You need these 6 skills to improve your strategic thinking

miyamoto-musashi-

On a few occasions, I have already written about the strategic thinking and the impact it can have in our everyday life. Today I will try in more detail to break down, which are the skills that comprise strategic thinking. In my own experience I focus on implementing certain steps in my analysis of situation before I make any decision or take a stand in dealing with a problem. These steps can help us work on certain skills that in the long run can improve our strategic thinking and the ability of decision making.

  1. The foremost critical skill I identified to think strategically is to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. That includes both business and personal goals with sharp focus on what you really want. I would say that this is a prerequisite in almost any life situation because unclear motivation opens door to insecurity, fear of failure and at the end it leads to indecisiveness.
  1. The second skill I like to call is thinking in reverse. What I mean by that is once you have the end goal in mind it’s easier to design actionable tasks and objectives that will structure your strategic approach. Each objective needs to have a timeline for execution as well defined needed resources. In business situations is not an uncommon thing to have even different scenarios brainstormed, according to the variability of conditions and environment where by tackling the problem from different angles, we are still able to achieve desired goal.
  1. Being able to achieve desired milestones a strategic thinkers need to have a high level of responsiveness and adaptability. It requires just letting enough room for flexibility into their plans, where they can review progress and revise the course of action once the conditions change. It’s somehow an innate ability to be proactive and allow intuition to be receptive to anticipate change – which is better approach then responding to change once it occurs. They listen, observe, interact with their environment in such manner that they identify subtle signals that raises the awareness and helps in tailoring the best solutions to a given problem.
  1. They are lifelong learners, oriented towards growth and are never afraid to ask questions. One of the drivers in developing a better strategic thinking is the desire for new experiences and trying something new. For them is never too late to learn a new language, dance or ride a horse! This avid hunger for life enables them to think better on strategic issues.
  1. They measure 3 times before they cut. What I mean by that is that the creative part they have, they don’t shut down because some solution is ‘too risky’, ‘too costly’, but rather they have a specific notion how to balance out the surges of creativity with a sense of what is achievable and what will bring the greatest benefit in the long run. It’s a sort of cautious optimism entwined with honest desire to make the best of what’s given to them.
  1. They make room for ‘me’ time. The best and greatest strategic thinkers take time out for themselves: To relax, to release any tension in their body, to slow down their fast pace thoughts. It allows them to find inner stability and prepare for future tasks.

We can work on improving our skills by challenging our conventional thinking patterns, brainstorm different scenarios for a given a problem and recognizing weaknesses and strengths of any situation or business condition.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

This poem by Robert Frost is an excellent example on how we make our choices in life. What variables are the most important in our question to which direction to turn? This poem stimulates constant reexamination of situation, “measuring before cutting” and instinctively is actually ‘training’ us to think more strategically.

While reading poetry you are challenging your thinking on more subtle levels. That kind of stimulation empowers both ability of visualization and gaining clarity which is vital in strategic thinking.

Can we improve our decision making skills?

Choices are the hinges of destiny.

Edwin Markham

In my previous post I wrote about how effective strategic thinking is essential for any project. And today, I go a step further, discussing the importance of developing skills for good decision making.shutterstock_104922425

Looking back, when I was younger – it seemed that making decisions went much easier comparing to my later life events, where contrary to the popular belief – “older and wiser” – indecisiveness crept into my mind. And it takes me much more time, energy, thinking, “measuring” what’s the best thing to do – in every given situation. Apparently, when we have a spectrum of different life experiences sitting in our memory, it can influence a lot our way of thinking and generally our willingness for risk taking.

Successful decision-making can be derived in 4 crucial elements:

  1. Ability to recognize the problem
  2. Possible scenarios to solve the problem
  3. Identifying one that will move us closer to the solution
  4. Make that solution happen, e.g. make decision.

In order to take perspective of all manageable scenarios we try to gather as much possible information and sometimes just get lost in between rational and irrational thinking. Intuition can be a great support, but also a misleading – the key is to find a balance and know when it’s time to take action.

In one of the recent studies, conducted by global creative agency Gyro and The Fortune Knowledge Group, it has been shown that emotion plays a huge part in executive decision making. After surveying 720 senior-level executives in the spring of 2014, study found that nearly two-thirds (65%) of executives say subjective factors that can’t be quantified (including company culture and corporate values) increasingly make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Only 16% disagreed.

Successful people usually don’t know everything. They go forward, with their eyes fixed to the prize and ready to “jump off the cliff” – regardless of is there a net beneath to catch them.Their wings might be just strong enough to get them on “the other side”.

And next time you struggle with indecisiveness, read this poem by Robert Frost – it helps me every time:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

Can poetry help you become a better strategist?

You have to be fast on your feet and adaptive or else a strategy is useless.

               – Charles de Gaulle

Strategic thinking at its core is a careful planning process where project or business idea is directed in such a way that it has a greater chance for successful, desired outcome. It usually applies innovation, especially in the operational processes.

thinking

It’s true we can learn a lot from our past experiences, but we shouldn’t build our future strategic foundation merely on that, but rather considering how to create a value for customers, long-term contribution. And strategic planning helps us analyze and put in perspective the “how” and “when” in our business applications. It requires a dose of creativity and innovation where mixed with our current knowledge is a winning formula for successful strategy. It serves us as a framework for decision making – namely about direction of the business and resource utilization.

This is about strategic thinking seen form a managerial point of view. But what happens on the more subtle levels, when we try to conceive new strategy, innovative approach to an old problem?

C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel suggest in one of their papers that in order to be a successful strategic thinker, you must be aware of the competitive environment, have grasp of the future and be able to motivate others to practically do the same: share the view of the big picture.

In the article “How strategists really think” Giovanni Gavetti and Jan W. Rivkin argue that the reasoning by analogy plays a crucial role in the successful strategic thinking. In the example they’ve given in the paper, you will see how Intel chairman Andy Grove came up with an important business strategy:

In the 1970s, upstart minimills established themselves in the steel business by making cheap concrete-reinforcing bars known as rebar. Established players like U.S. Steel ceded the low end of the business to them, but deeply regretted that decision when the minimills crept into higher-end products. Andy Grove, seized on the steel analogy, referring to cheap PCs as “digital rebar.” The lesson was clear and Intel soon began to promote its low-end Celeron processor more aggressively to makers and buyers of inexpensive PCs.

Our brain frequently uses metaphors in order to compare experiences, make choices, decisions, exclude or include certain things from desired experience –  somehow it guides our conclusive thinking. In our minds we form one set of conditions analogous to another from which we derive great idea for action.

The mind of a good strategist needs to have an intellectual flexibility, a sort of adaptation mode which enables him to come up with the best possible solutions to challenging situations. It’s interesting that by reading poetic metaphors, using them for better understanding of the world around us we enhance our own capabilities of envisioning possible scenarios in every given situation; it helps us train our thinking in a way that from the given conditioning we can set the course of future development in the most favorable direction for us.

And as Emily Dickinson pointed in her poem Life:

 The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,
For, lift them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound.