Napoleon Hill once said, “You have a brain and mind of your own. Use it and reach your own decisions.”
What comes to mind when you hear the term “strategic thinking?” Do you picture big business or corporation members gathered around a conference table, hashing out a plan of how they are going to overtake some other company, discussing the ideas, problems, and steps they need to take? Do you picture someone thinking outside the box to solve a problem or make a decision in their personal life?
Both scenarios are forms of strategic thinking. Strategic thinking, in fact, is a skill needed in every area of your life. It is the way you think about, assess, view, and create your future for yourself and others.
To think strategically means to see and to be able to understand the bigger picture of where you, a team, or an organization needs to go. Then you need to take the action actions to achieve the associated goals.
Everyone Involved Participates
Strategic thinkers often ask themselves key questions like:
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to be?
- How will we get there?
Strategic thinking is a powerful tool in the leadership of an organization as it gives them the foresight and insight needed for success over the long term when applied throughout the organization.
Strategic thinking is a powerful tool to use in your personal life for creating the path you want to take and build the life you want to live.
Strategic thinking isn’t:
- Strategic thinking isn’t about just decision making. It’s about spending time thinking, listening, and observing instead of just calling the shots.
- It’s not about gut feelings alone. Strategic thinkers and leaders are methodical, driven by data to help them make informed decisions. They use observation of trends, asking the right questions and seek context.
- It isn’t instant gratification of short-term gains. Strategic thinkers plan and execute a strategy for the future and what’s important for their customers, team, their lives, and businesses.
Strategic thinking is not only about planning either though. Strategic thinking benefits you personally as well in business in many ways. And even if you don’t think you were born with it, strategic thinking can be learned, honed, and strengthened.
Power of Strategic Thinking
“Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
One of the beneficial qualities of strategic thinking is innovation. It’s the ability to see emerging conditions that could provide long term advantages. To never be content with leaving something as is, continuously improving and looking for the next niche fill or mountain to climb. This ability to be innovative keeps you headed in the direction of success towards your goals.
Along with being innovative strategic thinkers have empathy. They never make assumptions, asking the right questions, helping them intuitively make sense of the chaos. They approach every problem or challenge with empathy, making informed bias-free decisions. This ability to come from a place of empathy keeps you open to the possibilities.
Besides innovation and empathy, strategic thinkers have foresight. They are practical, pragmatic people. They are able to develop strategies and execute them as well. They know how to get things done today but have the insight to plan for the future. Using foresight helps you create a plan of where you want to be and to take the steps to get there.
The power of strategic thinking isn’t just for personal or individual growth. It is necessary for the success of businesses and organizations. It allows organizations to gain:
- Problem solving skills that helps them make sense of business
- To see emerging conditions to their advantage
- The ability to identify new opportunities and create solutions that advance their business
- Skills of visualizing, interpreting, and watching for information about the business’ present and future
- Understanding of the importance of relationship building in business
Good leaders encourage team members to develop strategic thinking skills as well. Developing skills such as creativity, problem-solving, teamwork and making sense of the chaos as well as listening skills and reflective practice helps to optimize and improve everyone’s effectiveness and work.
The power of strategic thinking benefits everyone. It promotes openness to changes. Helping people see problems as opportunities instead of doom is another advantage of strategic thinking. It also leads to more open social connections.
Strategic thinking is an interpersonal skill that you can use in any role in your life from work to family to clubs and volunteering. Let’s look at some examples of strategic thinking.
- You have to decide on whether your firm should begin producing a new product soon. You aren’t keen on the idea. Knowing you have this bias, you make a conscious effort to meet with team members, who are in favor of the idea. Doing this allows you to hear their reasons and ask questions.
- Your youngest child has been exhibiting behavioral problems. You ask various others to give their feedback on the situation including family members and teachers involved in their upbringing as well as spiritual leaders and counselors before choosing a solution.
- You surround yourself with diverse people, who share different ideas and information that you are not normally accustomed to. This helps you to be better informed of options before you make decisions and help you develop innovative options.
Remember that strategic thinking has a wide-reaching effect on others, especially in organizations. When employees have the professional freedom to take risks, be curious and to reflect it makes them effective employees, successful individuals, and better leaders. Strategic thinking also incorporates strategic planning, ideation, and an operational plan. It is the what, why, how, and when.
