Now there’s a phrase I’ve
seen more and more often over the
past few years on the performance
reviews and 360 surveys of managers
I coach. And perhaps like the manager
in question, I scratch my head and
think “What do they mean by
If you research the term “strategic
thinking”, you’ll find nearly as many definitions
for it as exist for the equally ambiguous term “leadership” (I
once read that a graduate student with time on his hands
found over 650 definitions of leadership). However, if you
do Google the phrase “strategic thinking” you’ll
probably find that the most common definition focuses on
some aspect of creative thinking; with some defining strategic
thinking as almost synonymous with creativity.
But if you
think about it, this doesn’t quite make sense. Think
for example of colleagues you've known who were constantly
coming up with off-the-wall (read creative) ideas that were
completely impractical; or more often generating ideas that
had promise, but never following up with action.. So there
must be more to it than creativity.
To illustrate, I'll ask
you to imagine it's 1984 and your friend Mike comes to you
with what he says is a great idea. He's going to sell, direct
to consumers, desktop computers built in his university dorm.
You might wonder what Mike has been smoking, and try to persuade
him of the folly of his thinking. Of course if you'd guessed
by now that Mike's last name is Dell and his approach became
Dell Computers then you might think again.
The Dell example
and a hundred others demonstrate that there is more to strategic
thinking than creativity; and that "something more" is
execution. A strategic thinker must be creative but they
must also have the logical/analytical skills necessary to
translate an idea into an action plan, and to implement that
action plan. For those readers with a long memory, you may
recognize these two thinking styles as reflective of a fad
term from many years back. We called it left brain (creative)
versus right brain (logical/analytical). So, an effective
strategic thinker requires the ability to access both left
and right brain thinking.
To paraphrase the Bard “There’s
the rub!”, because very few of us are naturally disposed
to be skilful at both. Some of us have strong creative thinking
ability, and are less able to plan, organize, and implement.
Others are great at logical analytical stuff, but not very
creative. A lucky few can do both and are thus natural strategic
You can probably tell without complex analysis
which of these is your greater strength. You know if you're
creative; you know if you're a logical thinker and a detail-oriented
person. If you aren't sure, there are lots of simple tools
available that will help. (The Meyers Briggs Type Inventory
is one.) Once you know that there are these two sides to
strategic thinking, and which is your strength, then you
can leverage this strength and develop your "other side." How
can you develop creativity? How can you become more organized
and analytical? Well your local bookshop or e-book shop has
many books devoted to each of these topics.
two thinking styles are the crux of strategic thinking, they
are by no means the only prerequisites. You must know and
understand the strategy of the larger organization within
which you're setting your own strategic direction (often
called systems thinking). You must be familiar with the effective
use of a strategy formulation process . Certain personality
attributes such as persistence and confidence will help.
But you mustn't be so persistent and confident that you can’t
adapt or change your strategy to meet the unexpected. In
the words of Kenny Rogers, you have to “know when to
hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”
whatever reason, the comment about strategic thinking we
made at the beginning of this piece is more often directed
at managers of support functions like Human Resources or
IT. In order to find a place at the strategic table, managers
of these support functions are under increasing pressure
to show that they think strategically. You won’t get
there on the basis of this short article, but knowing what
you must improve is a good start.
For more information
and insite to "strategic thinking"