The process of strategic thinking allows us to analyze situations and problems - and then prepare the plan that will take us to new levels or through a change. First, let's look at the difference between strategic thinking and strategic planning, and put our focus on thinking. Strategic thinking is the input to planning, the creation of a vision for the future. Strategic planning, then, is the roadmap from where we are to where we want to be, the answer having appeared in our thinking process. We probably do quite a bit of strategic thinking in all aspects of our lives, but it's necessary to put it on a formal level in order to really take action. What are the benefits of strategic thinking?
First, strategic thinking allows us to solve problems collaboratively and from varying perspectives. In a true strategic thinking process, even if the only person involved is you, different perspectives will emerge. Second, strategic thinking helps us manage change. We are able to analyze not only where we want to be after a change, but also the impacts and issues that will occur during the change. Finally, strategic thinking for its own sake creates new possibilities and opportunities. Sometimes a broad range of topic categories in a brainstorming session can lead us to fantastic new ideas.
The process itself revolves around asking questions. To start, honesty will be of great importance in the answers to the questions you'll ask. If you're employing strategic thinking techniques for yourself, you'll have to take a good look in the mirror and be honest about what you see. First, you must determine strengths and weaknesses, of the person, group, or company. The best tool for this is a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. Take a large sheet of paper, divide it into four quadrants, and label each as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are usually easy to determine, but what about opportunities and threats? This takes more analysis, more future predictions based on fact.
Once you've answered your SWOT, you have to ask, “just what is the big picture?" This is where you'll think about where you or the organization needs to be. In a family situation, let's say conflict arises every night at bedtime. Obviously the place you want to be is conflict-free. In filling in the big picture, don't overcomplicate matters - yet. It's easy to paint a picture of the ideal if you don't cloud it with detail. Leave that for your planning process.
Next, consider all points of view. Andy Grove, the former chairman of Intel Corporation, always said that the best way to solve a problem was to take yourself and your emotions out of it - and observe it as an outsider. Of course this again means that you'll have to take a hard look at yourself and your group. This also means that after you've looked at the overall situation, you may have to go back in, still as an outsider, and analyze why people feel and act they way they do when confronted with the problem.
Finally, you must determine what will drive the change when you go forward. What will drive the move from where the group is now to where it will be? Your powers of observation will come in very handy at this point - you must find out what motivates people. What inspires them to action? You can also use the observation as a way to determine the group's capacity for the change. In a corporate environment, you may find yourself hoisting change on the wrong group, or a group that's simply not equipped to handle it at the time. From there, the problem becomes which group to move to or how to equip the current group.
One of the best ways to begin any type of strategic thinking is to hold a brainstorming session. GE held sessions like these under Jack Welch - and they later became a formal problem solving vehicle that all business units took part in. It could be as informal as the family sitting around the kitchen table discussing the issues. Or, let's say it's a church group that's about to embark on a big change in policy, doctrine, or business. In either case, you as the natural leader should strive to get everyone involved, record the honest feedback of the group, and use it to shape the vision.
Once you've been through the thinking process, you'll be ready to create a plan of execution - that roadmap from where you are now to where you want to be.
Copyright 2007-2008 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.
Bryant Nielson - National Corporate Sales Trainer - assists executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Bryant is a trainer, business & leadership coach, and strategic planner for many sales organizations. Bryant's 27 year business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering.
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