Strategic thinking is the ability to see a situation from all angles so as to understand its system and drivers and find the right decision every time.
Strategic Thinking As Seeing, (Mintzberg, 1995)
Strategic thinking is for everyone!
As opposed to strategic planning which only affects senior management and strategy planners, strategic thinking is a skill for every person. The need to look at a situation from all angles and to identify the centres of gravity of that situation so as to apply the right solution at the right point is very much a skill for the labourer deciding whether to spend $350,000 to send his daughter on an overseas degree, or $25,000 for a local one; as well as a politician deciding to increase population to 10 million.
When should we apply strategic thinking?
When your situation:
(1) affects people other than you;
(2) has high opportunity cost; and
(3) has future impact
If these three factors are present in your situation, you need to apply strategic thinking. If any of these is not present, your situation is less strategic and you don't need to spend too much time thinking - just make the decision already!
Elements of strategic thinking
According to Prof Jeanne Liedtka, who is a close collaborator with Prof Henry Mintzberg, there are five elements of strategic thinking. These elements allow us to apply the different perspectives outlined by Mintzberg. Her five elements are:
What if we don't think strategically?
What happens if we don't think strategically? Can we still function? The answer is obviously, yes, but...
you might find yourself coming up against the same problems over and over again;
you might not know exactly what you are trying to achieve
you might make a decision and still be unsure if that is the right one;
you might find yourself addressing the symptoms of the problem, and not the cause.;
you might find yourself inundated by many factors and not knowing which to focus on;
you might miss the influence of the past on your situation, thereby also missing the key solution;
you might focus on only one or two issues that might not even impact the situation at all;
you might not be able to defend your decision when questioned;
you might not have the confidence to put your solution out there for fear of being ridiculed;
you might not know know to deal with the variabilities of the decision in a fast-changing environment;
you might not be able to see the situation in different frames, thereby remaining stuck;
you might not make a decision, living in perpetual suspended animation, leading to frustration by all
We could go on, but we suppose this is depressing enough!
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Benefits of thinking strategically
Apart from addressing all the issues highlighted above, strategic thinking will also prepare you to operate in the upper echelons of industry. According to Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton in their book Now Discover Your Strengths, strategic thinking as a natural ability occurs in only less than 1% of the millions who took Gallup's StrengthsFinder tool. That means that most of us cannot rely on our wits to be strategic. But it can be learnt so that you too can lead your team, lead your family, lead your business, lead your organisation, lead yourself.
Learning strategic thinking
We have a full suite of strategic thinking development programs for all levels of employment, broken into 4 levels. Click on image to find out more...