Of Mice and Elephants
I have worked with senior managers and executive teams who wouldn't recognise strategy if it bit them on the proverbial; conversely, I have worked with great strategic thinkers in the most unexpected places with much less responsibility. The ability to think strategically has nothing to do with your role or seniority, although one hopes that executives and senior managers had this key skill well honed.
As members of the human species, we come preprogrammed with the ability to think strategically. Most of us are able to recognise and understand the world around us, imagine a future state, and work out how to get there. This is something we do every day - such as planning dinner or a vacation on the other side of the world. Just think for a moment about all the things you need to know or be aware of to do this.
So, what makes a strategic thinker? I look for 4 key indicators that will suggest someone is thinking strategically:
-  Insatiable curiosity. They are always trying to learn more about the world around them. While this could include gaining deeper insight into a specific thing, it is more about the breadth of exposure to the world. They explore physically and intellectually - try the new or different.
-  A joiner of dots. Exploration and experiences provide the data points to contextualize our situation as we add new experience onto our existing mental view or model of the world. The more intense, varied, and diverse the exploration, the more data point we gather and the richer the mental model of the world that develops. The mind does this automatically if we give it stimulating input and a bit of time and space.
-  A box with fuzzy walls. I've previously described the 'Box' as a survival map of our world to keep us safe, but it can also restrict our ability to step beyond our current knowledge and experience. A strategist creatively combines ideas to envisage a future and then plots a course based on a solid understanding of how the world works. We all have a 'box', but too rigid a box can thwart our willingness to explore, our abiilty to join the dots, and thus make better sense of the world beyond the models we already have developed. This in turn limits our ability to imagine a new or different future.
-  Scale. A strategic thinker will exhibit all three attributes. The next issue becomes one of scale – how big you think. If you took an inventory of all the various parts of a mouse and an elephant, you’d see a very high degree of similarity; one is just much, much bigger than the other. You can be a citizen of the world or a village and still be a strategic thinker. For our business leader, thinking strategically at the appropriate scale is crucial.
Most people limit their exposure to the world through either circumstance or opportunity; some people are thrust into greater exposure (the fast track). Those in, or aspiring to senior and executive management positions need to proactively set themselves up to release their natural ability as a strategic thinker. The great news is that thinking more strategically can be coached; are you ready to explore that possibility or do you firmly believe this blog isn't how the world works?
See you out there