Unraveling the Maze of Strategic Decisions and Fundamentals Before Answering ‘What is Strategy?’


In the dynamic landscape of business, strategic decisions can often be the difference between success and failure. From choosing the right market positioning to betting on emerging technologies, organizations must navigate a multitude of challenges and opportunities to thrive in competitive environments. While the landscape of business is constantly evolving, organizations are faced with a myriad of strategic decisions that shape their trajectory and define their success.

This article explores two strategic directions through real-world examples and factors contributing to their outcomes. Through case studies and analysis, I aim to uncover the nuances of strategic decision-making and provide insights into how organizations can effectively navigate these divergent paths and faceoffs in technological advancements. From industry giants to emerging startups, understanding these strategic dynamics is essential for charting a course toward sustainable growth and competitive advantage.

From the analysis of multiple business cases from the mid-20th century to date, we see a pattern emerge into two common strategic directions: ‘Divergence of Paths’ and ‘Technological Showdowns’. These directions depict the different approaches to navigating the challenges and opportunities presented in the market.

The divergence of paths commonly takes shape when organizations make distinct choices that set them apart from competitors. It involves carving out unique positions, whether through product differentiation, market focus, or operational excellence. On the other hand, technological showdowns occur when competing organizations bet on different technologies or standards, each vying for dominance in the market. If we analyze the decisions made by some of the most notable brands like Apple, Microsoft, IBM in the computing world, Blockbuster, Netflix in the entertainment media, and Nokia, Blackberry, Apple in the mobile phone market, we see how their strategy led them to different outcomes.

Divergence of Paths:

When analyzing the strategies, decisions, and market positioning, we uncover some key factors that propelled one organization to success while the other faltered. And in some cases, by undertaking a different path, a whole new world of opportunity arises for an organization. Of course, it comes at an opportunity cost of something you have to give up. For instance, after the eruption of personal computing, IBM focused on providing enterprise solutions with open architecture and compatibility, Microsoft pursued a platform strategy, licensing its operating system to multiple hardware manufacturers, while Apple adopted a closed ecosystem approach, tightly integrating hardware and software. Apple’s product focus led to the development of highly successful products like the iPhone and iPad. Microsoft’s platform strategy allowed it to dominate the PC market and expand into other areas like cloud computing. IBM maintained a strong presence in the enterprise solutions market and is now exploring quantum supremacy but struggled in the personal computing and consumer electronics space.


“Divergence of Paths” concept refers to the idea that competing organizations may choose different strategies or directions to achieve their goals. A fairly common idea explored in strategic positioning, competitive advantage, and differentiation.

Divergence of Paths
Divergence of Paths

In a completely different industry, we see Netflix transitioning from a DVD rental-by-mail service to a digital streaming platform, whereas Blockbuster remained focused on its brick-and-mortar rental stores. One player honed in on the market externalities of high-speed internet connectivity and the emergence of cloud computing, whereas the other stuck to what’s working now. Netflix became the dominant force in the streaming industry, while Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy as its rental model became obsolete in the age of digital streaming.

Technological Showdowns:

In technological showdowns, organizations invest significant resources in developing and promoting their preferred technologies. This can involve innovations in products, services, or infrastructure that aim to disrupt existing market norms or establish new industry standards. When organizations bet on competing technologies with high stakes, it usually goes one way or the other – the realm of strategic decisions, technological competition, industry standards, and ecosystem support can determine the victor in the race for tech supremacy.

Nokia, once a dominant player in the mobile phone market, failed to keep up with the rapid evolution of smartphones. It stuck to its Symbian operating system for too long and underestimated the importance of touchscreens and app ecosystems. On the other hand, BlackBerry, being a dominant player in the smartphone market for business users, also failed to adapt quickly to changing consumer preferences and technology trends. It primarily focused on physical keyboards, neglecting the growing demand for touchscreen devices. Additionally, BlackBerry’s closed operating system and limited app ecosystem hindered its ability to compete with rivals like Apple and Android. As a result, its once-dominant position in the market eroded, and it struggled to maintain relevance among consumers.


“Technological Showdowns” encapsulates the notion of organizations competing over technological innovations or standards. This concept often surfaces in the context of technological disruption, innovation strategy, and leveraging industry dynamics.

Technological Showdowns
Technological Showdowns

Samsung and Apple, conversely, embraced the smartphone revolution early on. Samsung focused on offering a wide range of Android-based smartphones across different price points, while Apple concentrated on premium devices with its iOS ecosystem. For some time, Apple’s strategic focus on innovation, user experience, and ecosystem integration propelled it to become one of the most valuable companies in the world by 2018. Much of this success was attributed to the share of smartphone sales that Apple raked in from the iPhone. In the technology realm, tides change rather quickly; in April 2024, Samsung surpassed Apple once again to become the world’s biggest smartphone producer by number of shipments, briefly interrupted by Apple in 2023. The competition for market share between the two smartphone giants is on, a climate ideal for disruptive technology to emerge, inevitably leading to new contenders challenging the status quo.