Benefits of Strategic Thinking
“Strategic Thinking = Systems Thinking + Creativity + Vision” – Pearl Zhu
The importance of strategic thinking goes beyond business and organization to include individual growth and success. It helps you plan, become efficient, increase strengths, and create direct paths to achieve your objective. There are numerous benefits of strategic thinking.
Here are several reasons you should implement it as soon as possible:
- Strategic thinking makes difficult things simpler and more easily understood. Thinking strategically allows you to take complex issues or long-term objectives that can be difficult to tackle and breaks them into manageable sizes. Use systems in your everyday life, for example, as a way to use strategic thinking to simply your everyday life.
- With strategic thinking you are forced to ask the right questions. These questions give you an idea of the kinds of things you want to ask.
- Direction: What should we do next? Why should it be next? Do we need to break the process down into smaller tasks/goals
- Organization: Who is responsible for what? Who is responsible for whom? Do we have the right people in the right places?
- Cash: What is our projected income, expense, net? Can we afford it? How can we afford it?
- Tracking: Are we on target? What is the initial target goal? What can we do to increase the results? What is the contingency plan?
- Overall Evaluation: Are we achieving the quality we expect and demand of ourselves? Are we missing an element?
- Refinement: How can we be more effective and more efficient (move toward the ideal) What adjustments can we make to do a better job?
- Strategic thinking makes you customize your solutions. This forces you to go beyond a vague, one-size-fits-all idea. It helps you engage in specific steps to use to perform a task or solve a problem.
- Using strategic thinking prepares you for the future. It’s the link between where you are and where you want to be. Strategic thinking gives you direction for today and builds you potential to reach success tomorrow towards your goal.
- Strategic thinking keeps you from acting in reactive mode. It reduces the margin of error that comes from not having a plan. Imagine if you were a golfer, stepping up to hit the golf ball and you didn’t line up your shot before swung your iron.
- Misaligning your shot, even by a few degrees by not lining it up first, can send the ball a hundred yards off target. Strategic thinking reduces the margin of error by lining up your actions to your objectives. The better you are aligned to your goal, the better the odds of going in the right direction.
- Be an influencer to strategic thinkers. No matter what activity you participate in. If you have a plan, you are the one with the power. Employees follow the business leader who has a good business plan. Children want to be with the adult that has a fun vacation plan. The audience members listen to the pastor who has a well thought out plan. Practicing strategic thinking gives you the influence so others will listen and follow you.
When you use strategic thinking in every area of your life and career, you reap the benefits of being a leader and success. Step outside traditional ways of thinking and problem solving. Include innovative new research styles for superior results or a new product that is a hit with customers. When you think strategically, you focus on developing and creating opportunities for yourself.
How to Develop Strategic Thinking
“We are what we do, day by day. So, excellence is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
Can strategic thinking be taught? Most people think of strategic thinking as a creative skill so if that is the case, then, can you learn to be a strategic thinker? Yes, you can. Anyone can develop the skill and practice competently strategic thinking. From the top executives of an organization to the mother of young kids, strategic thinking is a skill that helps you succeed in whatever activity you are involved in.
Develop strategic thinking in different ways. Begin by changing your mindset. If you think strategic thinking is only for the top leaders in an organization, rethink that. Of course, these individuals must think strategically to keep the organization succeeding. But it must happen at every level of the organization and with every individual.
Do some simple exercises that teach and discipline the mind to think in different ways, including the following suggestions.
- Do something that you’ve never done before. It can be something as simple as taking a different route to work. Observe everything along the way. Then describe the experience on paper, writing down what you discovered.
- Ask a question about something unusual. Your goal isn’t to get information but instead to invite analysis. Try to answer it without looking for the answer. Make hypotheses. Then find the answer. For example: Why are there five fingers on each hand?
- Do role playing. Think of someone you admire and try to think how they would think. Then during the day, behave as if you were that person. Describe what you discovered at the end of the day.
Learn to prioritize tasks. Decide which tasks can wait by asking yourself, “What is the one task I can do today that will have the best results?”
Improve you listening skills and keep an open mind. Be receptive to feedback and evaluate everything you hear.
