As stated by Clausewitz’s, war is ultimately a political act and any strategy should reflect the political side of your objective. What is it you really want to get and how does that relate to ends, ways and means? In an attemp to answer this question, you can understand the effect of your strategy on your circumstances.
The components are as follows:
- Ends or objectives explain ‘what’ is to be accomplished.
- Ways or strategic concepts or courses of action explain ‘how’ the ends are to be accomplished by the employment of resources.
- Means or resources explain what specific resources are to be used in applying the concepts to accomplish the objective.
Ends, ways, and means often get confused in the development or analysis of a specific strategy. The trick is to focus on the questions. It is the objectives that you should focus on when answering the questions.
Remember, concepts always explain ‘how’ the resources will be used. Resources always explain what will be used to execute the concept. Again, as with any successful system that tries to capture the essence of a strategy, the model poses three key questions for strategists:
- What resources are required to do it in this manner?
Attempting to answer these questions will guide you towards your ultimate effective strategy. A strategic outcome will have a profound effect on your circumstances. It is likely to be sudden, and will dramatically alter the state of affairs. It can change the balance of power, who controls what, and so on. A strategic outcome represents the ideal end-state of any action, regardless of its magnitude. For example, in the context of Risk, a move to attack your neighbour can have huge consequences. Your neighbour may not be pleased at all, even if the attack was insignificant. He may decide to shift his forces towards you for a long campaign. This may not have been what you anticipated when you attacked his small country. Hence, you always need to pay attention to the end before you use your means, no matter what your means are.
However, there is more. Perhaps another item needs to be added to the list that glues the three concepts together:
- Risk explains the gap between what is to be achieved and the concepts and resources available to achieve the objective. (Of course Risk represents chance here, though you may also want to believe that the Risk game itself glues everything together. Risk is great, isn't it!)
The system of ends, ways and means has been used in many contexts. An article on strategy (PDF: Making Sense of War: Strategy for the 21st Century
) has an interesting analysis of the concepts and provides topical examples from the current political climate such as the situation in Iraq. It suggests that the objectives (ends
) were not considered thoroughly in both of the Gulf Wars and forces (means
) were mobilised efficiently (ways
) before a full scale analysis was carried out on the global objective.
Are ends, ways and means applicable everywhere? An interesting example is their use in knowledge strategies in the information age. This article
suggests that the technique should be applied to information technology as knowledge-based economies are prospering and new methods should be employed to protect them and their new assets (knowledge) from hostile threats. Interestingly, after a thorough analysis it concludes that:
"In sum, it is difficult to apply the ends, ways, and means paradigm of strategy to information age security. Unlike traditional means, knowledge is relatively cheap and easy to balance with ends and ways. Unlike conventional ways, cyberwar defies the military principle of mass. And its primary objectives are control and paralysis. Unlike the clearly articulated ends of Cold War security strategies, national objectives in a globally networked information age are more difficult to define and thus to achieve. Clearly, we need a new framework for formulating information age knowledge strategies."
We are moving to new paradigms and with the incredible progress of information technology, new challenges confront us. This is a fascinating topic in which, as it has been the case so far, it is difficult to predict the effect of free information flow on the future of civilizations. Access to more freely available knowledge has profound social and behavioral impacts. Nevertheless, examining the topic in detail may shed light on future developments and needs of societies which is always an exciting topic affecting everyone.
Even if techniques are not applicable directly, it serves us by asking the right questions and it helps us to focus on the solutions instead. So, go ahead, use ends, ways and means to identify your needs in the game and aim to win systematically.