What is Strategic Thinking? *

“Strategic thinking is aboutunraveling the mysteries of the chaotic world around us and harnessing powerful forces to our own ends.  It means utilizing tools of analysis and tactics to take decisive and prudent action that gives us the best possible chance of achieving our objectives – whether those objectives are personal or professional.” –  Professor Stanley K. Ridgley, Drexel University (Strategic Thinking Skills)

Understanding Strategic Thinking vs. Strategic & Operational Planning *

  1. Strategic Thinking – is the “What” and the “Why”…that is what should we be doing and why.
  2. Strategic Planning – is the “How” and “When” …at a very high level.
  3. Operational Planning – is the specific details of the how and when.

How to Develop Strategic Thinking *

Strategic thinking comes naturally to some people because of how their brain is “wired” (see www.Benziger.com & www.herrmannsolutions.com)  This does not mean you can’t develop strategic thinking skills, but it may mean it will be more difficult than people who are born with an ability to easily access that part of their brain (i.e. the front of the brain).

If strategic thinking does not come naturally to you, then you need to practice thinking “big picture” and future-oriented.

That includes:

  • Having a keen grasp of what is going on in your organization right now
  • Understanding basic business concepts such as marketing, accounting, customer service, etc.
  • Staying appraised of what is going on in the world, the nation, your local community
  • Understanding “systems” and systems dynamics
  • Understanding future trends, being able to envision the future, and to predict the impact the future will have on the organization and its customers
  • Creatively thinking in terms of possible directions the organization can take to thrive in the long-term
  • Engaging in metaphoric/analogic thinking (read Metaphors Be With You: The Strategist as Poet).
  • Thoughtfully considering how to create value for customers based on Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT analysis)

I would recommend reading: http://www.blortal.com/uploads/9/3/3/4/9334873/strategic_thinking_skills.pdf

What is the Difference Between Strategic Thinking and Strategic Planning? *

In the view of F. Graetz, strategic thinking and planning are “distinct, but interrelated and complementary thought processes” that must sustain and support one another for effective strategic management. Graetz’s model holds that the role of strategic thinking is “to seek innovation and imagine new and very different futures that may lead the company to redefine its core strategies and even its industry”. Strategic planning’s role is “to realise and to support strategies developed through the strategic thinking process and to integrate these back into the business”.[13]  (Wikipedia)

How to Think Strategically *

Senior Managing Partner,  Samantha Howland, of Decision Strategies International, discusses “The Six Key Elements of Strategic Thinking” which I find very helpful in understanding strategic thinking.  Her description is so right on that I am going to include most of it here but be sure to check out this an other articles by Samantha.

In a time of unprecedented uncertainty in the business landscape, strategic leadership is more critical than ever. The ability to think strategically and navigate change effectively is key to creating a sustainable organization — yet true strategic thinking and planning skills are a rarity among most executives. In fact, according to Chief Executive Magazine, seven out of 10 leaders are not strategic. 

This leadership gap is pervasive, as evidenced by an average corporate lifespan that has plummeted to just 40 years. More than ever before, today’s leaders must possess a more macro, systems-wide perspective of their business to stay nimble, much less stay in business, in the face of virtually constant disruption. So how can leaders reframe their perspectives and hone their strategic abilities?

It all boils down to mastering The Six Key Elements of Strategic Thinking. Designed to make strategic leadership less elusive among today’s executives, we developed this common framework for identifying and developing strategic thinkers based on in-depth research with more than 20,000 executives in more than 175 countries. The Six Key Elements of Strategic Thinking include the ability to: anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, align and learn. While each of these elements has received isolated attention, they become significant in entirely new ways when examined in the context of one comprehensive framework.

1.      Anticipate:Most leaders focus on the present, but research shows that futures never follow a straight line. Strategic leaders proactively monitor the environment to foresee industry shifts — even at the periphery — so they can prepare for the resulting threats and opportunities.

2.      Challenge:Though conventional wisdom is tempting, strategic thinkers question everything instead of accepting information at face value. They reframe problems to understand root causes, challenge current beliefs and mindsets, and uncover hypocrisy, manipulation and bias.

3.      Interpret:Anticipating change and challenging conventions surfaces valuable facts and figures that must be thoughtfully analyzed to yield actionable results. Strategic leaders compare and contrast these data points in unconventional ways and test multiple hypotheses before arriving at conclusions.

4.      Decide:Indecision, also known as analysis paralysis, often keeps leaders from acting swiftly, resulting in missed windows of opportunity. Strategic leaders use process and discipline to arrive at a good enough decision. They balance speed, rigor, quality and agility to take courageous stands, even with incomplete information.

5.      Align:Strategic leaders welcome the diversity of differing viewpoints and opinions, but also must know how and when to align divergent agendas to work toward a common goal. Actively engaging stakeholders to encourage open dialogue and address misalignment helps build trust and reach consensus.

6.      Learn: Learning leaders encourage and embrace feedback, viewing success and failure as sources of critical insight. They insist on rigorous debriefs, remain agile, course-correct quickly if off track, and celebrate the right kind of failures in addition to success.”

Strategic Aptitude Assessment *

To take DSI’s Strategic Aptitude Assessment, click here.

Sources *

How to Think Strategically
The Six Key Elements of Strategic Thinking
Strategic Thinking Skills
Metaphors Be With You: The Strategist as Poet


Rita SterlingStrategic Thinking