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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why strategic thinking doesn't happen, part 3 – Somebody’s missing

If senior managers are the only ones sanctioned to think strategically, that’s a real problem. A company’s senior team tends to view the world in a relatively homogenous manner – from having shared experiences to holding a common perspective on the company and the market.

Great strategic thinking comes from diverse perspectives, cultivated and managed toward a view of the current & future business environment that increases the likelihood of successful results. Achieving this means spreading strategic thinking responsibility throughout the business.

Here are some fundamentals for accomplishing this:

Keep track of who is thinking and how they think – In bringing people together for strategic thinking, make sure three vital perspectives are represented with people that have:

  • Solid, front-line business experience (to help frame business issues)
  • Broad functional knowledge (with an understanding of capabilities)
  • Creative energy (acting as catalysts to view things in new & unconventional ways)

Take time to think – Set aside time for strategic thinking. This requires a willingness to invest dedicated time to consider a lot of possibilities, to narrow focus to the best ones, and then to develop & implement them. Focused time helps create an environment allowing people to selectively turn off conventional wisdom, triggering many more possibilities.

Use structure to increase output and efficiency – In initial phases, brainstorming rules help to productively manage how people with varied perspectives can increase the number of ideas generated very efficiently. Some starting principles include:

  • Have people say what comes to mind right away, not censoring themselves or others.
  • Use short, intense brainstorming spurts – spend minutes, not hours, considering an issue from multiple perspectives.
  • Emphasize the quantity of ideas over perceived quality or practicality. Set a demanding goal – typically look for 4 or 7 ideas per minute when brainstorming.
  • Say all ideas aloud and write them down on sticky notes with markers; this makes it easier to select, combine, & prioritize ideas in later stages.

These approaches help awaken strategic thinking. In the next related post, we’ll cover exercises that can be used to address common business situations.

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