“We are what we do, day by day. So excellence is not an act, but a habit.”-
When it comes to adding more value in achieving individual or organisational success or in making decisions about change, innovation and personal transformation, the ability to think strategically is important. To think deeply about how to make changes, what works and what doesn’t, next action steps and potential risks involved is essential to improve your effectiveness when it comes to your personal and professional goals. For instance, It’s good to evaluate the areas of our lives that distract us from living to the full potential when it comes to our personal improvement. This allows us to be strategic in building better habits and boundaries into our lives that will allow us to cut out all unnecessary distraction or noise.
Strategic thinking can benefit you in any of your life’s roles-from your workplace to your family, various management or executive roles in your organisation of which you are part of. Some people have an innate ability to think strategically when it comes to achieving their personal or professional targets, managing tasks, initiating/planning projects in their business or workplace or going after their personal goals, but such a skill can be developed by one and all and it is not necessary that people in certain position or in senior roles only have to be strategic. Anyone can develop strategic mindset and everyone can and should be when it comes to making decisions about their personal and professional progress.
No matter what role you play in your organisation/workplace or a team, thinking strategically at every level maximises your potential. Bringing strategic mindset to your daily endeavours aids in making decisions and prioritise areas that are worth investing in thereby increasing your capacity to come up with ideas and new approaches to cope with changing environments.
What does it mean to think strategically?
Strategic thinking is an ability to contemplate and visualise new solutions to old problems. It is an intentional and rational thought process that focuses on analysis of important factors and variables applied in the context of achieving a goal. It focuses on finding and developing unique opportunities and enables you to think creatively or by engaging others in a creative dialogue in the context of achieving a goal or a set of goals. In other words, thinking strategically involves other peoples’ or alternative perspectives and their ideas to make your thought process more critical, creative and effective.
It is a kind of cognitive activity that involves generation of unique insights and opportunities intended to create competitive advantage at an individual, or collaboratively with others at an organisational level. It includes careful and deliberate anticipation of risks or obstacles to guard against and opportunities to pursue which leads to a clear set of gaols and direction to take. Strategic thinking is adding more value by coming up with new ideas and gaining different perspectives to thrive in a competitive and changing environment.
What it takes to think strategically
Even though strategic thinking has become a highly sought skill in today’s working environment, many don’t actually know what it is. To think strategically, you need to be realistic, should be able to reflect on your actions or decisions and should have an ability to see the big picture.
At an individual level, you need to
• Have a clearly defined goal, objective or purpose.
• Have clarity on where you are at or as to what your current situation is or how far away the goal is.
• Know how to define the path you must take or working out how you will reach your goals.
• Know how to self-evaluate and correct things which requires flexibility to redirect things if necessary.
• Be receptive to feedback, advice from others and ability to take criticism constructively where it is relevant.
• Commit to constant learning and self-improvement.
• Are able to consider new ideas, take risks and open to innovative ideas.
And at an organisational level, it requires,
• ability to think critically, overcoming herd-like belief or limiting beliefs or safe opinions or the ability to question everything.
• Ability to reframe problems to get to the root causes.
• Challenging your current belies or mindsets to uncover your biases and prejudices.
• Willingness to question your prevailing assumptions. When you are faced with a problem, you are tempted for a fast solution. But being strategic involves identifying patterns, gathering multiple perspectives and to evaluate whether they add value.
• Ability to interpret the available information, facts and opinions, to consider all the options, recognise patterns and push through ambiguity to seek new insights.
• Decision-making amid diverse views by considering trade-offs involved and analysing long and short-term implications. Check the feasibility of each idea, likelihood that various models are effective and brainstorming possible solutions.
• Ability to anticipate future risks, threats, vulnerabilities and other challenges and to guard against when you pursue opportunities.
Why is it important for your personal and professional productivity
“The way you do your work is more important than how much work you do.” – Wesam Fawzi
Strategic thinkers are intuitive, far-sighted and at times prudent. Ordinary thinking is quite enough for everyday routine actions. But to be more effective in your decisions and to solve certain problems, the ability to calculate the consequences is important. Only strategic thinking helps to makes long-term plans, to decide how to allocate your resources like time and money to anticipate the final outcome in your goal-striving endeavours. It is an essential and valuable interpersonal skill that enables you to apply reason to many challenges that you face in your personal or professional life.
