DEFINITION: The word “tactics” refers to the particular actions required to achieve some specific goal or to implement some limited plan.

More specifically, tactics may be understood as constituting a sequence of actions that are instrumentally required to achieve a general, or overall, goal.

In this way, the term “tactics” is best understood in contrast to the term “strategy,” which refers to a general plan consisting of a number of subsidiary steps.

ETYMOLOGY: The term “tactics” derives, via the New Latin word tactica, from the Greek word taktika, meaning “military tactics,” which in turn derives from the verb tassō, meaning “to arrange” or “to put in order.”

USAGE: Obviously, the word “tactics” (like the word “strategy”) has its roots in the context of military affairs—a field of human endeavor which has contributed metaphors to many other fields.

One such field is economics.

There are two schools of thought about the relation between economics and tactics.

On the one hand, all business firms possess the goal of being profitable, that is, of being successful and remaining in existence.

Wherever an overriding goal can be identified, a strategy will be required to lay out a general plan for achieving the goal.

Finally, wherever a strategy exists, tactics must be employed to see to it that the individual steps specified by the strategy are realized.

On the other hand, tactics—which are actions aimed at attaining limited and instrumental goals—are by their very nature amenable to economic analysis in a way that strategies are not.

Those who take the second view believe that tactics may be studied scientifically because tactical goals are determined causally by a strategy.

However, on this view, strategy itself is not amenable to scientific analysis because strategic goals are not determined by any higher-level cause, but rather by values.

And values—so the argument goes—cannot be rationally discussed.

However, in the absence of strategy, the concept of tactics is fundamentally incoherent.