Can I be as strategic a thinker as Lee Kuan Yew?


Do you have to be smart to be strategic? Is strategic thinking only for the upper echelons of organisation? Is strategic thinking an innate ability? In truth, the answer to all these questions is a resounding NO! Yet how come this ability is not prevalent in all our people, and what does it take to be strategic? In fact, why would we even NEED to be strategic?

The need to be strategic

Many people work in silos and they don’t see the upstream and downstream operations. This causes them to only look out for their own operations, optimizing just that span of work with no regard to the overall system. The issue with optimizing just one part of a system is that it can destabilize the whole system more than ever. It is only when a leader takes an end-to-end approach can the whole system be optimized. This might even require individual units to operate at less than optimum point. That is why a person needs to see the big picture and apply strategic thinking.

Is strategic thinking for everyone?

It may not be for EVERYONE in an organisation, but it certainly is not confined to senior management! Being able to see the forest for the trees, being able to identify the main intent, being able to reframe for different options, and being able to appreciate the decisions over time; these are required by many people in an organisation. By applying strategic thinking at different levels of an organisation, problems can be tackled at its infancy; not allowing them to fester and become a bigger issue. By making that a key priority for all levels, strategic thinking becomes embedded in the organisation, and become relevant for most, if not all.

Can strategic thinking be taught?

While some people have a better affinity for strategic thinking, it can be learnt. First, they need to know what to look out for and the Liedtka model is one of the best. Jeanne Liedtka deconstructed strategic thinking into its constituent parts, namely: being intent-focused, thinking in systems, thinking in time, intelligent opportunism (meaning the ability to reframe for more opportunities and options), and the hypothesis-driven process. Learning how to apply them is the first step. The next is to immerse oneself to using them. By constantly being in the forefront of change, by constantly looking for new opportunities, by constantly being involved in innovation, these are ways a person can hone strategic thinking, and become better than they are right now.


Everyone has applied strategic thinking in their life except that they are unaware of it. Yet to make it a constant part of their professional life, they need to make it more conscious by asking these questions:

1. What is the real reason (intent) we are doing this; or is this person saying this?

2. Where are we heading and what have we done in the past to lead us here?

3. What is the whole picture and the drivers that impact on it?

4. How do my customers view this? My suppliers? My staff? My colleagues? What new ideas can I get from them?

5. How can we test our ideas to see which is really the focus?

If we can learn to ask these questions, we are then becoming more strategic in our daily activities and creating better solutions for problems. Now isn’t that emulating the late, great Lee Kuan Yew?

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