Strategic thinking operates on some general premises. Foremost is acknowledging the reality and inevitability of change. We live in a world of ever accelerating rates of change. To use a hockey metaphor, you want to skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.
Strategic thinkers question current assumptions and activities. They envision possible futures. These possible futures help generate new ideas. Bismarck defined statesmanship as the art of the possible. The art of the possible pertains to strategic thinking as well.
Strategic thinkers imagine and examine the adjacent possible. They guide the enterprise towards those potential futures with the greatest opportunity. They think about future outcomes as a set of probabilities and not binary branches.
Strategic thinking is conceptual thinking. It focuses on systems and how things interrelate and function together. A change in one part has implications for other parts of the system. It is systems thinking.
Strategic thinking takes into account the practical limits on what is achievable. The organization’s core competencies and the external environment place restrictions on possibilities.
Strategic thinking translates abstract concepts and generalizations into practical actions.
Timing and Luck
Strategic thinking takes into account timing. Don’t fall into the trap of anticipating changes that are a bridge too far. Don’t be right too soon. Being ahead of your time doesn’t work well in business. The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese!
Venture Capitalists understand that timing is more important than entrepreneurial talent. It is better to be lucky than smart and luck depends on timing.
Napoleon Bonaparte won battles. Critics said it was because of luck. He responded, “I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones.”
Luck depends on timing and on hard work. Believe in the value of luck and you will find the harder you work, the more of it you will have. Hard work pays off.
The one constant in this world is change. Prepare for it. Embrace it. Strategic thinking assesses the evolving needs of stakeholders. It considers the technological, social, economic, political, and competitive demands of the environment.
A Questioning Mindset
Strategic thinkers are always questioning assumptions and the status quo:
• “What are we doing now that we should stop doing?”
• “What are we not doing now, but should start doing?”
• “What are we doing now that we should continue to do but in a different way?”
• “What can we do better?”
These questions are applicable to everything an enterprise does. This includes products and services, operational processes, policies and procedures, and its strategy.
Strategic thinking supports the continuous management of the strategy. The periodic process of strategic planning documents course corrections. Feedback and measurement are critical to gauge the relevance and impact of strategy. This in turn influences the thinking.
Strategic thinking focuses on the impactful and the important. Without strategy we are prone to being reactive. We tend to focus on the immediate urgent tasks that spring up. The urgent is not always what is important.
Strategy helps us stay focused on what is important. It gives us criteria by which to discipline our actions and make better decisions.
We conflate urgency and importance. We end up doing minor tasks that seem urgent but are of little long-range importance. And we allow the important life changing projects to languish. This is a form of procrastination.
There is nothing so useless as spending time doing tasks that shouldn’t be done.
Strategy is about long range thinking and employing penetrating vision. You are trying to see through walls and around corners. Question and scrutinize assumptions. Understand systems and their interrelationships. Develop alternative scenarios of the future and examine their implications. Challenge the status quo.
Strategy is about scanning the horizon to forecast changes. Identify convergences, in technology, competition, and customer needs and tastes. Include external technological, social and demographic changes. Be aware of legislative and political changes that can impact your business.
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