Strategic Thinking

Are you employing your highest quality of thought?

Back Commentary Oct 1, 2014 By Christine Calvin

You’ve been there. You’re on a deadline with limited information, and what you’ve got to draw from is a similar episode that transpired eight months ago, or eight years ago or with an entirely different company. But hey, there are some parallels. This time sounds like that time (sort of), so you base your present reaction on your past experience.

The process is called reasoning by analogy, and while it can be a powerful method in the decision making process, it can also be problematic and limiting. That’s because, according to Harvard Business Review contributors Giovanni Gavetti and Jan W. Rivkin, “distinguishing between a target problem’s deep, structural features and its superficial characteristics is difficult, especially when the problem is new and largely unknown. … Not only is it difficult to distinguish deep similarities from surface resemblances in some contexts, but people typically make little effort to draw such distinctions.”

On top of that, human beings have a tendency to seek out information that confirms their beliefs. We also have a habit of ignoring data that contradicts those beliefs or in some other way irritates our process, assumptions or deadlines.

True strategic thinking, in my opinion, is not about what you think or decide, but how you think and the quality of your thinking. Strategic thinking — the kind of valuable reasoning that produces innovative, successful decisions and a new depth of perspective — involves intuition and creativity. It’s using the best thinking you are capable of in any set of circumstances.

In my experience leading teams, putting together this magazine and making major personal decisions (you know, who to marry, where to live, whether to quit a job), I have identified four necessities of strategic thinking:

– Anticipation: Working through options and scenarios in your mind — even hypothetical scenarios — will allow you time and space to think creatively and critically. By anticipating future problems, opportunities, interactions or goals, you can increase your awareness of the potential variables that may arise. By seeking strategic relationships in advance, you can begin to predict how key players might respond, giving you the ability to communicate effectively with their motives.

– Skepticism: In an age of shortcuts, news bites and instant gratification, we all need to be careful of being too accepting. As an optimist to the core, skepticism is often a challenge for me. I think every idea is a great idea. Our brains are wired to find meaningful patterns — that’s called learning. But there are lots of patterns out there that are false. Is your mind open enough to accept new ideas? Are you listening to the devil’s advocates?

– Meditation: If the core of strategic thinking rests in using the best thinking you possibly can, then it makes sense to bring in other, better thinkers. Cull data and suggestions, talk to lots of people, learn something new. But then give yourself some time to mull over your own ideas and the ideas of others. Be still. Drink your morning coffee in dead silence and without technology. Just sit there and think.

– Risk: You’ve got to be willing to gamble a little bit. What are you willing to lose? What aren’t you willing to lose? If you can anticipate your loses in advance, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate that forfeiture, use it to your advantage or reconsider your strategy.

In this month’s pages, you’ll find stories that show a number of effective strategies put into action in ways that increase revenue (“Sold!,” page 30), decrease time (“Race to the Top,” page 58), garner new clients (“Change Makers,” page 36) and improve outcomes overall (“Seen & Not Heard,” page 78). For the most part, they are not analogous strategies but strategies fostered from quality thought. We hope that the insights shared this month will spur you to pursue a greater quality of thought, too.


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Visitor Michael Ammann (not verified)October 8, 2014 - 9:27am

Hi Christine

I do something similar but use these words to remind me to REST, REFLECT, REENERGIZE which brings new OPTIMISM to solve critical problems or venturing into a new area.

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