How To Be More Strategic in a Short-Term Thinking World

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How To Be More Strategic in a Short-Term Thinking World

By Margaret Wilson, Tandem Partners & Ann Quinn, Quinn Strategy Group

As advisors to leaders and teams, we’re often asked, “Can people be taught to think strategically?” Our answer is an unequivocal “Yes.” While some people are born with a predisposition to thinking long term or big picture, these capabilities can be developed by anyone who’s willing to stretch.

In our experience, leaders often have a sense that they or their people need to “be more strategic,” and some may even share this feedback with their teams. The problem is that leaders don’t always offer concrete guidance on how to develop strategic thinking. So people are left wondering – Is there a book I can read? Will I get it through osmosis? Does my boss even know what it means?

Strategic thinking skills should be a targeted area of development for any organization that’s dealing with uncertainty, complexity, growth challenges or change. (In other words, most of us.) People who can think critically, logically, and creatively are invaluable at times like these to finding opportunities, solving problems and setting direction.

That should be a compelling argument, but we’re up against plenty of resistance. Technological advances, the 24/7 news cycle, information access and on-demand-everything are just a few factors that have contributed to what some are calling “present-ism.” To counter that, and foster a longer perspective, it may be helpful to try some of these practices.

  1. Ask Questions. Questions are the language of strategy. Are you asking the right ones? If you already know the answer to the question you’re asking, you may not be thinking big enough. Ask probing questions to delve deeper into issues and gain a more comprehensive view.
  2. Get Curious. At the heart of asking questions is curiosity—the desire to seek and explore. Embrace curiosity to nurture a growth mindset and constantly learn and adapt to new knowledge. Curiosity asks, “what don’t I know?” Judgment believes, “I already know.”
  3. Think Creatively. Creative thinking isn’t just for writers and artists. Three science-backed ways to boost creativity: Brainstorm and go for quantity over quality; embrace your inner child through play or improvisation; amp up alone time or sit in silence free of distractions.
  4. Think Critically. Critical thinking questions assumptions, considers multiple perspectives, and uses evidence and reasoning to arrive at conclusions. Practice active listening, engage in constructive debate and reflect on your past decisions with an objective eye to develop a strategic mindset.
  5. Seek Diversity. Seeking diversity is an important part of a strategic mindset, whether in perspectives, culture, experiences, or ideas. Exposure to broader viewpoints shines a light on the inherent biases and blind spots that impair our objectivity, leading to better informed strategies.
  6. Communicate Concisely. The act of prioritizing and sequencing our thoughts is a requirement of strategic thinking as well as a product of it. As the author E.M. Forster famously said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Speaking our thoughts out loud is a technology for thinking.

Developing a strategic mindset doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always have the answers, but it can empower you and your team to address challenges before they become crises, see new opportunities, and plan for the future. You might not always know what to think, but building these skills will help you know how to think.