How to Become Better at Thinking Strategically

What is Strategic Thinking?

If you want to move your team to the next level, you have to be good at thinking strategically. However, in most organizations, everyone is so consumed with daily activities, multi-tasking and busy work that is hard to take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Rich Horwath, in his Strategic Thinking Manifesto, finds that “the most commonly cited strategy challenge is time (96 percent).” He reports that “44 percent of managers spend most of their time firefighting in cultures that reward reactivity and discourage thoughtfulness.”

As well as a lack of time and focus, another reason managers don't prioritize strategic thinking is because it is hard to define. There are many ways to describe the process of strategic thinking – being open minded, thinking out of the box, looking at the big picture, etc.

Forbes says this: “Thinking strategically is the mental process you go through when pondering an open-ended question. It’s best done in a low-stress environment where you can freely think and not be easily distracted. Additionally, it’s important to capture ideas as they come in — by paper, journal, computer, etc.”

The Difference Between Strategic vs. Tactical Thinking

When you think tactically, you are task-oriented. Your focus is on accomplishing daily activities, meeting deadlines, and checking things off your to-do list. However when you think strategically, you focus more on process. You think creatively and forward-looking, in order to achieve long-term success in the future.

How can You Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills?

What does it take to start thinking strategically? We define a strategic thinker as someone who sees the big picture of future possibility and creates strategic connections leading to competitive advantage. It’s all about possibility and connection and pausing to ask the right questions.

  1. Focus on Future Possibility

    Take time to step back from the day-to-day and focus on the bigger picture. What are your organization’s or team's long-term business goals and what are the best ways to achieve them? Staying up-to-date with industry trends is a great way to understand where things are heading and what you should be doing now to ensure your organization or department can capitalize on them.

  2. Make Strategic Connections

    In addition to staying on top of industry trends, look for connections between them. Look at the way another company is doing something and relate it to your organization. Use these connections as inspiration for what you can implement in your own environment to create positive change.

    To find inspiration, be open to new ideas. For example, learn by reading, visiting other companies, and talking to people in other departments or your broader professional network.

  3. Ask the Right Questions

    As part of the strategic thinking process, stop to ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask the difficult ones. Though you may not find all the answers, you'll develop a better idea of what will work and what won’t work.

In conclusion, the key to taking your organization or team to the next level is not only to go through the strategic thinking process, but also to turn that thinking into action. Set measurable goals for your organization and create a strategic plan that will lead you to successfully reach those goals.