An organizational vision is directional and long-term and a strategic intent is a bridge and a milestone to the strategic vision. Hamel and Prahalad in their book “Competing for the future” – defined strategic intent as ‘ambitious and compelling’. A strategic intent mobilizes the entire organization effort in the right direction thru’ the key milestones. Please read more on the ‘Vision’ at

A strategic intent is energized thru’ its strategic architecture. The strategic architecture channelizes all the organizational resources and communications towards the strategic intent. Yet a sense of stretch is needed – as current resources and capabilities are not sufficient for the task. Gaps in technology and the intellectual expertise and skills required to move ahead are identified and acquired speedily (Core competencies).  A few examples will illustrate how a strategic intent helps move a company towards its vision.

NEC versus GTE (now Verizon)

NEC (Nippon Electric Company) a much smaller Japanese company overtook and repulsed a much larger American company GTE (now Verizon). NEC set their strategic intent as ‘computers and communication’ or ‘C&C’. They forecasted that five to eight years ahead these two disparate technologies will merge and innovative products would flow out from this fusion such as mobile communication devices that have captured the markets. They developed the appropriate strategic architecture (road map) that guided their strategic moves to acquire appropriate companies and technologies to fill their own gaps.

Komatsu versus Caterpillar

Komatsu vision was to be among the top in the world and it declared a bold strategic intent. The story of Komatsu versus the world leader the American Caterpillar Tractor Company reveals how a smaller company can take-on a much larger adversary successfully. Caterpillar a world leader wanted to monopolize the Japan market. The main competitors they faced within the Japanese market were Komatsu and Mitsubishi. Komatsu was especially dangerous to Caterpillar as they were the second largest company worldwide. Due to this danger Caterpillar decided to penetrate the Japanese market through a joint venture with Mitsubishi.

With the threat of the Caterpillar/Mitsubishi venture taking place Komatsu decided on revitalization of the company. Komatsu in this period was going through bad times yet they counter attacked boldly. Komatsu announced an aggressive strategic intent – the battle cry of

‘Maru-C’ or ‘Encircle Caterpillar’. Rather than face Caterpillar frontally they did a pincer movement by setting up assembly plants in places like Brazil and Mexico. They also

Encircling maneuver

established business relationships with multiple countries – thereby encircling Caterpillar.

A stunning win over its seemingly invincible American opponent was achieved. The success made Komatsu a world power in earth-moving machinery. An interesting point that surprised many was that Komatsu’s strength and energies came from an organizational culture that is known to be non aggressive and harmonious – typical of the Japanese culture and heritage.

Tata’s Nano


The leadership at Tata’s set a strategic intent to manufacture the world’s cheapest car a ‘people’s car’ within a time-bound schedule – despite all odds.


Canon rallied its organization with the war cry ‘Beat Xerox’. It set an objective to manufacture a small home-copier priced reasonably as against Xerox large expensive machines.

Conclusion – an organization can use different ways to pursue its Vision – leadership, communication, empowerment, culture and values. Strategic intent is yet another way especially when the situation is adverse. All these great organizations and their leaderships had faith in themselves.

“Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark”  ~Rabindranath Tagore

Thank you!

About Dilip

An open mind! Love to share my thoughts and a keenness to learn. An engineer and a MBA I had a wonderful innings in the Army and later moved to consultancy and teaching. My current interests are music and growing culinary herbs. Love to play golf and do yoga regularly. I am serious on "Living life less seriously". A warm welcome to you be well and be cheerful always.

20 responses

  1. girish says:

    Respected sir,

    Thank you for sharing with us a highly inspiring article which explains how a small company can get energize in right direction to compete their bigger competitors by using their right strategic intent.




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  3. Dilip Sharma says:

    Dear sir

    i have seen the your blog sir and soon ill be there along with my group on the blog for “The samsung way” case study.

    Yours sincerely

    Dilip Sharma


  4. Geetha says:

    Dear Sir,

    When we talk about Strategic Intent, this session by Mr. Vijay Govindarajan is interesting:

    Strategic Intent =

    Direction + Motivation

    + Challenge

    “Strategic Intent is not the Motherhood and Apple Pie kind of Mission Statements.”


  5. Gary Clayton says:

    HI, Dilip,

    The terms used may be somewhat different in this document than those used by Hamel and Prahalad, but I offer this “Evolution of a Strategic Plan” as one that I believe shows clear strategic intent.

