One of the major omissions in educational and management development programs is developing strategic thinking (ST). The lack of such skills is often due to the pressure to solve today’s problems today – and tomorrow is left to take care of itself. Yet a lot of tomorrow’s time is often consumed dealing with yesterday’s unresolved problems.
Another failure is that (ST) is treated as a subset of decision-making. It is not! It is the other way around. Strategic thinking should inform decision-making.
ST is a cognitive model of the enterprise that integrates the internal context and dimensions of the organization with the external environment in which it operates. At the same time the application of ST at the global level is about changing both for the betterment of society or at the local level about changing the internal context or the external environment – or both.
Corporations like Apple have been highly successful in developing innovations that not only change the way we do business or live our lives, but generate massive profits in the process.
Does that sound like your company? And, do you want to change it?
To be strategic in our thinking, we need to:
- Be constructively critical of the current way we do things (informed by powers of analysis and intuition);
- Analyze and recognize patterns of inter-dependencies and inter-relationships – and then integrate the critical elements of the problem into a coherent whole;
- Be creative in the way we generate and prioritize solutions;
- Suspend critical judgment until time to select the best option; then
- Evaluate the consequence or outcomes of the decision implemented: and finally
- Repeat these steps as an ongoing process – ensuring individual and organizational learning ensues throughout the process.
The consequence of all this is a high-performance organization and HR.
Cognitions enable the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge by manipulating ideas and processing new information therefrom, thus, changing our belief systems and cognitive models. Gathering critical information, accumulation of memories, constructive and intuitive reasoning and the application of cognitive schema and personal biases, as well as, making attributions and thinking-through a problem is core to enhancing cognitive skills. However, the pressures of dealing with today’s problems often stir us to take mental shortcuts where we act on what we expect to see, rather than thinking strategically with the ‘big’ picture in mind and taking account of the long-term consequences or strategic objectives.
Today’s shortcut is tomorrow’s time-thief!
No, this does not sound like me. But, it does describe many of my colleagues!
What steps should I recommend they follow?
Ten steps to better ST:
- Vision: Envision the future for the corporation (or company) or your area of responsibility. Describe a picture of that vision to a colleague for validation, confirmation and refinement – ensuring there is some strategic framework or purpose to that vision;
- Suspend Judgement: Keep an open mind to better ideas and ways of doing things, irrespective of the source – be it from the janitor to the CEO – then later test and retest the detail for relevance, betterment of the enterprise, and sustainability over the long-term. A group of 20 people can generate 200 ideas in 5 mins if they suspend judgement;
- Take Time to Think: Time saved today taking a shortcut maybe the biggest thief of your time tomorrow. Take a walk around the block. Set aside time to get away from the pressures of the here and now. A ‘fast game’, is not always a ‘good game’;
- Create a Realistic-Practical Roadmap: Map the future to create many tomorrows. Prescribe the ideal outcome then map out the road back to the future, that is, back to your current starting point and how to get to tomorrow from where you are at today;
- Awareness – Be Vigilant to Clues: Clues are everywhere, but few ‘see’ them! Amazing how our colleagues see so clearly the things that did not show up on our radar screen. Clues come from both internal and external sources. Allow clues to enter by osmosis. Step into environments that are both new and sometimes uncomfortable. If your ‘gastric juices’ are bubbling and you don’t know why, remember they are trying to tell you something. Go search for the ‘why’!;
- Validate: Check your cognitive maps/ideas against others’. My way of the highway, is a road to disaster. Strong personal ownership of ideas is a validation of oneself by oneself – a not very useful process. Like photography, take many snapshots of the problem area from many different perspectives. On later reflection, the discarded shot is often the best perspective;
- Learn from Situations: Every situation brings its own learning. Be open and prepared to absorb the experience. Compare your cognitive map of the problem area with others’. Why the differences in maps and what has caused them? Listen to wise counsel – it’s telling you something!;
- Team Thinking: More brains make light work. Bounce ideas off others. Avoid ‘Group Think’ by encouraging (without penalty) dissenting points of view. Some of the most disastrous decisions have resulted from acquiescing to what one (wrongly) thinks is the decision the CEO wants.
- Be Honest with Oneself: Do you really believe in this decision or are you just trying to please others? Is this really achievable? Are you deluding yourself?
- Milestones – Deliverables: Always under-promise and over-deliver! But, ensure there are milestones along the way so one can see early if things are going off-track. Read the roadmap for the unmarked twists and turns. Practice ‘What-ifs! What is to be done when things go awry? Can you really influence the outcomes? What are the risk factors and can you manage them?
Yeah, we covered these ten steps in my undergraduate program!
Have you ever used them?