Using strategic thinking to effect change


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Strategic thinking is the process of applying different perspectives onto a situation so as to understand the bigger picture and to make the right decision. This process of varying perspectives can help an organisation better understand why change is required, and what the best way of achieving it. In this post, I shall share how strategic thinking can help in bringing this about.

Strategic thinking as seeing

According to McGill University’s Prof Henry Mintzberg, strategic thinking is a process of “seeing” your situation in different perspectives. There are three pairs of opposing perspectives, wrapped up with one overarching one. The three pairs of opposing perspectives are:

  • Seeing ahead and seeing behind;

  • Seeing from above and seeing from below;

  • Seeing beyond and seeing beside;

Seeing ahead is the typical perspective of strategic thinking – we want to move forward. Yet, it would not be possible to move forward without us first understanding where we came from; hence seeing behind. Confucius said, “Study the past if you would divine the future.” Hence, an understanding of how you got to where you are, will help you redefine how you are going to move forward.

Seeing from above is also another typical perspective when we are trying to define being strategic; another term that people use to describe this is “helicopter vision”. Yet for anyone who has ridden in a helicopter riding over a jungle canopy would know, you can see nothing but a carpet of green. Hence, to discern the trees for the forest, one would have to look from below. So to know where to head, look from above; but to get there, you need to look from below.

Seeing beyond is another typical strategic thinking perspective. After all, we need to go beyond our current constraints to make it to greener pastures. To do that, we actually have to look beside. Looking beside has another meaning, looking laterally; in other words, lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is a means of thinking creatively, something that is so important in strategic thinking.

Finally, over all these pairs, Mintzberg identified one more perspective: seeing it through. After all, there is no point in doing all that thinking, all that seeing, without really doing anything about it!

How are change management and strategic thinking connected?

Change is about looking ahead and beyond. There is a need to move from the status quo onto something bigger and better. There is hence a need for creativity as we negotiate the path from here to there. Yet we also need to know how we got to where we are in the first place, so that we don’t repeat our mistakes, and replicate our successes. This is how we look for bright spots, where we look from within to negotiate our path for the better. There is also a need to look at the centres of gravity of your current situation, so that we can touch on the key elements that hold back our progress, exploding our actions onto something new.

In other words, we need to talk to the head as we make the case for change and identify bright spots, appeal to the heart as we enjoin millions that must move through the emotions of change, and then map the path, as we show the way to the new destination.

Strategic thinking is, therefore, at the heart of change management and understanding it will lead to leaders having a better overall perspective on change initiatives, ultimately leading to better change outcomes.

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