    Best Regards,



    • Dilip says:

      Hello Gary,

      ‘Evolution of a strategic plan’ is an insightful article. The concept of strategic planning is explained with precision and simplicity. It’s ‘Four Planning Horizons’ provide a logical and practical framework by shrinking the long-term vision – BAG ‘A Big Audacious Goal’ that may take a lifetime to achieve into smaller time periods say 10 to 15 years, 1 to 5 years and finally to an annual plan. The importance of nimbleness and agility in strategic thinking too makes great sense in a fast changing environment and this fits in very well with the – Four Planning Horizons concept.

      This paper by the Toastmasters is a must-read by all strategy students as it answers many questions including the concept of a strategic intent. I look forward to incorporate this paper in our strategy classes.

      Gary I acknowledge with gratitude your support and the interest taken by you in adding value to our learning. Please do let me know if we could in any way be of help.

      Best regards,



  6. Geetha says:

    This is the best online session that I have ever come across! Thank you, everybody!

    And Mr. Dilip, your clearly spelt-out intentions in the “Purpose Of This Blog” have definitely borne fruit and our special thanks to you for making it happen! Some terrific learning happens here.

    Warm regards,



  7. Geetha says:

    Dear Mr. Sriram,

    Your comments are truly enlightening. Thank you very much!




  8. Sriram says:

    Dear Sir,

    Except for the Nano, which according to me is pure strategic intent, the rest of the examples are more along “tactical” lines rather than what i would call strategic intent.

    Beating or bettering competition Vs creation of new markets is a way of sifting through tactics and strategic intent.

    The AND Question

    Asking fundamental questions, like Ratan Tata’s now immortal, “why cant a family of four traveling by scooter in the rain not travel in something more secure?” becomes the hallmark of Strategic intent & typically it comes from the “wise guy” who can’t think in OR terms. So Nano was a “safe” “aesthetic” AND “cheap” car.

    Dr Govindsamy, asked a simpler question, why can’t i prevent the millions of people from going blind from perfectly avoidable reasons for free AND yet make a profit? and that’s how Arvind Eye Hospital was born – the world’s largest, cheapest (even to those 30% who pay all the bills) AND BESTEST in terms of quality of treatment!

    Suresh Kamath of Laser Soft had an even more fundoo question. Why can’t people be deaf, dumb, blind or physically challenged AND be offered jobs that are talent based rather than on “sympathetic” grounds? And he found 40% of his 2500 strong company to be physically challenged, but capable of writing the BEST Software. He hired them for their abilities and did they deliver! They not only ensured very low turnover levels in the company, but also served as inspiration to “lesser mortals – the “normal” people” thereby bolstering productivity levels.

    A dimunitive NID grad from Ahmedabad, started an experiment in 2000. Kiran asked a nice question. Why can’t students excel in “studies” AND learn what it takes to be great citizens? So she started Riverside a school that emphasises on children learning life skills – by living through it (class on child labour – students become child labour rolling out agarbattis for 8 hours!), undertake community development projects AND surprisingly do extremely well in Math & Science & English!!

    What’s the biggest BLOCK in pursuit of such successes is the framing of the question. Einstein the great scientist when asked if he was given one hour to solve a problem on whose solution his life would depend said, ” I would spend 55 minutes FRAMING THE PROBLEM and the remaining 5 minutes solving it”

    We as a civilization have lost the art of questioning (Imagine all our Scriptures are mostly question answers!) & it is beacons like the above who show us that all is not lost and there are still people who go by their life asking the right question.

    So according to me, Strategic Intent is akin to asking the right question or asking a series of fundamental questions (improving upon them). And the answer provides the company with a clear purpose that ENERGISES its stakeholders by unifying them and breaking through all barriers that prevent organization’s success.

    And isn’t it ever so true about every individual’s life? the purpose of life (read strategic intent) is a life of purpose! (End & Means are same!)



    • Dilip says:

      Dear Sri,

      Profound thoughts very inspiring indeed! You have nicely put Ratan Tata’s vision for the Nano in the correct perspective.

      I respect your point of differences on the examples of ‘strategic intent’ given by me of NEC, Canon and Komatsu. You may have a point there and I will give it thought.

