Strategic thinking is part science, part artform. To be up there with the best you need to use the left and right sides of your brain, a skill which takes practice as well as confidence.
Here are some skills that the very best strategic thinkers have, and use, every day.
They Have a Vision
They are great at both thinking with a strategic purpose as well as creating a Visioning process. They have both tools in their kit and they use both to complement each other. This form of supportive thinking and seeing the future, creates a way of thinking and evolving strategy that is focused and yet broad.
In a busy businesses and organisations, be they small or large, making the time is vital. At the top of their game key strategic thinkers take time out. Maybe a retreat (maximum points!); maybe a day in a hotel foyer; maybe an afternoon somewhere/anywhere, with a blank sheet and a thinking hat on. Whatever works for them - but they do it.
Are Not Hasty
The clue is in the description, Strategic Thinking is not about today, tomorrow or next week. In close partnership with holding a clear vision for the business future, these two create the tomorrows of the future. But not tomorrow! This is shaping, coaxing, tuning for a quality business performance in the years to come. Great exponents take time to fine tune, revise and engineer quality futures!
Absorb and Notice
They are truly aware. In any business, there are clues, often subtle, both internal and external, to help guide future direction and realize opportunities. Great Strategic Thinkers take all of this in, so that as they set aside time to think, they have a full deck of information to guide them. Sometimes, it's an ‘aha’ moment on vacation, when they observe something that resonates; it might be on a morning walk out in the country; it might be what someone says as they serve them coffee. Making links, however tenuous, is what makes this work so well.
The best Strategic Thinkers check that their thinking has been validated. Is it going to work, against a world of regular, consistent and yet sometimes volatile change? This activity is a moving target, so to build a better understanding, snapshots; benchmarks and regular stocktaking are all very useful to confirm the quality of the thinking - and absorbed into the skillset for their and their organizations future.
Learn from Experience
Over time, these folk use their experiences, small and large, to think better on strategic issues. This makes their use of this time really efficient and particularly effective. There are learned short-cuts to the perhaps more formalized strategic planning process and experience is a huge, valuable added bonus.
Use a Team
By utilising more than just their own brain (though this is vital for some of the process!), those great at Strategic Thinking bounce ideas off others in the workplace and encourage their input above and beyond their delivery of the day job. The old adage that 1+1=3 in the input of thinking is hugely valid. And 5 people make a much more significant contribution than 2 - and so on!
Realism Rules (A Little!)
Although they create ideas very openly, key strategic thinkers have a sense of realism and honesty about what is achievable in the longer term. This is not to hold them back; more it is to deliver success. They underpromise and overdeliver, whilst also ensuring that the day to day business of the organization - the ‘now’ - is served adequately too. That's what gets the business paid today, whilst building the future of tomorrow.
Have Clear Milestones
By creating checks in their thinking, to review progress, they have the opportunity to tweak. They have an innate ability to spot the twists and turns necessary. A 5,000 mile journey by a jet plane reaches the destination only by regular and consistent course checks and adjustments.
Because the route to a successful future is not bounded by judging their, or others, thinking as they get creative - that is for elsewhere - better ideas flow. Open minds are encouraged and the detail tested later. Open minded thinking needs real checks and balances - but AFTER the openness has stimulated the breadth of imaginative ideas only such freedom can provide.
In a cut-throat today world of this year's bonus and dividend, big business has a tendency to look short-term and manage that efficiently and well.
In the most successful organizations over the years and decades, where the test of time has shown them the excellent businesses they are, the Sony's, Coca Colas, Nokias and Toyotas of this world think ahead and encourage great Strategic Thinking at least somewhere in their busness plans.
© 2007 Martin Haworth is a Business and Management Coach. He works worldwide, mainly by phone, with small business owners, managers and corporate leaders. He has hundreds of hints, tips and ideas at his website, http://www.coaching-businesses-to-success.com .