In personal life, inability to see the consequences of your actions and to think ahead leads to the lack of motivation or desire to do something and makes you procrastinate on important tasks. Thinking strategically helps you to communicate your ideas to others, collaborate with people, negotiate and to ensure that everyone is aligned and working towards shared or common goal. Lack of strategic thinking leads to conflict, inconsistencies, and disagreements in workplace environments. At an organisational level, lack of strategic thinking leads to missing opportunities, wasting resources and can decrease the overall competence of the people involved. People with strategic mindset step into leadership zone where they become aware of the needs of others rather than just managing, directing or controlling.
It is important when it comes to adapting yourself to change and improve your competitiveness and creativity or innovation. By incorporating strategic thinking into your work routines, you will be more skilled at anticipating, preparing and making most of an opportunity. On an individual level, developing strategic mindset allows you to make a greater contribution in your role, become more essential to your workplace or an organisation and to prove your resourcefulness.
How to think strategically
To think strategically, you must be able to see things form other people’s points of view, seek different opinions to see new and unique ideas. Even though strategic thinking is not an inborn quality, it can be learned and you can’t certainly learn it from reading a how-to. It can be only learnt through practice and can be applied to any kind of goal in your everyday life. Here are some ways to enhance your ability to think strategically.
We often get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and don’t look to future. To enhance strategically is to spend some time to think about future as individual, team and as an overall at an organisational level. Practice being proactive and be prepared for the future before taking a decision or action on your goals.
Develop the ability to anticipate the final outcome or result you can get. Ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve and what will my actions or decisions lead to?” For instance, if you are preparing for a presentation, instead of focusing only on the information you provide, you can also prepare yourself for other questions that the people most likely can ask. Of course, you won’t be able to take all the things into account and imagine all kind of questions that can pop up, but anticipating the questions within your realm of understanding or knowledge, you will be in a better position to provide information the others are hoping to get.
This way, you can make well-informed decisions based on your experience, information, facts, details and the whole big-picture. You can anticipate future course of events by understanding ‘as it is now’ and ‘as it could be’. This does not mean that there cannot be unforeseen circumstances, that is why plan your action with several variants of the situation and think through the backup plans.
Anticipation does not mean you adopt a plan of action and cling to it stubbornly. You must be flexible and have an open mind to address situations as they arise, redirect if necessary and tackle uncertainty. You can improve your ability to anticipate by understanding challenges, different perspectives and taking feedback to your new initiatives constructively.
In strategic thinking, questions are much more important than answers. By asking questions, you think about achieving things you may previously not have considered possible. If you can define the problem, you are already halfway towards the solution. Everyday try to ask a question about something unusual. It shouldn’t be a question to get information but rather one that involves analysis. Then try to answer it without looking for information. Then investigate and verify. Asking questions helps you not to take things for granted, dig deeper with regard to analysing and helps in making more informed decisions. Ask yourself, What prompted me to make this decision? Why do i need to care about this problem?What happens if we don’t decide on this? What outcomes are we trying to achieve?
Asking questions leads to an agile, empowered and collaborative work culture. Rigid way of responding to new situations will make it difficult to stay relevant in terms of individual and organisational perspective. Seeing beyond and embracing change maximises your chance of staying relevant. Through critical questioning, challenge your own biases and assumptions to adopt to a divergent point of view. Asking yourself, What questions am i trying to answer? or am i even asking right questions? expands your perspective and the ability to analyse variety of options like present condition, emerging trends and your available resources. When you focus on asking high quality questions, you enable a culture that is trustworthy, competent, empowered and collaborative.
Commit to constant learning
Most of the time we take heads down approach towards work because of the busyness or the pace at which we need to get things done. When you get into busyness, you fail to keep up to date with the latest information or trends which leads to lack of key information that could help you focus, priorities and be proactive in solving a problem or dealing with an issue. In order to be strategic you need to understand context, latest information and the growth drivers. You should dedicate time to learn and know the latest information like news and trends in your day-to-day work.