Along the same lines, get better at your questioning skills. Question everything you see or are told. Don’t be cynical. Instead collect and weigh facts without dismissing ideas or traditions.
Observe and seek out trends. Routinely explore and integrate the internal trends happening around you in your day-to-day work. Pay attention to the issues that get raised over and over and the obstacles you and your colleagues face.
Add more structure to your written and verbal communications by grouping and logically ordering your main points. Keep things as brief as possible.
Strategic thinking is a skill that you can hone. It’s a skill that helps you plan and reach your goals. It can be applied to virtually any activity. Strategic helps you think in an orderly way, for the long-term and what you want to achieve.
Strategic Thinking Tips
General George S. Patton observed, “Successful generals make plans to fit circumstances, but do not try to create circumstances to fit plans.”
So far, you’ve learned the power in strategic thinking and why it benefits you in every role in your life. And you’ve learned how to develop your strategic thinking skills. Here are more tips to help you develop and use more strategic thinking in your life.
Most people want to become more efficient at work and in life. Being more efficient is a part of strategic thinking that can help you maintain a healthy balance in life and work.
- Time-management is key. – Lists are needed to remind us what we need to do later. Set up a system that works best for you: The Warren Buffet technique, if-then-planning, six box rule, 1-3-5 method or 3+3 strategy or some other method.
- Scale down responsibilities. – Go through your to-do list and decide what you can delegate or automate. Hire others to do work that you would have to learn how to do to complete.
- Schedule deep work. – These are cognitively demanding tasks that demand 100 percent of your attention. Schedule this type of work for the same time each day.
- Set deadlines for all tasks. – Setting time limits allows you to get into the flow state of mind.
- Organize your space. – Disorganized and messy spaces distract and waste your time looking for things you need. Routinely organize and clean your area.
- Emphasize the results, not the number of hours. – When you put more importance on the hours you are physically present doing a work instead of the action and results of the project you place a barrier on the idea generation and likeability factor of the task. Think about how much you accomplished each day.
- Improve decision making. – If adults make 35,000 conscious decisions each day, spending time making unimportant choices is a waste of time and energy.
- Automate many of your decisions. Do cost-benefit analysis, practice being more decisive, and set time limits on making a decision.
- Create consistent routines. – Humans are creatures of habits. When you establish routines, you work faster since you don’t have to think about or prepare for the task. Establish routines for the morning, evening rituals and an ideal work schedule. Block them into your calendar.
Find Solutions to Problems
- Sleep on decisions. – When you have conflicting problems that are demanding your attention, take the time to sleep on them. Your mind will be clearer, and you may discover a solution while you sleep.
- Figure out what needs tackling and what can wait. – Single out the problem you need to work on by prioritizing what’s necessary.
- Break the problem into smaller parts. – All problems have various parts: a beginning, middle and end stages. Work in steps for each part, working in stages before moving on to another part of the problem.
- Use a timeline. – Develop a timeline when you will complete the problem such as work, legal, family, school or any other area that needs to be considered. Also include research time, time to find resources or help, unexpected complications.
- Tap into your network. – Use your network to help you find solutions, confer with, toss around ideas, and get suggestions.
- Take time for a break. – Pace yourself when attempting to solve a problem. Take breaks by reflecting, relaxing, or doing something you enjoy.
- Learn from all your mistakes. – Some of the best and biggest lessons come from mistakes we make. Go over what didn’t work and figure out other ways to tackle the problem.
Make Good Decisions Quickly
- Use the 2-minute rule. – The 2-minute rule forces you to act because of a deadline. Any time you have a decision to make, set your timer for one to five minutes and begin assessing the pros and cons to quickly come to a decision.
- Good or bad. – When you have too many choices you can become overwhelmed. This leads to analysis paralysis. Instead think in terms of good or bad to simplify and weed out the options that are less than desirable.
- Pull it out of a hat. – If all the choices are roughly the same value, write them down on separate pieces of paper, toss them in a hat and pull out one at random. This is your decision or task to do at that moment.
- Focus on the moment. – When you become overwhelmed by the big picture of how your decision will affect the future, you need to step back and just make the best decision possible based on what will make the next step easiest.
- Identify the risk. – Risks include any event that causes problems or benefits.
- Analyze the risk. – Analyze the potential effects each risk has on the outcome.
