Active Strategy and Passive Strategy: The Difference Between Success and Survival

Written by
Gabriel N. Elizondo
Published on
January 2, 2024

I was at a brand strategy conference in Miami twelve years ago. In between speakers, during my second trip to the fruit and oatmeal section at the catering table, one of the attendees leaned forward to get my attention. With his blue silk tie dangerously close to taking a Ranch dressing bath, he lowered his voice and asked across the brussel sprouts:

“What is a strategy, anyway? I know how to run my business and we’re doing fine with where we are, so why do I need to worry about a strategy?”

I added some apples to my plate and replied, “Strategy is the difference between success and survival.” I nodded for him to join me at my table, this was going to take a while.


In this article, we’re going to:

  • Define strategy on a broad scale and define its utility in business.

  • Briefly explore the difference between an active strategy and a passive strategy and why one is better than the other.

  • Dive into what is involved in an active strategy process with a quick overview of the four fundamental cornerstones that anchor decisions for a business.

What is Strategy?
A strategy is the process in making decisions that navigate the unknown toward a chosen objective. 

Each objective encompasses a different type of strategy with its own approach and processes to consider. 

For example, brand strategies revolve around marketing and positioning a brand in the eyes of its target market, content strategies involve the utilization and refinement of content to inform or engage a businesses audience, corporate strategy takes on the overall direction of an entire organization, while social media strategies focus on how to engage with a target audience through the utilization of social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, etc.

Active Strategy

Active strategies require a proactive consideration of various factors that contribute or impact an objective. They are derived from an in-depth analysis that requires time, effort, expertise, research, testing, consideration, and collaboration from a variety of sources to determine the best approach towards an objective or goal. 

Active strategies require iteration, meaning perpetual evaluations by leadership and experts, innovation that pushes the boundaries of the organization’s expectations, failure, alignment, monitoring, and a constant sense of awareness to how the business performs over time. Rarely is a leader caught off guard when practicing an active strategy since it requires a consummate awareness of the market, the business, the competition, and the unknown.

Passive Strategy

Passive strategies are the result of inactive leadership or lack of awareness in the organization. The result of passive strategies isn’t entirely failure but it isn’t growth either. Passive strategies host a calm sense of routine, which can be misleading for the brand’s leadership and business as a whole. It is important to note:

There is no such thing as not having a strategy. 

If a brand owner states, “I don’t need a strategy, I’m doing just fine with what I got.” The status quo is their strategy and thus, it’s a passive one. 

Passive strategies do not take into consideration any of the factors that can impact a brand or business, thus surrendering the very future of the organization to the unknown rather than successfully navigating to success. Brand owners who rely on passive strategies find themselves reacting to the external factors only when threats show up on the horizon. Unfortunately, when external threats arrive, they are unexpected (due to a lack of awareness from a passive strategy) and result in the brand owner desperately searching for resources to contend with a situation that might have been avoided with an active strategy.

Active Strategies and the Four Fundamental Factors

Leaders who are proactively involved in their brands and business are acutely aware of the four fundamental pillars that make up the foundation of their strategic decisions: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). 

The SWOT acronym usually invokes the boredom of a four plane grid and long conference meetings that seem to go nowhere. It’s important to realize that active strategies should be engaging, even exciting, and have no place for mundane conversations. Strategy sessions require complete transparency among leadership, confronting deep-rooted organizational fears, and ultimately, making decisions that impact everyone in the business. 

If an active strategy session does not excite and scare the participants, simply put, it’s a waste of time.


A detailed analysis of the organization's current advantages, strengths session offers a variety of questions when considering the market, industry, processes, products, and services that a business can offer to any unseen advantages that may have been missed during the day-to-day operations of the business.  Strengths sessions are not easy, as they require a humble approach to the business and a tempered perspective from leadership and their expectations. At the end of a successful session, leadership should know exactly where their business stands in its strongest position and offerings.


Disadvantages are part of life and so they are part of business. And, just like in life, it's important for leadership to acknowledge, consider, note, and prepare for such weaknesses as they move forward into the unknown. A weakness session is best approached with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the organization as a whole, as it is made of people who believe in overcoming obstacles by targeting their weaknesses. At least, that’s what an ideal business would look like during a weakness session. However, in reality, weakness sessions can be heated, hosting conflict and disagreement that requires a calm leader who can facilitate communication and deliver results. At the end of a successful session, leadership should know the depth of their current disadvantages, and have a direction in how to acquire the necessary solutions to neutralize them.


Sound decisions are made at the right time with the right resources. An opportunities session clarifies the current state of the organization’s position by defining its current resources and how those resources can be utilized to capitalize on discovered potential. By taking the time to consider emerging markets, new demands from a target audience, or any other external factors that may lead to a better position as an organization, leadership can allocate the proper resources to see positive results in a specific amount of time. At the end of a successful session, leadership should have a greater understanding of when to mobilize resources to maximize their returns and minimize their losses.


Reserved for the external risk factors, threats sessions are a collaborative and concerted effort to define what challenges reside just beyond the horizon. External risk factors are outside the scope of the organization such as natural market fluctuations, demand shifts in a specific industry, delays in supply chains, or seasonal disruptions that lay beyond anyone's control. Though one cannot prepare for every possible threat, leadership can proactively identify and monitor future areas of concern. Identifying these risks early means allocating resources to bring in experts to help prepare for specialized initiatives, scaling down on budget expenditures in preparation for a low quarter, or even proactively going after a threat (if applicable) in order to turn it into a competitive advantage.

The Difference Between Success and Survival

If one is new to strategy, the depth and breadth of the practice can be intimidating. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when starting a new practice and entirely understandable if one prefers the safety of traditions and routines. Leaders may dismiss strategy entirely with the notion that their expertise in the industry can guide them to success. 

One may be an incredibly skilled chiropractor but that does not mean they know how to run a business.

It works both ways, I might add: 

I know how to design a strategy but I’m not going to trust myself to correctly align my back. I’ll hire a professional for that endeavor.

Of course, one of the largest advantages to active strategies is the fact that most businesses do not participate in the practice itself. There are many businesses that may be under the impression they have an active strategy but are merely practicing passive strategies rooted in plans and protocols. By taking advantage of active strategies, a business can position itself ahead of the competition, ready itself for the external risks ahead, and confidently navigate the unknown with the best decisions possible.

It's important to keep in mind that the above summaries of these fundamentals are extremely brief and general for the sake of brevity in this article. A proper strategy session cannot be summed up in an hour, a day, or a week. Strategy is a perpetual process that requires time, attention, detailed analysis, collaboration, and a relentless effort to remain relevant in a dynamic environment. Many brand owners and leaders may find themselves shying away from the idea of active strategy because of the demands it requires. It is, after all, tempting to rely on the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, allow me to add, “If you don’t improve it, someone else will…then put you out of business.”

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