How to Be a Strategic Thinker

The ability to think strategically is key to moving your organization to the next level. However, in most organizations, everyone is busy multi-tasking, getting things done and so focused on the minutiae, that it is hard to take a step back and see the bigger picture.

In his Strategic Thinking Manifesto, Rich Horwath finds that “the most commonly cited strategy challenge is time (96 percent).” He also reported that “44 percent of managers spent most of their time firefighting in cultures that rewarded reactivity and discouraged thoughtfulness.”

In addition to a lack of time and encouragement, another reason strategic thinking can be hard to achieve is that it is a nebulous area that is often hard to define. There are many ways to describe the process of strategic thinking – being open-minded, thinking out of the box, looking at the big picture, etc.

There is a good definition in this Forbes article as well: “Strategic thinking is the mental process you go through when pondering an open-ended question. It’s best done in a low-stress environment where you can freely think and not be easily distracted. Additionally, it’s important to capture ideas as they come in — by paper, journal, computer, etc.”

Another way to look at this is to identify the differences between tactical vs. strategic thinking. Tactical thinking is very task-oriented. It involves accomplishing daily activities, meeting deadlines, and checking things off the to-do list. It is often viewed as means to an end. On the other hand, strategic thinking is more process-oriented. It involves being creative and forward-looking, in order to achieve long-term success in the future.

So, what does it take to be a strategic thinker? We define a strategic thinker as someone who sees the big picture of future possibilities and creates strategic connections leading to competitive advantage. It’s all about possibility and connection and pausing to ask the right questions.

Let’s take a minute to briefly explore each of these three areas:

Future Possibility

It’s important to take time to get out of the weeds and focus on the bigger picture and determine your organization’s long-term business goals and how to achieve them. Keeping current with industry trends is a great way to understand where things are heading and how your company can capitalize on future trends.

Strategic Connections

In addition to staying on top of the trends, making connections between trends or the way another company is doing something and relating them to your organization can inspire positive change.  It is about these connections and how you apply them in your own environment.  In order to have these “aha” moments,  you have to be open and put yourself in situations of growth by reading, visiting other companies, and talking to people in other departments within your organization or your broader professional network.

Asking the Right Questions

As part of the strategic thinking process, be sure to stop to ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. You may not find all the answers, but along the way, you can help to hone in on what will work and what won’t work.

The key to thinking strategically is to not only to go through the strategic thinking process but also to turn that thinking into action. Set measurable goals for your organization and create a strategic plan that will lead you to successfully reach those goals.