Infinity Journal Special Edition, “The Strategy Bridge”
Some may say that Colin Gray’s book, The Strategy Bridge: Theory for Practice, is not much helped by having a picture of an actual bridge on the cover. The bridge that the book is concerned with is, of course, metaphorical and not in any sense literal. Yet, in some ways the title tells you all you might ever need to know about strategy.
Strategy is the link (or perhaps more befitting, the “bridge”) between the ends of policy and the means of tactics. If you start reading it with that in mind then all else becomes clear. But, be warned: “Bridge,” as it has come to be known within the classical strategy community, is no easy read, and it’s not for the beginner. Having said that, it is completely comprehensible and will vastly inform any student of strategy to a very useful degree, but it is not a book that should be anyone’s first read on strategy. As all readers of Infinity Journal know, while strategy is fundamentally simple in terms of understanding what it really is, the theory surrounding it is often of byzantine complexity, and the use of strategy in actual application is probably the most challenging and serious human activity bar none. It is literally about life and death.
Thus it is here that “Bridge” serves its real and unique purpose in navigating those already tolerably familiar with the subject, through the theories, statements, memes, myths and utter nonsense that has been written on the subject. This is what separates Gray’s coldly practical and analytical work from the more popular and less practically minded works recently penned by historians. If you were to tip over the brief case of someone who really “does” strategy then you would hope “Bridge” would be one of the books to fall out and not something with a colour cover.
The “Bridge” has done a great service. It has provided those both knowledgeable and curious about strategy with a work that ought to enable their understanding and explanation of strategy to be taken to another level. Gray has quite rightly dismissed much of the cartoon-like discussion that has afflicted strategy in recent years and gone for the jugular in terms of the real theory that has flowed from both practice and empirical evidence. “Bridge” is not just another work that has “strategy” in the title and that recycles the same old vacuous arguments beloved, opposed to, or sceptical as to the merits of violence in progressing political behaviours or conditions. Additionally “Bridge” makes for uncomfortable reading for those who want to feign understanding from behind the veil of complexity. Anyone wanting to argue that policy and strategy are really somehow indivisible, or that the meaning of the word strategy, thus its “nature,” has altered, will find that their intellectual cupboard is bare by the time they turn to the last page.
The bridge on the cover may be metaphorical, but the words “theory for practice” should be read as a warning.
William F. Owen
Editor, Infinity Journal