Recently I was asked to do a keynote on strategic thinking for a large audience in the retail sector. The audience was mostly business owners who needed to improve their strategic thinking abilities.
As I used my business analysis skills in gathering and documenting requirements to create the presentation and to understand the challenges and opportunities, I realized maybe there is a lack of understanding around what strategic thinking means and the common skills required.
Most strategic experts would agree that strategic thinking is a process that incorporates innovation, creativity, planning, leadership, management and implementation. To think and act strategically means you need to answer the ‘what and the why’ questions within the strategic planning process. It incorporates the way people see their world, analyze their surroundings, and create their preferred future.
Often strategic thinking includes the insights of internal and external stakeholders (like the voice of the customer or employee, financial institution and CFO or accountant, vendor feedback) to ensure a complete understanding of the business. Strategic planning brings you from strategic thinking (what and why) into tactical thinking (who, how, when, how much) but at a higher level. That is why you build strategic roadmaps.
There are common skills that need to be present for strategic thinking to grab hold. They include:
Left Brain/Right Brain Thinking
Years ago I worked with a company that embraced left/right brain thinking, and I became part of their creative teams. Left brain thinking is considered logical and right brain thinking is considered creative.
When engaging in strategic thinking, it is a good idea to have a team that is well balanced. Some people are far more logical, and others are far more creative. The creative people are great at future envisioning and seeing the importance of future think. At the right moment left brain people are great at the logic of the business. If brought together and facilitated correctly the combination becomes a powerful strategic force.
Avoid the mistake of having all the same people doing strategic thinking. It does not work well.
Envisioning the Future
Strategic thinking requires that you see the future and what you need and want to create. It also requires the ability to take the vision and put it into definable goals and objectives. These goals and objectives need to be further divided into strategic initiatives, elements of work, and timelines with assigned resources. But it all starts with answering a simple question. If you were to receive an invitation to your preferred future, what would that invitation be and what would it look like? Then you need to answer, why is that future so important? If you can answer those questions, then it is a matter of accepting the RSVP.
Calling a Time Out
Calling and taking a time out is something a lot of business leaders and professionals miss the opportunity to do in their business or career. I understand why, we are too busy, we have no time. That thinking is a mistake. The great strategic thinkers of the world take time out to think. When Richard Branson made the decision between his music empire and the airlines he took time out to think. When President Clinton left the Whitehouse, he was asked what he was going to do next. He said he was going to take time off to decompress and think. Strategic thinkers do the same thing. Teams need to leave their surroundings, turn off their distractions (that means smart devices) and connections to their outside world to think. As part of the time out to think, create a perfect brainstorm in your mind and with the minds of others without over analyzing thoughts or ideas. You move your thinking away from the operational to the creative space of innovation and idealized thoughts for the future. You may have a big idea that can radically change your world. Or maybe you make the critical decision on that item that has been in the back of your mind. You just never know.
Coming Back to Reality
Everything needs to land back into reality. This is where you need to balance creativity with reality. Often business leaders and professionals over plan and front load what it is they want to achieve. I have advised countless client organizations to shift their plan timelines or reshuffle their planning deck so they can achieve what it is they are out to achieve.
Don’t make the big mistake of thinking you can achieve everything at once. You can’t. No company I know has endless amounts of resources, time or money. So avoid making the mistake of trying to do everything at once. Listen to the left brain people. This could be analytic type people in your business.
Strategic thinking is about the long game. Unfortunately, many business leaders and professionals engage in short-term thinking either due to the pressure cooker of their lives, thinking of their bonus or present investment return, their jobs and not getting fired, or plugging holes to keep their projects on track and their department or business afloat. We all know that there are times when that is the reality you have to contend with. But to truly have a strategic thinking organization, teams or individuals you need to embrace and support the development of skills that step outside the norm of the everyday business world to create a preferred tomorrow. That means strategic thinkers. Good luck with that.
About the Author
Richard accelerates the growth of the business champion. He is the driving force behind award-winning programs and his radio show, SET for Success, bridging the strategic thinking, planning and leadership gap for business leaders, entrepreneurs and professionals. His cross-industry experience made him a proven expert, having worked with a big four consulting firm, top tier corporations, mid-level enterprises and small business leaders globally. Business speaker, coach, author and cheerleader, Richard guides you to renewed vision, a common direction and an actionable roadmap as the means to your business success.
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