What does strategic thinking mean?

Strategic is a term that has become extremely popular in this century- just look at the graph below which shows its use in literature over the decades

ST Blog - graph







Strategic means

relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them.


relating to the gaining of overall or long-term military advantage.

A strategy is “a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty.”

So strategic thinking, potentially, is a tool of business, usually management, to handle uncertain times and make plans to overcome them.

Why is strategic thinking more important than common or garden thoughts?

St Blog - thinkWe have anything between 50, 000 and 70,000 thoughts a day, depending on which research you read. That’s a lot of thinking. Sadly, most of it is pretty mundane; food, shopping, bills, TV, more food, sex (perhaps not entirely mundane). We are rarely called on to do much strategic thinking until confronted with a problem. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that without practice our strategic thinking skills may be a bit rusty. Our brains need to exercise their strategic thinking muscles in order for us to respond well to the unexpected.

In military training, strategy can mean the difference between life and death, so military personnel at management level are taught to think strategically. For them it is a game of wits, outmaneuvering the enemy and being one step ahead. Perhaps one of the best known strategic works on war is Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and it is often quoted in boardrooms (usually during hostile takeover bids!)

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

Sun Tzu http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/sun_tzu.html

Strategy is often a hidden art and strategic thinking is sometimes a solo enterprise – but it shouldn’t be. We have all heard of the concept of brainstorming as a business tool to generate ideas. It certainly has its place but it is only the starting point for strategic thinking. The resistance to the idea of strategic thinking is that some people shy away from the idea that thinking can be learned. It makes them uncomfortable and in a business boardroom it smacks of intellectualism- when actually it is just good business sense. Strategic does not mean highbrow, it simply means considering approaches to creative development of business ideas. It means shifting the focus away from the practicalities of how and when and moving towards why?

Strategic thinking is the “what:” and “why” of the planning process. It answers the question, “What should we be doing, and why?”


How can business cultivate strategic thinking?

ST Blog - Einstein QuoteTo encourage a more strategic approach to problem solving in business you need to create a culture of discussion within an organisation. Too often a business is hit by crisis and goes into headless chicken mode. Embarrassed at, say, a downturn in profits upper management becomes secretive and withdrawn. The first step when profits fall is almost always, make cuts in staff. This may be necessary but all too often it is a knee jerk reaction; the complete opposite of strategic thinking. Crises need considered thought, not panicked response.

The very nature of a crisis is that it is sudden, but rarely does a business hit rocky waters without some indication of rough seas ahead. PLANNING for such eventualities is part of strategic thinking. Rather than wait for the rocks to loom, the company’s management needs to have in place strategies to deal with potentially difficult times.

Next week’s blog post will look at how to cultivate strategic thinking techniques and embed them into a company approach to problem solving and crisis management.

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