano players in this way - you can make ‘em read “how to do” all you want, but there’s no substitute for just going out and doing the thing.

So, yes, absolutely, of course you can educate a strategist in an hour. But you can never educate a strategist to be successful - even with all the time in the world - because beyond a certain point, the only education that matters is self-education. 

Below are three versions of the original 300-word document from 2014. Please disregard the errors, out-of-date references (like “War Council,” an effort of mine from around then that later grew into the Modern War Institute), and use these documents as you see fit to grow into a better (hopefully successful!) strategist in your own right. 

300-word “strategic education,” in traditional font.

Outtakes and draft document, 300-word “strategic education.”

Finally, a year or so after I published the above documents, I received an email from an allied (NATO) military officer working with Afghan officer candidates, who asked to translate the 300-word document into Dari for the Afghans. After he’d finished, and implemented it into the school, he sent me this copy.

*Editor’s Note: What do you think? Really, what do you think? Comments and critiques are welcome here. If you enjoyed this, please flick it on to anyone you think might find it of interest. Your word-of-mouth mention matters!

All the very best & see you next week, Matt