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Monday, November 26, 2007

Why strategic thinking doesn't happen, part 5 – Outcomes are missing

Strategic thinking often falls short because specific outcomes are difficult to trace back to the effort put into strategic thinking or planning.

Beyond approaches covered previously to focus strategic thinking, broaden participation, and increase its rigor, a few principles can help create more tangible outcomes.

Be prepared with a rigorous prioritization approach – Frequently, 5 to 15% of the possibilities from a strategic thinking session have near-term development potential or strong relevance. A great first pass prioritization approach is to approximate the number of ideas your team has generated and divide it by 5 to arrive at 20% of the ideas. Divide this total by the number of participants; the result represents how many ideas each person will be able to select based on their belief in an idea’s strength and/or potential.

Let participants start narrowing – With their individual idea “allowances” set, participants can begin selecting ideas that they’ll take through the prioritization process. Ideas chosen can be their own or those of others. The important thing is that participants believe in the ideas they select.

After each team member has selected a set of ideas, ask them to make an initial assessment of each idea using the following questions – What are the idea’s strengths? What are the idea’s weaknesses? What’s unexpected or unusual about the idea relative to the status quo? What’s your initial recommendation about how the idea could be addressed? It’s beneficial to share these initial thoughts aloud to familiarize group members with ideas that may have been overlooked.

Perform individual ranking with group input – Following the initial report-out, use a 4-box grid to allow individuals to place their ideas relative to two dimensions:

  • Potential Impact – On a scale from Minimal to Dramatic
  • Implementation Ease – On a scale from Easy to Difficult

Once individuals have placed ideas on the grid, talk through each one to see what support or challenges there are within the group. Typically, team members will overstate the number of easy to implement ideas that are expected to have dramatic impact. If true, these ideas are very attractive, but often they’ll have less impact or may be more difficult to implement than originally suspected.

Don’t be afraid to consider moving an idea if there’s a clear take from the group that it’s stronger or weaker than its original placement. The result of this combined individual-group exercise should be a much more refined set of ideas, with a good deal of input to set the stage for selecting a few ideas that will be pursued further for development.

Keep track of what’s left over – It pays to track the ideas that aren’t selected initially. These often resurface later and it’s nice to be able to tie them back to the strategic thinking efforts that you’ve been conducting.


So from the last several posts, you’ll ideally be better prepared to cultivate strategic thinking in your department or business and then to do something with it. We’ll revisit these topics over time to provide more refinement, but for now, schedule time soon to do some fruitful strategic thinking!

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