      The examples given by you of Arvind Eye Hospital,Suresh Kamath of Laser Soft and Kiran’s Riverside school experiments go to prove their lofty and value based ideals brought success in its truest sense. Awesome.

      The point on ‘the art of questioning’ has great significance as it helps break a stereotyped thinking process and stimulates fresh ideas. I think it also known as the Socratic method where the great philosopher taught by asking questions.

      Thanks so much for this ‘inspirational treat’.

      With kind regards,



    • Gary Clayton says:

      Dear Sriram,

      “All strategy is tactical at the point of implementation” was a point made in the Journal “Strategy and Leadership” sometime in the early 1990’s (can’t remember the author).

      You’ve made a great contribution to this discussion and your point on the Nano is excellent, although Apple’s real strategic intent is to make the GUI/touch-screen/hyperlink ubiquitous across consumer appliances.

      Apple developed none of the important technologies: hyperlink came from Stanford University, GUI developed at Xerox PARC by adding graphical images to hyperlinks and touch-screens were invented at and patented by Elo Touchsystems, a company with little name recognition, but which continues to well on its royalties and continuing engineering developments.

      Apple has been excellent at bringing many existing technologies together into a fairly easy-to-use interface. As such, I would say the intent is strategic (great vision of what can be), the implementation is tactical.

      Case in point, last year an architect friend of mine proudly demonstrated the many apps he had on his new Apple iphone. I, in turn, showed him each of those applications on my traditional cell-phone, which cost me half as much to purchase and less than half as much for monthly service. I applaud Apple for moving people’s expectations forward and I applaud their first-entry position in the market.

      When viewing Dilip’s other examples from this perspective, the companies may not have engineered new technologies, but they each took a “road less traveled” or even a road not envisioned by others as possible, to achieve their remarkable success. Each had a clear vision of a future state that would be difficult to achieve given the then-current state of technology or business thinking. Each developed a laser-like focus and commitment to the dream and made it real.

      You are absolutely right that most corporations have abandoned the art of asking questions, instead focusing on the art of generating monthly shareholder returns – thus slowly but surely making their future irrelevant to our future.

      I really like the stories you presented in your post. They really show the power of questioning.

      With great respect,

      Gary Clayton


      • Sriram says:

        Hello Gary,

        Strategy becomes tactical in implementation! Thats true. No strategy is written in stone and organizations do need make mid course corrections.

        However, when it comes to strategic intent, i look at it as the fountain head, the beginning of the beginning; the causeless cause; from where springs forth everything else that will go on to fulfill that Intent.

        Like Mahatma Gandhi wanted Freedom for India & Indians without violence, it was sheer intent that drove 30 million people to speak in one voice.

        In Sanskrit there is a verse which says “Yaddhyayati Tadbhavati” “As you think, so it happens” and that for me is what strategic intent is all about. So powerful is the intent that the UNIVERSE conspires to make it reality!

        Strategic intent is not invented; its discovered or it COMES into the brains like a bug that doesn’t go away and niggles and wiggles till you get cracking and doing something about it.

        Having said this, Strategic Intent is not the be all and end all and may not be even a “predictor” of success of corporations. The utility of the SI is that it helps organizations to see beyond the obvious and perhaps rally people around it.

        It has been enlightening to get yours and others’ perspectives and thanks are due to Dilip for being the FOUNTAIN HEAD here!



      • Dilip says:

        Hi Gary,

        I thank you and Sriram for a scintillating discussion on the topic. The lessons that emerge are precious and enriching.

        I came across the concept of strategic intent when I first read Hamel and Prahalad’s treatise on core competencies.It motivated me enough to experiment and improvise its application in a couple of my consultancies with success.

        One thing for sure we did manage to build the core competencies that helped in long-term survival of the companies despite adverse conditions.

        It’s a fact that a strategic vision is vital for the company’s growth and direction. It serve as an inspirational beacon to make stories like Aravind, Laser Soft and Riverside happen – as succinctly put across by Sriram.

        Freedom struggle of India: While agreeing with Sriram to me what the Mahatma did was a profound,inspiring and overarching vision. Yet a number of patriotic and courageous initiatives equivalent of strategic intent played a key role in achieving the final glory.

        I thank you for your precious time and thoughts in clarifying the concept.

        Best regards.


  9. Gary Clayton says:


    Excellent post. I was not familiar with the term “strategic intent” and it sent me back to HBR (1989 reprints) to see Hamel and Prahalad’s article. So thanks for this new exposure!

