Several years ago I was asked to develop a program on Strategic Thinking for presentation to a large group of senior global marketing professionals operating in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The result of this effort is found in our highly successful Strategic Thinking Method workshop.
A component of this course is one that I would like to discuss today-defining differences between Strategic Thinking vs. Operational Thinking. Please note the topic is Strategic Thinking, not Strategic Planning. I’ve done a great deal of both but our Strategic Thinking focus has a different approach than a typical Strategic Planning effort. Strategic Thinking is most often used when considering a major expansion, an acquisition, a reorganization or consolidation initiative within a firm. Both Operational and Strategic Thinking are essential skills, but each is used for different purposes, and neither one is “better”.
Strategic Thinking is more useful when major issues with major impacts are being reviewed and assessed. Operational Thinking may be used after the Strategic Thinking process has derived best solutions and is where actual implementation of these solutions needs to occur. Much of the information found in the Strategic Thinking seminar has been gleaned from excellent articles from a variety of authors and practitioners and research which have been combined with my own materials and experiences.
Strategic Thinking defined: Strategic Thinking is the stream of ideas and reflections which help leader/managers to grasp the “bigger picture” and helps prevent them from getting lost in the wrong kind of detail. It is a process that is “fluid”, which generates insights, options, and break-through ideas to move an organization forward in uncertain and changing environments, much as we are experiencing today.
Strategic Thinking requires a perspective shift from traditional Operational Thinking.
• Operational Thinking is linear, deductive, often pre-programmed, where boundaries are clear, where the process is “safe” in that it allows for little variance from a standardized approach, and is ultimately focused on adherence to the process.
• Strategic Thinking is iterative (repetitive review of specific data in a variety of test environments to see what results are constant and what outcomes are varied), unpredictable, inductive and intuitive (i.e. allows for emotional and visceral sensitivities to be considered as a valid part of the process). It is also highly creative. In the initial phases of Strategic Thinking the results of initial research yield a picture that can be ambiguous and fuzzy. In this early state the process is therefore anxiety provoking and uncomfortable. Note: When the research teams are exhibiting those feelings and perceptions in the early stages, they are, in fact, doing exactly the right thing in the process. It is only later, after careful data compilation and examination combined with experiential knowledge and test runs, that novel, creative, sometimes unorthodox, often highly innovative, and useful solutions come to light.
Strategic Thinking necessitates two teams of no more than eight members working independently on the same topics, generating ideas and potential solutions and then getting together to share them with their team counterparts. The teams then reflect again on the differences and similarities in the possible solutions and ultimately convene together to share their respective evolved solutions. The ultimate goal is the selection by both teams on which ideas are to be considered the ultimate solutions for consideration by senior leader/managers within the organization.
These seminars have been conducted by my firm within a variety of diverse industry segments here in the United States and overseas. The results have often been significant contributors to innovative approaches used to keep our clients steps ahead of the competition.