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Ends, Ways and Means

Ends, Ways and Means
Strategy, Real-world example

Article Rating:::: 12 Ratings :::: Friday, May 25, 2007

The primary nature of any strategy, whether it is military campaign, business, marketing or games, is the relationship between ends, ways, and means. Here, ‘ends’ is the objective, such as global conquest, maximising market share, neutralising a crisis, etc; ‘ways’ is the form through which a strategy is pursued, such as a military campaign, diplomacy, or economic sanctions; and ‘means’ is the resources available such as armies, weapons, international influence and money. It is critical to make sure that the relationship between ends, ways and means is fully understood and thought out. It must be logical, practical, and clearly established from the outset. If this relationship is vague, the entire campaign is seriously flawed and you might be at risk.

Ends, Ways and Means applied to Risk game

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 is to be done?
  • How is it to be done?
  • 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.

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Diplomat   By Diplomat @ Friday, May 25, 2007 10:57 PM
The concept of Means and Ends is specifically applicable to Risk game which is ultimately about individual victory and winning. Three has always been an important question associated with this concept: If the end (our objective) is good, does it matter by what means we would achieve it? In Risk the end is to win the game and we can justify using any way to win the game. That seems to be a very natural choice to make! Now if you want to apply the same concept to real world situations you would need a bit more justification than that! According to US and UK government, invasion of Iraq was to produce a safer world and a more democratic society in Iraq so we can presume that the end was good (if these governments to be trusted!) However the ways used to achieve this goal proved to be a disaster and caused more grief to Iraqi people and others in the middle east region. As Aldous Huxley famously observed “Every road towards a better state of society is blocked, sooner or later, by war, by threats of war, by preparations for war”

Europa   By Europa @ Tuesday, June 12, 2007 9:52 PM
Do the ends justify the means? Perhaps, but have you really thought about it? I can't count how many times I have played the game of Risk and done something I later regretted either in that game or in a later game. Your reputation follows you and making questionable moves with out a serious plan can derail your attempt to win.

The reason Iraq and other wars don't pan out the way leaders plan then is because there is a disconnect between their stated objective and the means by which attempt to acheive that objective.

If you lose a game, think about the plan that you used and how it played out. Did you make any mistakes? Any erroneous assumptions? What parts of the plan worked well and what objectives did you achieve?

Keeping tabs on your own war planning is the only way to acheive success.

Anonymous User   @ Tuesday, November 10, 2009 9:59 PM
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I am a board game and Risk game enthusiast. I like thinking and talking about strategy in games which has led me to the creation of this website. Although Risk is a classic, I feel one can never get tired of playing this game. Read about what I think of the game and I am always eager to know what you think.

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