October  2020     Edition 153
Strategic Thinking using Two Words

We often hear from our customers about helping their people become better Strategic Thinkers.

   When I hear that I always ask my customer to define what they mean by "strategic thinking".  Just for fun, I searched on google for (in quotes) "definition of strategic thinking".  Google came back with "About 956,000 results".  That's a lot of opinions.

The responses I generally get

when I ask what strategic thinking is led me to the following:

Strategic Thinking is thinking beyond the specific issue or task at hand.  You look at consequences, implications, interdependencies, and indirect effects, all in both the short and long term.  It's an activity where you look beyond the immediate goal or issue and with the context of the world around you, not just the content of the moment. It's thinking ahead

.  (See a previous Headscratcher Post I wrote a few years ago, Strategic vs Critical Thinking).

The two words


So What?

  "So what?" is a critical thinking tool that strategic thinkers use all the time.  When you ask "So What?" you're really asking variations of the following:
  1. What are the connections and interdependencies between my work and the work of others?
  2. How does my issue, my deliverable, my effort, impact the work and deliverables of others, and visa versa?
  3. What's the value of what I'm doing?
  4. What is my value to the organization and how can I add more value?  What is my value to my family?
  5. How is what I'm doing affect the short and long term goals; mine; yours; our organization?
  6. How do other initiatives affect what I'm doing?
  7. What are the implications of the decisions I am making, on people, on the schedule, on our finances, on our customers?
  8. How do the external events affect me, my department, my company, my family, my partners, vendors, supplies and customers? 
  9. What are the mega trends out there and how does that affect what I'm involved with? 
10.When I make this change, who will be affected, what will that effect be, and how does that matter?
the list goes on.

Strategic thinking is about looking beyond what is in front of you

, seeing the world as multi-directional, i.e. your world affects many others, and many others' world affects you.  You look for the linkage and make conscious decisions with respect to that linkage.  We live in a connected world, and understanding those connections, i.e. the "so what?" of those connections, is what strategic thinking is all about.

Here are a few simple examples:

- A software engineer came to me one day and that engineer said, "I'm done".   She had choices in how to implement things, so I asked why she chose that way.  She answered, "This was the easiest and fastest way to get it done".   I asked how the customer of that system would react to the way it was implemented vs other ways, and the engineer said, "I guess my implementation results in a more complicated user interface".  I asked, "who are we building this system for?"   After rewriting the implementation, while it took longer, the customers loved the system and the value of spending that extra time was well worth it.

-Traveling with little children.  All parents exercise some strategic thinking when it comes their babies.  Packaging for all contingencies, with extra clothing just in case, making sure you have snacks and drinks in the event you get stuck somewhere, gadgets for entertainment (maybe some extra batteries just in case), meds for the sudden cold, ear ache, maybe a thermometer.
-Weight loss: You can take a tactical approach and just cut down or moderate what you eat or you can take a strategic approach and look beyond your food consumption, but your life style, exercise regime, general long term health improvement.

-Looking for another job:  You can look for another job that pays more, or you can strategically look for a job that will enhance your skills, be more rewarding where you can grow and take on more responsibility, as a stepping stone for further development, even though it might pay you less in the short term.

- On project teams:  You can think about your work and finishing it with quality and within schedule, or you can see the link of your work with the rest of the team, and the value of the team's success and how that affects your success.  While you implement your work, consider what you can do to make it easier for others to complete theirs.

- Investing the time to learn a new skill.  Whether you're a recent graduate, or in retirement, its always a good investment to learn new things.  The value (the so what) not only gives your brain good exercise, but continually positions you to see and reap the benefits of new opportunities.  While living for the moment has its rewards, combining that with living for the future enables you to enjoy living for the moment when future moments arrive.

The Takeaway:

  Strategic thinking in a nut shell: don't just look down at your feet and where you are stepping, but lift your head up and understand where you are going, and how you and the rest of the world are interconnected.  Use a "So What?" question to stimulate that thinking.

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