- Evaluate the risk. – Rank the risk on the likelihood of its outcome.
- Treat the risk. – Look at ways to reduce the probability of negative risk. Then look at how to increase a positive opportunity.
Effectively Convey Messages
- Actively listen. – Simply listen to what the other person is saying instead of focusing on what you want to say.
- Get rid of distractions – Mute your notifications, turn your phone to vibrate or put away any other distractions that keep you from concentrating on the conversation.
- Speak with sentences that start with “I feel” to help convey your perspective.
- Be prepared. – Try to think of what might be said and the best way to respond before the actual conversation.
- Grammar and mechanics matter. – A simple misplaced comma can make a big difference in a sentence’s meaning.
- Organize your thoughts. – Try to put yourself in the mind of the reader before you send a message. What information will they need?
- An inbox strategy. – Declutter your inbox. Unsubscribe from mailing list that you no longer read. Use filters and labels to make it easier to track messages.
Understand Yourself Better
- Absorb compliments. – Stop dismissing compliments. Compliments help you see something in yourself others already do. This helps you know your own strengths, the foundation of self-confidence and self-knowledge.
- Notice your emotions. – Notice when you are in a state of flow. This is your true self. It can be found in states of love, joy and contentment as well. Negative emotions tell you what you need to confront or change.
- Practice mindfulness. – Notice what you are thinking throughout your day. These help you better understand yourself.
- Accept your mistakes. – Develop a growth mindset or the ability to see a hard problem as a challenge instead of reason to stress. Accept your mistakes, recognize when you take a misstep that could lead to a learning experience and learn what to do differently next time.
- Document it. – Take time to reflect and record things daily. You might consider making it part of a journal routine where you write about three good things you did that day or happened during the day. Reflecting on our day increases your happiness and strengthens your gratitude as well as builds your self-confidence.
- Make your own decisions. – It’s okay to listen to other people, and you should get others opinion when you need to make a decision that affects others, but ultimately only you know what is best for you. Making your own decisions helps you build self-confidence and self-knowledge so you can make better decisions in every area of your life.
- Practice being assertive. – Assertiveness shows you can be yourself, you aren’t afraid to express your feelings, needs, wants and your opinions in an honest and appropriate way. Being direct with your expressions strengthens your sense of self giving you the confidence to make decisions, take risks and think outside the box for solutions.
- Interact with others frequently. – Connect and network with good people who accept you as you are but nurture your growth. Your path will be easier when most of the people you associate with help you become your best self, who have your best interests at heart.
Do This Next
Strategic thinking is one of the soft skills that many people don’t believe they have or need. However, strategic skills are necessary to in every area of your life. You use strategic thinking when you solve a problem.
You use strategic thinking when we make decisions about our business services, when we are deciding on new products or services to offer or when are contemplating pivoting or growing in a new direction, when we embark on a new career, move.
In this guide you’ve learned the power behind strategic thinking and why it’s so important in your life. The benefits list is long and the reasons for using strategic thinking are many.
The tips you find here will help you develop and enhance your strategic thinking skills for every area of life. Implementing and practicing them every day helps to build stronger skills. Even if you only use the skills in your personal life, those skills and ways of thinking will carry over into other areas such as in your professional life.
Do you know if you are a strategic thinker? What are the signs? How can you tell if you are a strategic thinker? There are several ways to determine your thinking style and identify areas to improve.
Strategic thinkers versus non-strategic thinkers have distinct differences. Strategic thinkers look towards the future while non-strategic thinkers prefer the status quo, not thinking about the long-term.
Strategic thinkers are creative individuals who think outside the box, not limiting themselves to the tried and true or best practice way of doing things while non-strategic thinkers approach every task the same way, no matter if changing their strategy would yield better results. They are reactive and wait for guidance, rarely presenting new ideas.
Strategic thinkers are willing to work hard today for tomorrow’s benefits and are lifelong learners who share their knowledge with others while non-strategic thinkers are introspective who remain content with their current capabilities.
So whether you are the Star Wars movie chain, an athlete with goals of winning the Super Bowl or are a mom-and-pop business, strategic thinking helps you unlock and open doors that would otherwise be closed, set everyone, including yourself up for success and learn through curiosity. Take time to answer the questions that will elevate you and your strategic thinking.