The Strategist as Ronin
What to do when you're in the wilderness
In feudal Japan, from the late 12th to the early 19th century, a "ronin" was a samurai without a master. The term translates to "drifter" or "wanderer," a condition that befell any samurai whose master died or revoked favor.
The clothes are different, but ronin still exist today.
They are one of the two kinds of strategist.
The two kinds are: those with direct, routine access to decision-makers, and those without that same high-quality access.
And when we're being brutally honest, for most strategists, the latter definition is more common and accurate. Most strategists spend the bulk of their careers in their field without direct access to a decision-maker.
Think through the mental list of well-regarded strategists out there. In the field of American geopolitics, for example: Kissinger, Scowcroft, and (Andy) Marshall. Were they always close to the levers of power? No, of course not. They had certain periods of elevated privilege to give advice...and then there were far longer dry spells where the powerful wouldn't pick up the phone if they paid someone off.
No matter the field of endeavor - business, politics, sport - all seem to mimic the military strategist's curse in this regard. Military strategists' prepare their whole careers for an infrequent state of affairs (war). And so they have to learn to ply their trade without frequent feedback. To self-instruct for a scenario that may never come about, in such a way as to condition one for future success when it does. It's like a surgeon that knows they will have to perform surgery someday, but not knowing when, with what tools, or on what part of the body (or even if the patient will be human – maybe it might be a dog, or goat, or giraffe, if we’re getting a little out there).
The plight of the military strategist is doubly difficult. First, you don't know if you'll ever get to do what you've prepared yourself for. You never know if a war will come. Second, you cannot know if you'll be in a position to leverage those skills. It may be that when war comes, you're too young to have the kind of position that enables your ideas to be heard. Or, you may be recently retired just as your skills might be most needed. (A scenario I’m soon to face.)
The same applies to strategists of other stripes. It's tragic, really, to think we may all be preparing for something that will never come (which I hope doesn't leave us even a little like the cultists who keep saying the world will be over in X days).