The art of strategic thinking: 4 game-changing tactics
Do employees need to foster strategic thinking? Or are they reserved solely for CEOs? Are these skills innate? Let's find out.
Often, employees find themselves unfairly labelled as 'tactical, not strategic'. In fact, during performance reviews as well, one of the common feedbacks that they encounter is to think strategically.
The Harvard Business Review describes strategic thinking as– “Strategic people create connections between ideas, plans, and people that others fail to see.” According to Rich Horwath, the CEO and founder of the Strategic Thinking Institute believes that “acumen, allocation, and action — the ability to think, plan, and do —are what separate strategic thinkers from the rest, and they are behaviours that can be learned and applied to create superior value.”
The message is therefore clear: To ascend to leadership, command greater respect, wield more influence, and lead larger teams, mastery in strategic thinking is pivotal.
However, employees often wonder how they can foster strategic depth in their thinking. There's a widespread belief that strategic thinking skills are innate and exclusive to only top-level executives or policymakers.
The reality is that regardless of your position within a company, cultivating strategic thinking is crucial.
While it's true that strategic thinking is of paramount significance for productive and successful strategic planning, it shouldn't solely belong to the CEO, the Chief Strategy Officer. It’s an acquirable skill equally important for all ambitious beings striving to taste success.
Here are 4 strategies to enhance your strategic skills, ensuring your contributions stand out in the next strategic planning meeting. Read along!
Think, think and think!
The crux of strategic thinking lies within the very essence of the term— ‘think.’ It demands a commitment to pause, allowing thoughts to settle down and ideas to emerge.
One effective approach is to carve out dedicated time each day or week solely for contemplation. Whether during a peaceful morning walk, a commute, or solitary moments in the shower, this thinking time becomes significant for sharpening strategic acumen. Regular practice brings about proficiency, honing the art of turning thoughts over and cultivating deeper insights.
Another effective strategy involves observing and deeply understanding your current landscape. Crafting strategies rooted in reality necessitates a thorough comprehension of your present circumstances.
Rather than basing your strategy on assumptions, develop a thirst for knowledge and gather a wealth of information. For instance, conducting in-depth interviews with new customers or talking with your product team.
Engage the entirety of your cognitive abilities
Strategic thinking thrives on the interplay between two distinct thinking modes: divergent thinking, which allows us to explore the broader landscape and generate ideas, and convergent thinking, where we meticulously organise and rationalise these ideas. Strategic thinkers possess the ability to swiftly transition between these modes.
A tried-and-tested technique for this is the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ pioneered by Edward De Bono. This method encourages tackling a problem by donning six metaphorical 'hats,' each representing diverse facets of convergent and divergent thinking. They are as follows:
- white hat (factual information)
- red hat (emotions and intuition)
- black hat (caution and critical judgment)
- yellow hat (optimism and positivity)
- green hat (creativity and innovation)
- blue hat (logical analysis and overview)
Initially, shifting between these modes might feel unfamiliar, yet with consistent practice, your mind will become familiar with navigating from one thinking mode to another.
Develop a thorough understanding of your industry
Build the bedrock of strategic thinking by deeply familiarising yourself and your team with your organisation—transcending mere operational knowledge to grasp its objectives and strategic direction.
This requires grasping industry dynamics, competitor landscape, key business drivers, regulatory frameworks, and customer behavioural patterns.
Cultivate a panoramic perspective by staying abreast of the evolving industry.
Engage with diverse content, whether it's exploring articles, books, specialised publications, newsletters, or taking insights from podcasts beyond your primary domain of expertise.
Embrace diverse perspectives
Upon formulating a strategy aligned with your organisation's objectives, challenge your assumptions and subject your hypotheses to meticulous scrutiny. This process prevents overlooking alternative possibilities.
Adopting a ‘devil's advocate approach’ towards your ideas enables the early detection of potential weaknesses in your rationale, helping you to robustly defend your strategy when faced with difficulties. Moreover, it sharpens the essential skill set needed to effectively communicate and execute your strategic vision.
One common misconception among Sensitive Strivers is the belief that the burden of strategic thinking rests solely on them. However, the most effective approach involves cultivating a diversity of perspectives by involving your team and colleagues in the process.
For instance, encourage your team to contribute to brainstorming sessions by preparing three suggestions. When they present problems, pose the following questions:
- What potential solutions have you explored?
- If you were in my position, how would you’ve tackled this issue?
- Drawing from your experience, what actionable steps do you suggest next?
By involving others and fostering an environment where diverse viewpoints are valued, you not only lighten the load on yourself but also tap into a wealth of collective wisdom and creativity.
The strength of adopting a strategic mindset lies in mastering the art of ‘how’ to think rather than dictating ‘what’ to think. Remember–while beauty may be subjective, strategic thinking is evident in one's actions and behaviours.