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Strategic Thinking Vs Strategic Planning

Brice Alvord

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Strategic thinking is often described as reflective dialogue about the future so that one can avoid pitfalls as well as take advantage of opportunities. It is a process whereby you learn how to make your business vision a reality by developing your abilities in team work, problem solving, and critical thinking. Strategic thinking requires you to envision what you want your ideal outcome to be for your business and then works backwards by focusing on the story of HOW you will be able to reach your vision.

Put another way, strategic thinking is the ability to think systemically, with a whole systems perspective which often transcends what the organization is currently engaged in.


Strategy is a term that comes from the Greek, strategia, meaning generalship. Strategy is what you do and it is, in many respects, where you invest your funds and resources. A strategy is a long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal, most often “winning". Strategy is different from tactics or immediate actions. Strategies are intended to make the problem or problems easier to understand and solve.

Strategy is about choice, which affects outcomes. Many organizations survive - and do well - for periods of time in conditions of relative stability, low environmental turbulence and little competition for resources. Over time, virtually none of these conditions prevail in the modern world for great lengths of time for any organization. Therefore, we have the need for strategic management.

Strategic management is necessary in situations where an opponent blocks the way to an objective. Strategic Thinking breaks the chains that currently anchor you in survival mode. Strategic thinking requires that you take a critical look at the underlying factors that lead to successful strategic planning.

Strategy should be adaptable rather than a rigid set of instructions which is why strategic thinking is so important.


Thought or thinking is a mental process that allows human beings to model the world and to deal with it effectively according to their goals, plans, ends and desires. Thinking strategically is not a dry or boring way of thinking, on the contrary, it is a creative, and powerful skill that energizes people and prepares the person and their organization prepared for the unknown future.

In strategic thinking, there are four viewpoints to take into consideration when forming your business strategy:

  • Environmental view

  • Marketplace view

  • Project view

  • Measurement view.

On the other hand strategic thinking is about synthesizing, about using your intuition and creativity to formulate anunique perspective or vision of where the organization should be heading.


Planning is the organizational process of creating and maintaining a plan. It involves the process of thinking about the activities required to create a desired future on some scale. As such, it is a fundamental idea or behavior. This thought process is essential to the creation and refinement of a plan, or integrating it into other plans.

Strategic Planning on the other hand is a discipline, which can include innovative elements but essentially focuses on the rigor of making sure how to get from one position to another without falling off the cliff.

Strategic planning is about analysis. In other words, it is about breaking down a goal into steps, determining how the steps could be implemented, and identifying the possible consequences of each step. Many people assume that strategic planning, strategic thinking, and strategy making are synonymous. To the contrary, strategic thinking is a complimentary and critical addition to the process of strategic planning, implementation, and management.

Unfortunately, few strategic decisions are made in the context of a formal process. This typically happens because a company's most important strategic decisions are often made as developments unfold. The use of a formal process for strategic thinking and effective execution is crucial to effective performance improvement and productivity enhancement. Maintaining competitive advantage requires an action plan - the allocation of responsibility for different outcomes to specific people who are passionate about seeing them through, and the development of appropriate incentives to motivate the right kind of behavior.

Effectuve execution of strategy requires an understanding the link between planning and strategy development. It requires broad-scale and effective information gathering, clarification of the mission and issues to be addressed, exploration and development of alternative strategies, and an emphasis on the future implications of present decisions.

This requires the determination of “what are the necessary thinking patterns to handle the paradigm shift that are associated with change?" The best intelligence comes from inside organizations that can influence the success of your project. A SWOT analysis is crucial to any strategic thinking process! It helps define the attendant goals developed as a result of the strategic thinking process


Creating a strategy for any organization involves defining goals and intermediate and short-term objectives, . Your goals are the broad results you wish to achieve over the long term. Your objectives should flow naturally from your goals.

Be clear on the goals and outputs, make the “SMART"

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Agreed-Upon

  • Realistic

  • Time-Specific

In addition:

  • Ask yourself what things are important to the organization?

  • What perspectives do senior managers have toward organizational priorities, and more specifically, your work team

  • Which of your priorities or goals have the best chance to be viewed positively at any given moment.

It is critical to ask if the right thing is being done within the context of the organization's strategic direction (mandate, vision, mission, core values and goals and objectives (expectations).


Strategic thinking is pretty much like viewing a movie - it allows you to see things from “higher up. Strategic thinking is an attempt to think through as many “results" that come from our actions that defeat our purpose.

Strategic thinking is an ongoing process rather than a one-time event. Strategic thinking is not always easy nor should it be. Strategic thinking involves synthesis, using intuition and creatively forming, a shared vision, of where the organization should be heading if it is to survive and prosper in the current and future market place.

Brice Alvord has over thirty years experience as an internal and external performance improvement consultant. He holds a BA in Sociology/Psychology from Central Washington University and an MBA degree from City University of Seattle. He is the author of over two dozen books on continuous improvement and training.

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