5 Tips for Thinking Strategically

Each June, Mike McCarthy and I have the honor (and fun) of teaching the Strategic Planning portion of Colorado’s Basic Economic Development Course (superbly run by Michelle Claymore, E.D. Director in Commerce City, CO). This year’s class was particularly interested in one of the concepts we regularly introduce – the difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking, thus inspiring this blogpost.

Peter Drucker once famously mused, “When people talk to themselves, we call that insanity. When corporations talk to themselves, we call it strategic planning.”

To make better decisions and up your competitive game, strategic thinking is a useful precursor to creating a great strategic plan. They are not the same thing, however. Strategic planning is a process, and strategic thinking is a skill – one that can be cultivated. How can one form the habit of thinking strategically at work and in life? Here are five tips to build that creative, critical thinking muscle:

  • Do your research. Identify and gather the critical/relevant data, case studies, examples and sources you need for the situation at hand. This is a no-brainer, right?
  • Get out of your sandbox.In addition to your colleagues/advisors/customers, seek out and include in your network several people you admire whose work or thought processes are from totally different backgrounds. Seek to understand the lens through which they see the world and how it’s different from yours/others.
  • Read from the great philosophers and great business gurus. Philosophy and business wisdom are more connected than you may realize. Feed your mind and your soul, expand your horizons and deepen your understanding of human behavior, systems and leadership.
  • Carve out time each day to ponder. Turn off the cell phone, get away from your computer screen, and find a quiet place to carefully consider, dwell, mull over, imagine, and ask “What if?” Look at things from every angle you can. Even 15 minutes a day will pay dividends in your ability to think differently and creatively.
  • Practice making it fun. Introduce the concept in conversations with your team, your family, your social circle, and get their take on it. Learn to play chess (chess players always have to think several moves ahead). Pull a problem from current events, your imagination or even a sitcom, and give yourself permission to think about it in wildly out-of-the-box ways.

Have ideas of your own about this topic, or favorite authors/books to suggest? I’d love to hear them. Write to me at susan@mccarthyblansettgroup.com.