Have you noticed how many times job descriptions asks for someone who is a “strategic thinker?” Clearly, being strategic is in high demand.
But, what does that mean?
Strategic thinking goes beyond thinking about what is—it includes envisioning what could be.
When organizations seek strategic thinkers, they are seeking someone with a thought pattern and process that delivers a renewed approach to their industry or their business. They want someone who has a unique stance on emerging trends or technologies coupled with the aptitude to blend those trends into their current environment. Strategic thinking is having the mental capability to infuse new solutions into old issues.
How Does Strategic Thinking Differ from Conventional Thinking?
Strategic thinkers take a wide-ranging, long-term approach to solving issues. It involves neutral analysis, planning, and competent decision-making.
- A strategic thinker will look at a problem from a 360-degree perspective and a conventional thinker will follow the same path because it’s the way it’s always been done.
- A strategic thinker is inquisitive and a conventional thinker is insulated.
- A strategic thinker is interested in what happens in the future and a conventional thinker is concerned about today.
- A strategic thinker takes risks and a conventional thinker fears change.
- A strategic thinker is agile and a conventional thinker is stuck.
- A strategic thinker seeks continual development and a conventional thinker is satisfied.
- A strategic thinker will see threats as an opportunity and a conventional thinker will be reactive when faced with a threat.
- A strategic thinker will seek advice from others and a conventional thinker will try to correct issues alone.
- A strategic thinker will use both the logical and creative sides of their brain and a conventional thinker uses only one side of their brain.
Strategic thinking goes beyond thinking about what is and envisions what could be. If that sounds like too much to tackle, it’s not. Anyone can improve their ability to be a strategic leader. All you must do is break it down into manageable concepts.
4 Tips to Move You from Conventional Thinking to Strategic Thinking
1. Reframe your thoughts by imagining your end point.
Imagine that you have succeeded in your goal. What does that end point look like? What specific things are you doing now? Where are you doing this? Who is helping you and how are they involved? What resources do you have? What challenges have been obstacles to your success? When you start with the end it mind, it helps you chart a clearer course to get there.
2. Know what strategy means to your industry.
Knowing what makes you a game-changer keeps you focused on the future. How?
- You lead the way. The term ‘visionary’ may seem like a strong word but you must focus on what is down the road. When you continually research the market, industry, customers, clients, competitors and new technologies that influence your business, you will broaden your knowledge and your foundation of expertise. Ultimately, you need to understand how your industry adds value to your customers and how your organization differs from what your competitors.
- You know your emerging threats. Do you know how your industry will change in the next five years? What new and emerging technologies impose a threat to your products or services? If you are an automobile insurer, how will self-driving cars impact the way you do business? If you are a delivery service, how will drone deliveries change your strategy? Ultimately, you must discover how you can use those new technologies to your advantage or how you change your business model to incorporate those changes.
- You understand changing demographics. Demographics are shifting faster than we realize. According to the Department of Labor, projections imply that over the next decade, 40 million people will enter the workforce. A change in ethnic composition also awaits. As we infuse replacement workers in place of Baby Boomers, we must have profound knowledge of societal, technology, economic, and environmental trends. Globalization has dictated that living in isolation is a thing of the past. Multi-generational and cultural issues will challenge a traditional way of work which will most certainly impact organizations.
3. Question everything, challenge assumptions, and make critical decisions.
Learn to sift through the nonsense. The strategic leader is open to embracing new ideas, but they will dig away at issues until they determine the root cause – and then they will fix it. With conventional thinking, a person is more likely to accept facts without investigating and analyzing the issue and that is not the case with strategic thinking. A strategic leader asks the tough questions. They ask “what” and “why” whereas conventional thinkers ask “how” and “when.” Asking questions is perhaps the classic act of strategic leadership. Finding the answer, and finding it methodically, is what critical thinking is all about.
4. Gain consensus through dialogue.
A strategic leader will foster open dialogue, build trust, and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge. To pull that off, you need to:
- Understand what drives other people’s agendas, including what remains hidden.
- Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Keep people informed on what is happening in the organization. Share information and communicate a well-articulated philosophy. Your employees need to understand the broader organizational strategy in order to incorporate it into their own plans and strategies. Once they understand the big picture, their input will be instrumental to the organization.