Organizations need strategic thinkers to manage difficult situations and map out success-boosting game plans. Who exactly are these people and how can you become one?
Strategic thinkers are people who can see beyond today. They’re not the ones who get stuck in a problem. Rather, they’re on top of them — always seeking solutions to address any issues coming their way. Sticking to conventional business norms isn’t on their vocabulary either. They love to do things in a completely different way.
Emerging business trends and data are their best allies. Even if they don’t have the right answers at all times, being strategic empowers them to accomplish business objectives, embrace new opportunities, address challenges, and plan for the company’s growth.
To cut it short, strategic people are voracious learners, risk-takers, problem-solvers, analytical thinkers, and good communicators.
It sounds overwhelming at first, especially if you’re going to look at it as a single item. So to make it an achievable characteristic, we discuss below some of the essential activities on how to develop strategic thinking.
How to develop strategic thinking
Expand your knowledge
One-third of a person’s ability to be creative comes from genetics while two-thirds is through learning, studies suggest. It shows that like any other skill, strategic thinking can be improved through deliberate training.
Reading industry news and business books is a basic activity. It is essential, but it is not enough. To gain a deeper understanding of how things work inside and outside of the company, you must also:
- Listen to subject matter experts
- Seek the advice and opinions of leaders in your organization and industry
- Have a clear grasp of the industry context, trends, and business drivers
- Learn to visualize and explain data in an understandable manner
- Find out what your competitors and fellow businesses are doing effectively
Even if you’ve been doing the same thing for years, it is good to assume that you cannot master everything — not when there are numerous changes happening around you every day.
Make it a habit to explore uncharted ideas and innovative solutions. The answer to your company’s long-term growth may be hidden in the knowledge you have yet to acquire.
Ask tough questions
Asking questions is different from asking tough questions.
The former lets you answer the “what” or the common details about the project. Surface-deep, it only lets you know what you should know to finish it. Meanwhile, asking tough questions enables you to challenge how things are done, and if there’s a better way to do it.
Once you’ve experienced success, it can be tempting to stick to the same strategy in handling other initiatives. However, you must keep in mind that not because it worked before doesn’t mean it will be effective again.
You must learn to let go of your biases towards approaches that brought you success. Asking “What’s different this time around?” or “Is this logical?” is a good start to identify your plan’s weaknesses and defend it logically when others ask questions.
Being open to opposing ideas can also help you develop your strategic thinking skills. The more you embrace alternative arguments, the better you will be at seeing the big picture.
In a Harvard Business Review article, author Ron Ashkenas provided the three areas you can improve when asking questions, namely:
- Self: Asking yourself and others about what you could do better.
- Plans and projects: Asking questions about the project to advance the progress at an accelerated pace. It should also aim to strengthen relationships and help others to learn and develop.
- Organization: Asking questions about the organization’s practices, processes, and structures. The goal is to know if there’s a better approach to do things more effectively.
To sum it up, strategic questions should relate to a challenge, opportunity, or any ambiguity your company is facing at the moment.
Give yourself enough time and space to think
Rather than keeping a jam-packed schedule and working like an automated machine, it’s necessary to take a pause, unload your thoughts, and breathe so you can free up more mental energy for strategic thinking.
Skeptical about this idea?
Let’s set Warren Buffet, the world-renowned business tycoon, as an example.
In a piece written by Bill Gates — whom we know as another business magnate — he revealed that he admires Warren for “keeping his schedule free of meetings… [and] he likes to sit in his office and read and think.”
Its logic is pretty straightforward: if your mind is overflowing with thoughts and you’re moving non-stop, there will be little room for critical thinking. It’s all about making the connection between strategizing and doing the real work. Thinking alone can’t get anything done. Meanwhile, working without thinking can barely deliver outstanding results.
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