Strategic Thinking: Key Points

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What Is Strategic Thinking?

Strategic thinkers excel at problem-solving, decision-making, and developing realistic action plans to achieve specific goals.

It is an organizational and pragmatic type of critical thinking. Thinking strategically involves seeing the big picture, planning ahead, and putting thought into action, typically to gain a competitive advantage in business. Strategic thinkers can hone these competencies to pursue senior management positions within their companies or improve their business strategies.

[I view strategies as “hammers” that drive tactics, “nails.”]

5 Characteristics of Strategic Thinkers

Not all strategic thinkers strategize alike, but they do have a few characteristics in common.

  1. Strategic foresight: Strategic thinkers have the ability to think ahead and anticipate potential problems. They know having a backup plan (or several) can help them pivot quickly when things don’t go as planned.
  2. An inquisitive mind: Strategic thinkers aren’t afraid to question or challenge conventional thinking. They know asking the right question is as important as finding the right solution.
  3. A flexible attitude: Good strategists have the ability to pivot when a course of action isn’t providing the intended results. They’re also flexible when it comes to reassessing their own ideas and assumptions as new information comes to light.
  4. An ability to connect the dots: Strategists have a knack for identifying patterns and making meaning out of overarching trends.
  5. An ability to contextualize information: Thinking strategically requires seeing information through the lens of the past, present, and future to address both short-term and long-term goals.

4 Tips for Developing Strategic Thinking Skills

You don’t have to be born with a strategic mindset to develop effective problem-solving, decision-making, and brainstorming skills.

  1. Ask questions. Critically examining what you assume to be true and questioning conventional wisdom can help you challenge your biases. Interrogating your assumptions can also help you think outside the box to solve problems.
  2. Take time to listen. A skilled strategic thinker listens before making a move. When working with a team, consider everyone’s point of view and digest many perspectives in order to take a more nuanced approach to problem-solving. When working alone, gathering as much information as possible can lead to new questions and insights that further refine your strategic plan.
  3. Learn to prioritize. Whether your goals are personal or professional, ranking action items from most to least important can help you stay focused on a course of action.
  4. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t. After you’ve executed your plan, take time to assess successes and failures. What part of the process worked well that you’d like to repeat next time? What could be improved upon? Use all the metrics at your disposal and any insights you gain to improve your next strategic plan.

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I also highly recommend Richard Rumelt’s latest book, The Crux: How Leaders Become Strategists, published by PublicAffairs (May 2022).


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