    Putting it in more simple words, I liken strategic intent to having four major pieces:

    1. Your Dream – a vision of your ideal future state. It is a dream because it is not achievable with the level of thinking, skill, or technology that got you to where you are today, so advances must be made.

    2. Your belief in the dream as beneficial and achievable.

    3. Your commitment to achieving the dream. The commitment must be emotional and tangible.

    4. A sketch of the path that you can imagine to advance you toward the dream from where you are today. It should include how you will align your resources (people, organization, marketing, research, finances, etc.) to move forward.

    I say “sketch of the path” because the world changes much more rapidly today than it did back in 1975, when Hamel and Prahalad published their book. I envision the execution of many projects over a significant period of time to develop and implement the level of thinking, skills and technology necessary for a “strategic intent.” And mid-course corrections are to be expected as the environment changes and what you develop brings new thoughts forward.

    With great regard,

    Gary Clayton


    • Dilip Naidu says:

      Hello Gary,

      I read your views on the topic with great interest. The clarity with which you analyzed the concept of ‘Strategic Intent’ in the four dimensions is brilliant. Separately and together each of them offers a perfect and complete explanation of the theme.

      It’s true any interpretation of the concept of strategic intent will need to be viewed in the context of an environment that changes much faster now. In this context your point on ‘the sketch of the path’ assumes much significance.

      Your response now brings global insights in our classes and will generate considerable interest among the students. I visit your website and learn from your articles –

      With kind regards,



  10. Dilip says:

    Your comments Sir reflect great clarity in strategic thinking. It was refreshing to read your formula and am sure my viewers too will appreciate this insight.

    I have just checked and found your website ‘afp12 mdi’ is of the Armed Forces Batch currently running at MDI Gurgaon.

    I am honored and welcome you on this blog. Thanks.


  11. afp12mdi says:

    Great article,sir.

    I have been into discussions that speak about the criticality of the Design to the Vision and Mission of the organisation.

    You have take it a step forward by introducing strategic intent.

    I would try and relate Strategic Intent with the Design by the formula :

    Design + ‘organisational will’ = Strategic Intent.


  12. Geetha says:

    Dear Sir,

    Great lessons on Strategic intent. The ‘Encircling maneuver’ especially is a fantastic study in the art of Corporate Warfare. It also reiterates the Gandhian principle of Ahimsa. Thank you!

    And when we talk about Strategy and Vision, the Japanese phrase introduced by Kenichi Ohmae, ‘kosoryoku’ is very interesting. There is more about this here:

    “In the final chapter, the author revisits his 1975-book ‘The Mind of the Strategist’ and thinks through the need for changes in the frameworks we use in developing corporate strategy on the global stage. “the very definition of strategy using three C’s [company, competition, and customers] is no longer valid.” Ohmae introduces the Japanese phrase ‘kosoryoku’ [= something like “vision”, but it also has the notion of “concept” and “imagination”] for developing strategy. First, you describe the vision. Second, you spell out strategy. Third, you develop the business plan. He believes that the mental process for the new type of strategy development is a clear departure from the traditional business school type of teaching of strategy development and in order to develop this type of talent “we need to nurture future business leaders in the same way we develop world-class athletes and artists.”

    And Sir, it is so apt that you have signed off with that beautiful quote by Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore when we, as a nation, are gearing up to celebrate his 150th Birth Anniversary on the 9th of this month.

    And I love what Tagore had said about melody and harmony in a discussion with Albert Einstein:

    “Melody and harmony are like lines and colors in pictures. A simple linear picture may be completely beautiful; the introduction of color may make it vague and insignificant. Yet color may, by combination with lines, create great pictures, so long as it does not smother and destroy their value.”

    Thanks and regards,



    • Dilip says:

      Hello Geetha,

      I read the review on Kenichi Ohmae’s ‘The Next Global Stage’ you have given in the link. I am a great fan of Ohmae and his teachings especially “The Borderless World”. New way of thinking free from the administrative heritage is very important for a globalized world.

      ‘Kosoryoku’ is something I need to understand more on and see how it can used in strategy formulation. These Japanese terms have a certain power in them – Kyosei (Total harmony with all stake holders).

      Thanks for appreciating Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore quote. And thank you for your time, comments and support.


      Dilip Naidu