I recently read this sentence:
It was a strategic move rather than a tactical one.
I have trouble interpreting it. Can someone help?
Tactics address immediate needs; strategy addresses long-term ones. Somtimes it is worth taking a loss in the short term (what would seem like bad tactics) for long-term strategic advantage.
The terms are used with regard to the military but are broader: business, games, financial planning, etc:
A chess player makes the strategic decision to sacrifice a rook in order to consolidate control over the center of the board and maintain a strong pawn structure (this example suggested in comments).
A business makes the tactical decision to hire temps for the current push or the strategic decision to hire and train permanent employees for the long term.
An investor makes the strategic decision to accept risk of short-term loss for possible gains because he doesn't need the money for another decade anyway.
And back to the military: a commander may sacrifice a unit (or put it at risk) to achieve a strategic goal of gaining territory.
The great chess grandmaster Savielly Tartakower had the best explanation of the difference that I have ever heard:
"Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do. Strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do."
I can't improve on that. Not even a little.
A strategic move is generally a more important move that matters in the long term, while a tactical move is less important and matters in a shorter term.
Strategy comes from Greek στρᾰτηγός (stratêgos), "general", which comes from στρᾰτός (stratos), "army", and ἄγω (agô), "to lead". It is used for the kind of decisions a general makes, ones that matter on a large scale.
Tactics comes from Greek τακτικός (taktikos), "fit for arranging", which comes from τάκ-τω/τάττω/τάσσω (taktô/tattô/tassô), "to order, position". It concerns the arranging of troops on the battlefield.
Consider the famous Greek general Pyrrhus, who defeated the Roman legions several times around 280 BC. While he was victorious, he lost so many troops to the Romans that his army would never again be able to defeat the new Roman armies that eventually came, and he lost in the end. His short-lived victory was a strategic defeat: while tactically he achieved his objective of defeating the Romans at the time, he should probably have retreated and let them conquer a province or two. If you win a battle but thereby lose the war, you have achieved a Pyrrhic victory.
In business, these terms are often used metaphorically. But in many cases they are used very loosely, so as to become nearly synonymous. If used in opposition, strategy is usually more important and matters in the long run, while tactics are less important and matter on a smaller scale.
I always liked this expression, it's concise and gets the difference across:
Strategy tells you which hill to take. Tactics tells you how to take it.
I found the following for tactical in NOAD:
• (of bombing or weapons) done or for use in immediate support of military or naval operations. Often contrasted with strategic
and the following for strategic:
• (of bombing or weapons) done or for use against industrial areas and communication centers of enemy territory as a long-term military objective : strategic nuclear missiles. Often contrasted with tactical
So tactical would refer to targeting something military for immediate support whereas strategic would refer to targeting something not directly military in order to weaken the enemy in the long run.
A strategy is generally a longer term plan or an overall vision, and strategic decisions are usually ones that are aimed at achieving those future goals over that long term.
Tactics are the smaller scale decisions and techniques that are used to achieve, piece by piece the objectives of the strategy.
For instance, you could have a plan to purchase one of every single Pez dispenser design ever made for an average price of less than $1 by haggling at flea markets and yard sales over the next 5 years. That would be a strategy. You're going to spend every weekend driving around looking for Pez dispensers and purchasing the ones you don't have.
Now, let's say you spot a rare Pez dispenser at a flea market, but there's someone else looking at it and it's a bit more expensive than you'd like to pay. How are you going to get the other person to pass it over? How are you going to convince the vendor that he's asking too much for it? Whatever plan you decide to use, those are tactical decisions.
Strategy is how to achieve a goal (or mission)
Tactic is what actions that will meet a strategy (which ultimately will meet a goal).
Another way to differentiate between them, strategy is more about thinking but tactics are more practical.
strategic = what
tactical = how
What do we want to achieve?
How do we achieve something?
This is a cite from the Wikipedia article "Strategy":
How a battle is fought is a matter of tactics: the terms and conditions that it is fought on and whether it should be fought at all is a matter of strategy[...]
The explanation at the beginning of this article is a little bit confusing and uses the words
what in other meanings as well.
Strategic has to do with strategy, and tactical has to do with tactics. Strategic refers to the science or art of planning and directing military movements, tactical refers to the process of achieving the objectives set out by the strategy.
This is strategy:
–noun, plural -gies. 1. Also, strategics. the science or art of combining and employing the means of war in planning and directing large military movements and operations.
This is tactics:
The military science that deals with achieving the objectives set by strategy.
Manoeuvres used against an enemy.
So strategy actually refers to the thinking out, and tactics refers to the doing it. Does this change in "tactical" and "strategic"?
This is tactical:
of or pertaining to tactics, especially military or naval tactics.
This is strategic:
pertaining to, characterized by, or of the nature of strategy: strategic movements.
Lieutenants act "Tactically", they respond to the situation in front of them, with a short term objective. They have direct control of all the pawns around them (in theory...).
Generals act "Strategically", they decide where all the lieutenants go, in order to accomplish a greater mission.
Everybody in between, acts "Logistically", they facilitate the lieutenants getting to where the generals want them, at the right time and with the right supplies.
yes, there are many examples of corner cases where people have acted "out of turn". Often to grand effect, as a sergeant stepping in when a lieutenant has been disabled, or a captain fulfilling a tactical role. Such vicarious action does not negate the overall structure.