Be curious in every conversation and in your day-to-day goings, asking questions or learning from your own experience or from others. Make an effort to explore and avoid falling into auto-pilot mode. Learn everything you can from a broad range of topics and areas of interest. Use the knowledge you have gathered by asking yourself, what does the information tell me? to understand how your role works not just in the context of your workplace, but in broader perspective. Welcome feedback and seek advice from others who can share their experience to keep with the important and current ideas relevant to you. Revive curiosity and practice active listening with a desire to learn new perspectives.
Think outside of the box
If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” – George .S.Patton
Instead of gong for tried and tested solutions, consider opposing views to challenge your own thinking. View a problem or situation from multiple perspectives with the goal of taking the most logical approach that delivers the desired outcome. This way, you can have deeper understanding of the problem, one which allows you to evaluate different solutions and the pros and cons of implementing each. When you step outside of traditional ways of thinking, you challenge assumptions and focus on developing opportunities to create value for the work you do. Develop understanding and appreciation of opposing ideas, opinions or arguments.
The more you explore alternative arguments, the easier you will find seeing the situation holistically. Thinking alternate perspectives optimises whatever that you do to reset your direction and helps being adaptable. Question your assumptions and challenge status quo by asking yourself whether you should consider a different perspective or any other possibility you might have overlooked. To think strategically requires you to acknowledge the fact that your thoughts or ideas could be flawed. Ask yourself, What are my current circumstances? Is my perspective realistic? What other points did i not consider that i should have?
Practice strategic mindset in your daily work
The day-to day reality can make it tough to think strategically when going after your goals. When you know ‘why’ of your actions, you will be better equipped to add value and make an impact instead of being overwhelmed with routine tasks. Be self-aware to monitor and question your own biases and thoughts. What are my biases prejudices, intentions or values? Am i thinking long-term? Stop thinking in terms of how, who and when ( which are part of strategic planning), but instead think of ‘why’ and ‘what purpose?’.
Asking yourself, Why am i doing this? can connect your process with purpose. For every work or task you engage in or delegate, think of why it is important and how it connects with your purpose or organisation’s vision to see the process of doing related to the purpose of doing. Asking why and what purpose helps you determine the direction you will take to achieve your vision and applying it to decisions determines the viability and the alignment with your goals.
Make an effort to add value
Strategic thinking is to add value to your goal-seeking endeavours. Make clear decisions by asking thoughtful questions to achieve individual as well as organisational goals to lead yourself and others. Identify what works and what doesn’t to move from simply collecting information to turning them into well-informed decisions. Focus on the root cause of the problem and evaluate your options whether they add value. Ask yourself, What are my goals/objectives and what is my strategy to achieve them? What is my individual strategy and how does it align with my organisational strategy? What are the positive and negative consequences of this decision? what are the other options? Are they viable?
Make an effort, on a daily basis, to surround yourself with people and ideas that are diverse so that you can make well-informed decisions. Think of new and innovative ways of doing things that will involve others to add value.
Space for Self-reflection
How strategic are you in your thinking on a daily basis?
When was the last time you applied strategy to solve a problem or to achieve a goal?
How often do you consider alternate point of views when solving a problem?
How much time you set aside to reflect and plan for the future tasks or strategies?
Do you ask yourself or others good questions to uncover assumptions and to check the feasibility of new ideas and various options?
How often do you make valuable contributions while working with a team or with others?
Do you ever come up with new ideas and course of action Or do you find it difficult to think strategically in coming up with a solution?
How often do you question you assumptions and prejudices?
Is your individual strategy in alignment with organisational strategy?
What specific steps can you take to be more strategic in your current role starting from today?
Being strategic in your thinking is to learn how to think rather than what to think. Although you might not have the right answers, it empowers you to identify opportunity, address emerging challenges and plan for the future success. The purpose of this post is to understand the importance of strategic thinking in your day-to-day endeavours and to know it is not confined to only certain positions or other competencies. It is an important skill that can be learnt, practiced and applied in any area of your personal or professional life to think in a more orderly way, think long-term and to constantly reinvent your point of view in a way that is unique to adopt yourself to change.