Strategic thinking is a concept that made a name for itself in the area of marketing. However, it is also perfectly applicable in other areas aside from business or work. It’s actually a useful approach in practically any area.
Strategic thinking is defined as approaching today from the perspective of the future. In other words, it is an approach aimed at anticipating the long-term effects of our actions. It is a creative, long-term vision geared to the achievement of specific objectives.
As the name suggests, strategic thinking involves strategy. A coordinated action plan focused on a specific plan or goal. At first, this way of thinking was used in the context of war. After that it was applied to the business world. However, as we said before, it can be applied to any kind of goal.
Characteristics of strategic thinking
The first thing we should say about strategic thinking is that you can’t learn it from reading a how-to manual. Instead, people compare it to walking, swimming or riding a bicycle. It isn’t theoretical; it is learned through practice.
You are thinking strategically when you meet the following characteristics:
You know where you want to go. There must be a clearly defined objective or purpose. If not, then any strategy is pointless.
You know where you are at. In other words, you have the capacity to define what the current situation is, and how far away the goal is.
You know how to define the path you must follow. This is really the central point of the strategy. It involves us working out how we will reach our goals.
You know how to self-evaluate and correct things. Strategic thinking requires flexibility to constantly monitor what is being done and be able to redirect things if necessary.
To think strategically, you need a dose of realism, a capacity for reflection, and an ability to see the big picture. Of course, these capacities don’t just appear out of nowhere, they have to be developed through practice.
Three keys to strategic thinking
In the world of strategic thinking, a lot of different skills matter. However, there are three that are absolutely vital. That’s because they allow you to build the central point of this way of thinking: strategy. These skills are:
The ability to throw out predictive models. You cannot adopt a plan of action and cling to it stubbornly. Strategy must be constantly renewed. You must have an open mind to address situations as they arise, redirect if necessary and tackle uncertainty.
The ability to ask questions. In strategic thinking, questions are much more important than answers. If you can define the question, you are already halfway towards your goal.
The ability to identify the key points. We need to learn to separate the definite from the random. Knowing what the crucial factors are is absolutely fundamental. This allows for more precise monitoring and redirection as necessary.
Strategic thinking is not the same as “strategic planning“. The former is an intellectual ability that you channel. But the latter is the application of that skill in any given situation.
Exercises to develop strategic thinking
There are many ways to develop strategic thinking. For example, you can do it by playing chess or pitching new hypotheses and testing them. To start off, however, it’s a good idea to do some simple exercises. These exercises have proven effective in disciplining the mind and teaching it to design strategies.
Here are three simple exercises we highly recommend:
Doing something totally different. The idea here is that you decide to do some activity that you’ve never done before. It can be something very simple, like taking a different route to work. As you do, observe everything in detail. After that, describe the experience on paper. Write down what you discovered.
Role play. In this exercise you think of someone that you really admire. The mechanics are similar to role play. You think of that person and try to think how they think. Then, throughout the day, you behave as if you were that person. At the end of the day, you describe what you discovered.
Crazy questions. Every day try to ask a question about something unusual. It shouldn’t be a question to get information but rather one that invites analysis. Then try to answer it without looking for information. Suggest hypotheses. Then investigate and verify. Here’s an example: why are eyes round?
To conclude, strategic thinking is a skill that helps you reach your goals. Therefore it can be applied to virtually anything. It helps you to think in a more orderly way, but most of all to think of the long-term and what you want to achieve.