If you had asked me five years ago what you needed to succeed, I would have said knowledge. Knowledge, after all, is power. I would have told you that if you want to be the best you needed to study, to ask questions, to listen and basically make understanding that topic your life mission. But ain’t nobody got time for that. What I’ve learned, over the past few years, is that rather than being the penultimate bearer of all knowledge on a subject, the far easier and more likely method to success is through strategic thinking. And I learned this from my two toddlers. At the beach.

Taking two people whose total age adds up to less than 7 to the beach is a lot like putting your hand in a blender; it’s a terrible idea, it generally results in pure chaos and in the end, there’s a good chance that you’re not going to survive. But that was before we had a strategy. You mean a plan? No, I mean a strategy. Plans are silly. I don’t like plans. “But Mike… didn’t you write a book about business plans? Don’t you help people come up with plans to help run their business?” Well, sort of.

Plans are very long term things. When you make a plan, you’re making an assumption that there will be a large, almost infinite, number of things that will go perfectly so that your “plan” works. Imagine for a second the odds of being in a particular car accident. What are the chances that YOUR car and ANOTHER car will HAPPEN to occupy the same space at the same time? The chances of your plan working out exactly as you’ve planned are about the same. But strategies are much different.

Strategies don’t rely on the same perfection in the chain of events as plans. Strategies lay out how you’ll handle yourself, regardless of the situation, not HOW you’ll deal with every conceivable situation. When we started taking our kids to the beach, we would try to manage every moment. We would schedule as much as we could. We would plan and plan and plan. But now, we have a strategy. We give a few options, have the tools ready to deal with each possible outcome and then we roll with the punches.

Developing strategies is about figuring out what you want and constantly moving towards it. That’s very different from a plan. A plan states, “this is going to happen and I’m going to do this when that thing happens.” A strategy says, “here’s the direction that I want to move in and I will move in that direction despite all obstacles.” These are two very different concepts.

The next time you want to achieve something, anything, think about a strategy. How will you get to where you want to go? Do not think of every single step along the way. Think about where you want to go. Then, as obstacles are thrust in front of you, you’ll figure out how to move past them in the right direction.