Success in business is the result of strategic choices, and in either strategic direction, the pivotal role of market adoption, industry alliances, and customer preferences cannot be overstated in shaping the outcome of divergence of paths and technological showdowns. It’s also important to note that organizations employ a variety of strategies to fulfill their business vision, and divergence of paths and technological showdowns are not polar opposites. Instead, organizations can use both of these strategic approaches in tandem to achieve market and business goals. While divergence of paths emphasizes differentiation and unique positioning, technological showdowns focus on competing for dominance in the adoption of new technologies. By leveraging both strategies effectively, organizations can identify a ‘strategic niche‘ to navigate the complexities of the market landscape and secure competitive advantages that drive long-term success..

Where the Rubber Meets the Road – Strategic Direction hits the ground realities of Internal Competencies, Market Opportunities, and Externalities or External Factors

In both Divergence of Paths and Technological Showdowns, success or failure hinges on various factors that shape strategic direction. These factors encompass internal competencies, market opportunities, and externalities, each playing a pivotal role in determining outcomes.

Strategy Road Map
Strategy Road Map

Internal competencies refer to the organizational know-how, capabilities in leveraging technology to drive innovation, efficiency, and the competitiveness of its workforce in exploiting all resources at its disposal.

In Divergence of Paths direction, Apple’s internal competencies in hardware and operating system design, user experience, and ecosystem integration allowed it to successfully diverge from competitors like Microsoft and IBM and build a brand experience. Apple’s internal focus on user-friendly interfaces and seamless integration between its hardware and software has driven its success in the consumer market.

Internal Competencies: Organizational capabilities and expertise play a crucial role in shaping strategic direction and competitive advantage.

In Technological Showdowns, internal competencies may include research and development capabilities, technological expertise, and the agility to adapt to changing market dynamics. Nokia and Blackberry initially led the market with their strengths in cellular hardware manufacturing and security features, respectively. However, they faltered in adapting to the rise of touchscreen smartphones, losing ground to competitors like Samsung and Apple, which prioritized design innovation and ecosystem integration. Samsung’s internal competencies in smartphone manufacturing and product diversity positioned it as a formidable competitor of Apple’s iPhones. Samsung’s ability to produce a wide range of smartphones targeting various market segments has contributed to its market dominance.

Market opportunitiesrepresent external factors that organizations can leverage to their advantage. This includes identifying and capitalizing on emerging trends, unmet customer needs, or underserved market segments. For instance, in Divergence of Paths, a company may seize an opportunity to enter a new market niche or target a specific customer segment with unique preferences.

Apple’s focus on Premium Innovation has them pursue a strategy of targeting affluent consumers willing to pay a premium for cutting-edge technology and design. To further retain the consumers within the same ecosystem, Apple has built a seamless integration of hardware, software, and services, enhancing customer loyalty and retention through interconnected products like the iPhone, Mac, iPad, and Apple Watch. As a result of offering premium brand experience, Apple’s loyal customer base have allowed it to command premium pricing and maintain high profit margins, despite facing competition from lower-priced alternatives.

Market Opportunities: Identifying and capitalizing on emerging trends and unmet customer needs are essential for success in strategic endeavors.

In Technological Showdowns, market opportunities may involve being the first mover in adopting a new technology or capitalizing on shifts in consumer behavior towards digital solutions. Samsung has invested in innovation and adaptation, introducing new features and technologies like foldable smartphones and 5G connectivity to stay ahead of competitors and meet evolving consumer preferences. Samsung has focused on diversification and scale, offering a wide range of products across various price points and consumer segments.

Huawei, another formidable player in telecommunication hardware, has focused on leadership in emerging technologies, particularly in telecommunications infrastructure and 5G technology, capitalizing on the growing demand for high-speed connectivity and network infrastructure. Huawei has differentiated itself through competitive pricing and features, offering value-for-money smartphones with innovative features and specifications that appeal to budget-conscious consumers. This allowed Huawei to aggressively expand into new markets, particularly in Europe and Asia, building partnerships with telecommunications carriers and retailers to increase its market share and brand visibility.

Externalities and/or External Factors– Although both terms essentially refer to factors outside of the organization’s control that influence its strategic direction, ‘externalities’ may emphasize the unintended or indirect nature of these effects. The resultant of externalities from economics point of view, typically refer to the unintended consequences of economic activities that affect third parties who are not directly involved in the activity. In the context of business strategy, externalities can include factors such as regulatory changes, technological disruptions, competitive pressures, and market trends that influence the strategic decisions and performance of organizations.

Externalities: Regulatory changes, technological advancements, and competitive pressures significantly influence strategic decision-making and outcomes.

External factors‘ is a more general term encompassing any external influences on the organization. These factors can include economic conditions, political events, social trends, technological developments, and environmental factors that can impact the operations, plans, and performance of a business organization.


Let’s get to the Heart of what ‘Strategy’ really is!

Given certain parameters with the potential to affect change, Strategy is an idea that makes use of these parameters to bring about a desired outcome.

