Graham Birkenhead, November 14 2023

Are You Thinking Big Enough?

If you are a typical human, then probably not 

One of the first things I ask of an audience when running my Strategic Thinking workshops is "raise your hand if you think you are a strategic thinker".    I am always amazed at how few people raise their hands straight away - probably about a fifth if that, and then a few do the slight raising lowering thing which implies they think they maybe, but maybe not.   I then ask them to raise their hands if they think they are NOT a strategic thinker - and that is where most hands appear.  I guess that explains why they come on a strategic thinking workshop in the first place.

 The important point is that we are actually all, naturally, strategic thinkers.  We couldn't get through our day, week, or year without thinking strategically.  Any time you envision a future state and then plot a course to achieve it, then you are thinking strategically. Whether you are envisioning what you are going to have for dinner and then planning the shopping trip, and planning the cooking, or imagining yourself on some exotic holiday location next year, then working backwards to identify all the thing that you need to make real for your vacation to become real - that is strategic thinking.    

 We all do it because it is a natural human ability, it's just the scale of our strategic thinking that differentiates us.

Imagine (or draw) a funnel with curved sides and the wide part at the top.  That wide part represents the infiniteness of the universe.   As we go down and the funnel narrows, then that is where we find ourselves in our day-to-day reality. Above us, in the funnel, is sitting our town, our country, the world, the solar system, our galaxy, the universe; and most of that has no impact on our decision making day to day - so we ignore it - but do we ignore too much of it?

 Strategic thinking has 2 dimension - space and time.  Looking up and down in our funnel, we see the enormity of intergalactic space, or the tiny space around us.  Looking left and right we see time. Left (usually) is our - and the world's history - where we have come from, what we have done, what we have achieved - a great source of learning for when we navigate the future.   Looking right, is that future – it’s ours to imagine and create.

 However, (there is always a however), being human, we have a 'conservation of energy' program that runs in the background of our minds.  What this means is that we position ourselves just far enough up the funnel so we can see enough of the world and enough of the future to just keep us out of serious trouble.  This becomes a familiar, and often comfortable place, or more likely a place where we can tolerate the discomfort. 

Is that you?   Of course it is?  It is all of us; we may be in different places up that funnel, but we all tend to find our comfort place.  

I ask my workshop attendees how far up the funnel they should be if they want to think more strategically - they usually start to get the answer: "a little further than where I am right now".    And how do you do that?  Well, in a word: 'Explore'.  Explore the world around you whether that is asking more questions, more probing questions, going new places, considering new concepts or ideas, trying new things, meeting new people, scaring yourself a little (a natural part of moving beyond what is comfortable and familiar).   Look to the past, combine it with your broader knowledge of the present and use it to imagine a bigger future that you want to create, then go create it - and that by the way is strategy. 

"The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible." - Arthur C. Clarke

 What are you going to do to augment your already amazing capability as a strategic thinker?



Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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