Instead of a new essay from me, I am going to share an essay that THINKERS Notebook founder and Chief Strategic Thinker Sean Jackson posted inside of the THINKERS Workshop a couple months ago.
It's useful and practical, and I think you'll get a lot out of it.
Here it is ...
How to be a Strategic Thinker
by Sean Jackson
When I was younger, I played a lot of board games -- Risk, Monopoly, chess, backgammon, and others.
But there is one game that I learned very early on that got me addicted to playing games:
I still remember the first time I played it with my brother -- the anxious feeling of where to place my flag and soldiers, knowing that at any time one of us would shout “BOOM” when a soldier detonated a mine.
To this day, I still enjoy playing Stratego with my children because I believe it is one of the best ways to teach them the basics of being a strategic thinker.
What it means to be a Strategic Thinker
It should come as no surprise that when I took the THINKERS Quiz, it evaluated me as a Strategic Thinker.
But what does that really mean?
Strategic Thinkers devise plans based on evaluating an idea’s benefits against its disadvantages, all while understanding the consequences of every action.
Personally, I find Strategic Thinkers to be more open to possibilities and more receptive to change than their Creative Thinker counterparts.
The reason for this openness is simple: Strategic Thinkers understand that things change; and when they do, you need to be prepared with a plan.
When it comes to creating a plan, there is one thing Strategic Thinkers rely on more than anything else.
Strategic Thinkers use frameworks
A framework is simply a way to put things together in some ordered form.
For Strategic Thinkers, frameworks are the foundational elements of how we devise plans -- balancing actions and ideas against consequences and results.
And the best way to use these frameworks is to illustrate them, providing a visual reference for each component.
Below are a few common illustrated frameworks that I use that may be helpful for you.
For any idea or decision, you write out the affirmative and negative potential outcomes of any decision.
One of the more popular uses of a 4-quadrant grid is defining an idea's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT). This simple framework encourages thinkers to recognize the advantages and challenges inherent in any idea through four specific elements.
The Matrix Grid
Building from the four-quadrant grid, the matrix adds an X and Y axis to the grid so you can map out the degree of impact an idea or issue may have.
For example, one way to gauge an idea is to map the novelty of the idea against the utility of an idea. Ideas with high utility and novelty are generally valued more than ideas with low utility and novelty.
The 4-Column Grid
We used this framework as the central element of our CIDA framework for meetings, something we detail in our workshop course.
For example, in crisis management, a split grid framework helps you outline the situation and resulting action that should be taken.
This framework is best used to illustrate the diminishing return as a process moves forward. For example, the AIDA framework in sales and marketing shows the decrease in an audience as they move from Attention, Interest, Decision, and Action.
One of my favorite ways to use this framework is to lay the funnel on its side with lines above and below it to show how resources increase while results become smaller.
Anyone can be a Strategic Thinker
Using illustrated frameworks is one of the easiest and best ways to organize your thoughts when you need to create a plan.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a Strategic Thinker, give them a try.
Start with a simple grid outlining the Pros and Cons of an idea, and then expand your use by taking the time to draw them out in your THINKERS Notebook.
The more time you take drawing out a framework, the easier it will be to understand the connections and consequences of any decision or idea. More importantly, you will be prepared to devise winning plans based on your improved capability as a true Strategic Thinker.
In this week's THINKERS Roundup, I've collected three additional resources to help you think more strategically.
But first, a quick update from inside the THINKERS Workshop, which includes a few new events that you'll want to plan ahead to attend.
- August 12th: [Webinar] How the Two Different Kinds of Pride Impact Our Thoughts and Actions with professor and author Jessica Tracy
- August 19th: [Book Club] Deep Work by Cal Newport
- August 27th: Virtual Happy Hour #7
Even if you can't attend the live Zoom sessions, you can get on-demand access to the replays (and all past replays) inside of the THINKERS Workshop.
The THINKERS Workshop costs $99.99 per year (or $9.99 per month) to be a member. If you own a THINKERS Notebook, then you get in free. If you haven't activated your free account, just reply to this email and let me know so I can send you the special link.
Prioritize windfall opportunities, not just potholes
Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, you are tempted to reach for a fast (potentially wrongheaded) solution. A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint.
To get good at this, you have to:
- Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
- Encourage others to do the same
- Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously
Read: 6Habits of True Strategic Thinkers(Inc.)
A simple guide to becoming a better business strategist.
Strategy isn’t all about thinking; it’s also about executing. So once you’ve started generating ideas and making connections between them, you’ll have to start making decisions about what to do next. And, because we’re all limited by time, money and resources, usually that means prioritising.
To put your strategy into effect, you may have to abandon something you’re doing, look for an employee with a new skillset or spend money on a new office, a new product or a new acquisition. Sometimes you may even have to let staff go.
The worst thing you can do is to let your strategic thinking go to waste because you haven’t been able to make a decision about what to do.
Read: 6 ways you can improve your strategic thinking(Macquarie)
Learn to find the signal in a very noisy stream of feedback.
Prioritizing is really hard because most of us hate saying no.
Imagine this scenario: Amy and Bob are debating which features to include in the next product launch. Amy thinks doing X is most important, while Bob disagrees and wants to do Y. What’s the easy out? Doing both X and Y, of course. No one’s feelings get hurt, and we get to have our cake and eat it, too.
Except… no. Don’t be Amy and Bob. Time, energy, and attention are not free. Remember how a good strategy is focused? Focus is a strategic advantage that lets you move faster on what matters most. That’s why a tiny startup with dozens of employees can win against a company of hundreds or thousands. The more your plans get watered down trying to do lots of things, the less likely you are to have a competitive advantage. Either X is more important, or Y is.
If you can’t figure it out, do more research to better understand the problem. The question to ask isn’t “What more can we do to win?” or “How can we make sure none of the things we’re juggling are failing?” Instead, ask “What are the one, two, or three most important things we must do, and how can we ensure those go spectacularly?”
Listen: How to Become a Strategic Leader(MIT Sloan Management Review)
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.."
-- Peter Drucker
Chief Creative Thinker
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