Yes, above is the very definition of what strategy is. To help let this definition sink in with all the other notions of what you thought strategy was, let’s dissect the definition down to its atomic structure.

Every human endeavor is constrained by limitations imposed by the environment in which it is undertaken. These limitations manifest as a realm of possibilities (physical, environmental, and situational), resources, rules and regulations within which individuals must operate. A subset of such limitations that have the capacity to affect change is defined as the parameters of the endeavor. A strategist must adeptly manipulate and leverage these identified parameters to achieve desired outcomes or goals.

A strategy, being an idea that manipulates parameters, can be good or bad, effective or ineffective, depending on how aptly it was identified and incorporated into practice. By understanding and effectively managing these parameters, a strategist can optimize the efforts and increase the chances of success despite the inherent limitations of the environment.

Strategic Maneuver on Parameters to affect change
Strategic Maneuver on Parameters to affect change

Strategy as a concept transcends the domain it’s being applied in, whether it’s warfare, commerce, or politics, and plays a pivotal role in shaping outcomes. Strategy involves orchestrating a series of actions based on a grounded idea and real insight, helping individuals and organizations achieve their overarching goals. Strategy is the cornerstone of military operations, as evidenced by Sun Tzu’s seminal work, ‘The Art of War.’ However, its influence extends far beyond the battlefield. Strategy is the driving force behind successful businesses, guiding them towards their objectives. It shapes political and diplomatic endeavors, helping nations navigate complex challenges. Even in sports, strategy plays a crucial role in maximizing performance. In essence, strategy is the linchpin of achieving one’s life’s purpose, guiding actions in diverse realms.

The environment in which strategy is employed dictates which set of parameters will come into play and the degree to which these parameters are manipulable, and to what extent they will drive change. When a country’s ‘military‘ is tasked with achieving specific political objectives or goals, strategic analysis to weigh all the parameters that contribute to or stifle success becomes a priority task. As Sun Tzu famously said, “Know your terrain.” This involves understanding not only the physical landscape but also the capabilities and intentions of one’s adversaries. Identifying and leveraging competitive advantages are crucial aspects of this strategic assessment of the specific business environment or ‘terrain’

Just as in warfare, understanding the landscape and the motivations of allies and adversaries alike is crucial in the realm of ‘politics and diplomacy‘. Here, strategy is fundamental to achieving national interests and diplomatic objectives. Sun Tzu’s admonition to “Know your enemy” applies here, as successful diplomats must anticipate the moves of their counterparts and negotiate from a position of strength. Moreover, strategic thinking in politics involves not just reacting to current events but also shaping them to align with long-term goals.

In sports, strategy involves holistic planning and execution to achieve victory. Coaches and athletes analyze strengths, weaknesses, and dynamics, studying opponents’ past performances and evaluating their own team’s capabilities to create a game plan. Sports strategy encompasses pre-game planning, in-game adjustments, and execution to outthink and outmaneuver the opponent for victory. It’s how Sun Tzu’s ‘Attack by Stratagem’ comes into play here, gaining an advantage over the enemy by employing deception, creating confusion, exploiting weaknesses, and adapting to changing conditions. Just as generals following Sun Tzu’s advice would adapt to changing battlefield conditions, similarly, a chess grandmaster would adjust strategy to changing game conditions, and a football coach would make real-time decisions based on the flow of the game, the scoreline, and the actions of their opponents. In essence, every competing force has to rethink its strategy, equipping it with better plans and tactics to exploit weaknesses or counter their opponents’ strategies.

Lastly, in ‘one’s life’s purpose’, strategy encompasses the grand design or master plan that guides individuals towards their ultimate goals and aspirations. It involves a deep understanding of oneself, including strengths, weaknesses, passions, and values, and leveraging this self-awareness to chart a path towards fulfillment and success. Strategy, in this sense, is not merely about planning and executing specific actions, but rather about making deliberate choices and aligning one’s actions with a broader vision for one’s life. It involves setting clear objectives, identifying potential obstacles, and determining the most effective ways to overcome them. Sun Tzu’s dictum to “Know yourself” applies here, as self-awareness is key to making informed decisions and pursuing one’s passions with purpose. Strategy in the context of life’s purpose is about creating a roadmap for personal growth, achievement, and ultimately, living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Parting thought: Strategy is not ‘Planning’.

While planning and strategy are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct approaches to achieving organizational goals.

Planning typically involves setting specific objectives, outlining steps to achieve them, and allocating resources accordingly. It focuses on short-term actions and tends to be more reactive, responding to immediate challenges and opportunities as they arise. Planning is essential for ensuring operational efficiency and effectiveness, but it lacks the process and capacity to canvas the bigger picture of changing circumstances or capitalize on emerging trends.

In contrast, strategy encompasses a broader, more long-term perspective. It involves defining a clear direction for the organization, identifying key priorities, and aligning resources and capabilities to achieve sustainable competitive advantage. Strategy emphasizes proactive decision-making and seeks to anticipate future trends and opportunities, rather than simply reacting to current conditions.