Skip to main content
Quote #25

No strategy survives first contact with the enemy

Helmuth von Moltke

What does it mean?

A Prussian military strategist from the 1880s, Helmuth von Moltke, was facing the challenge of adapting to a changing world. At the time, technology innovations like new machine guns, combined with growing army size, were transforming war. These evolutions dramatically increased the complexity of battles, making them almost impossible to predict a battle outcome and therefore plan accordingly. On this basis, Helmuth came to the conclusion that sharing intentions as opposed to detailed orders would empower his subordinates to take initiatives in the battlefield and better adapt to unpredictable events. Deterministic plans were no longer relevant, and adaptive strategies should be applied instead. Since then, this concept has been applied to broader contexts including business strategy. Any plan, regardless of the area, would not survive in the real world unless built for uncertainties.

Why do we believe it’s important?

Traditional approaches to digital strategy and transformation typically follow an “Analyse, Plan, Do” approach, focused on building certainty through planning before execution. Such ‘Waterfall’ plans assume certainties and the ability to predict outcomes – which tend to be the root cause for failure. These plans often turn out to be irrelevant as soon as exposed to the real world, which ‘digital’ has made even more complex, open and unpredictable.

Instead, we believe that strategic plans should accommodate uncertainties, dictating a focus on the next part of the plan, informed by feedback from the real world and allowing for a pivot.

How do we put it into practice?

To deliver value at speed, we make sure that our work is adapted to complex situations. Once we have identified a way forward in an initial phase, we focus on design, experimentations and learning form the real world using lean startup and agile ways of working. The outcome is a Proof of Concept, Proof of Solution or Prototype which prove the value or dictate a pivot before scale out. This is critical to ensure that what we deliver will address the problem in the business context.

As an example, for a pioneering MedTech client, we developed a new commercial strategy that identified and tested blue ocean uncontested revenue streams. Instead of developing a multi-year implementation plan, we focused on testing the value proposition with new target customers to validate the strategy. Within six weeks, we tested the new strategy with potential customer, proving the path forward and informing the product roadmap and pricing strategies.


Source: Adapted and translated from “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” from Ueber Strategie by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (On Strategy, 1871, part of Militarische Werke - Military Works - , Moltke, 1900)

Solving your most complex business and transformation challenges starts with a conversation

If you're like us, let's start the conversation about how we can help transform your business.

Talk to us