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The Strategic Level

When you learn from a mistake, it’s often a good idea to ask whether what you learned would have actually helped with the mistake you learned from.

Suppose you’re a student in college, and you’ve just failed a midterm. You studied for it, and you thought you knew the material, but it turned out that the exam focused on one of the concepts you figured wasn’t worth going over in depth.

A tactical update is a change in what you plan to do, whereas a strategic update is a change in how you generate plans. It’s about improving your algorithms, rather than collecting facts and heuristics. When you seek a strategic update—when you think on the strategic level—you’re asking how you can use each situation to fuel overall improvement. This makes you more effective over time—and makes your method of making yourself more effective itself more effective.

Note that you can also seek strategic updates from success—what did you do right, and can you make it more likely that you’ll do that again in similar situations? What could have gone poorly (but didn’t), and what thinking style can make those potential errors continue to not happen?

It’s also valuable to seek strategic updates from watching others. When someone makes an insightful comment (e.g., correctly predicting “Oh, the professor is going to put this subject on the exam”), a tactical response is to listen and benefit from the insight. But rather than stopping there, we encourage you to ask how they came up with that insight, and to incorporate that strategy into your own thinking.

Consider applying this to the CFAR material as well. Don’t be satisfied with useful techniques. Look for what generated them—including the whole idea of seeking strategic updates at all.