THE VALUE IN THINKING STRATEGICALLY
Host: Sheryl Glick R.M.T.
Special Guest: Dr. Julia Sloan
I am Sheryl Glick host of ‘Healing From Within” and author of The Living Spirit a story of spiritual awakening, right thinking and action, understanding Universal energy, and ways to know ourselves both physically and spiritually. Today I welcome Dr. Julia Sloan author of Learning to Think Strategically. In a world of unrest the need for innovative global strategists is not merely geared towards survival but to compete in a skillful and ethical way and it is imperative that business military and government leaders learn to think strategically
Listeners of “Healing from Within” are well aware that Sheryl’s guests and she explore human and spiritual capacity for personal self-improvement, and a way to improve the quality of life in our world. Applying what we learn into our everyday life is the key to reaching our individual and collective potential to share and conserve our energy and resources for the greatest good of all. In today’s episode Dr. Julia Sloan teaches at Columbia University and travels the world Asia The Middle East and Europe consulting and speaking on strategic thinking showing us how leaders are desperate to move past outdated industrial age mindsets to becoming more innovative in their thinking and approach, to implement imaginative cutting edge thinking to solve modern day issues.
When Julia is asked to think back to her childhood and remember a person place or event that may have been meaningful to her and perhaps have led to the work and lifestyle she pursues now she quickly responded that while studying in Alaska she had a music theatre who was open minded and thought creatively and was innovative in his approach to all things. Indeed he showed his students the way to expand and enlarge thinking: to live outside the box, and not be restricted to limited or small ways to perceive your human potential. It is wonderful to have such a talented and open hearted person in your formative years.
When asked by Sheryl what is strategic thinking? And what qualities does a strategic thinker have? Julia goes on to explain Strategic thinking is a process that defines the manner in which people think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and others. Strategic thinking is an extremely effective and valuable tool. One can apply strategic thinking to arrive at decisions that can be related to your work or personal life. The following chart gives a clear view of what qualities are present in either type of thinker.
Ways to further advance this way of interacting with other People using strategic thinking According to 60,000 managers from more than 140 countries and which makes them highly effective leaders are listed below.
To understand how you can do this, here is our checklist for what you and your team can do now to raise their strategic thinking capacity:
1. Connect your people with what matters. Entrepreneurship guru Michael Gerber suggests you ask questions like, “What is the most important thing to you? What do you want your life to be about?” Only by linking personal goals with the organization’s goals will you fully unleash your team’s strategic capacity.
2. Focus on competencies not job skills. Vice Chairman and Managing Principal of Deloitte LLP Cathy Benko’s research shows that routine, repetitive jobs are being replaced by non-routine ones. This means we need our people to build competencies that translate instead of specific job skills.
3. Build them with projects they don’t keep. Hector Aquilar, CEO of GE Central America, noted that GE spends considerable time building strategic capability into the culture of the organization. One trick: every GE employee takes immediate responsibility of a special project. They develop solutions and sell recommendations.
“In our organization, everyone is accustomed to looking at how we get better. Everyone is trained as a business person,” he explained.
4. Create think time. Every expert acknowledged the tension between day-to-day demands and time to think. One way out is to give your people structured time to stop and think. But don’t stop there. Hold one-hour brainstorms for your team to solve the week’s most pressing business challenge. Hold monthly half-day “brain workouts.”
5. Put up the periscope. A critical habit of highly strategic teams calls “putting up your periscope.” He looks to see if leaders “look outside their silos and sectors” to understand trends and practices they might apply. Change in your market often emanates from unexpected sources. AT&T never expected they’d compete with Microsoft, but then Microsoft bought Skype.
6. Avoid outsourcing your thinking. The quick fix to solving strategic challenges is to bring in outside consultants. Turn to that crutch too often and your people will forget how to walk themselves. Instead force your team members to think for themselves. Finally, you want to arm your people with the right tools to perform the practices. They key is to give them clarity.
7. “The formal top-down approach where strategy is rolled down to execute no longer works in this [fast-paced] environment.” She believes a more flexible philosophy that allows companies to pivot quickly as conditions change is emerging. Executives can provide a guideline for what “true north” is, but it is up to each business to define a strategic path to get there.
8. The winning formula. Finding a repeatable formula produces predictable results. You don’t want your people to blindly follow the past, but you want to show them the key activities they must stick to in order to maintain a competitive advantage. When your people know what makes you great, and they stick to those differentiators, they know they are going to win, so they play with confidence and calmness.
9. The vocabulary. The words you use are tools that will shape your organization. Avoid the term “human resources,” preferring instead the term adopted by Hollywood: “talent.” It communicates people are unique, they get on stage and perform, they move from role to role and are not defined by those roles. This similarly suggests you think carefully about the vocabulary you use because it shapes the reality in which your people think.
Sheryl suggests to Julia that there has been a trend in the country to ban or disparage certain works and thinking which she finds terribly dehumanizing and controlling highlighting discrimination through identity politics that limit us from uniquely independently expressing our own thoughts. This is against Freedom of Speech and not part of Strategic thinking and planning nor good for advancing new creative and mind opening ideas and ways to proceed to focus on new objectives. For example using a Hollywood term “talent” is perhaps a politically correct idea by media but using the term “human resources” is equally appropriate. While there is indeed much good to be had from respecting individual abilities and rights focusing on vocabulary to limit others while empowering your group is not in my opinion a way to improve strategic thinking strategic reaction planning or being productive. Strategic thinking is a way to be open to new goals and results, not divisive or inclusive of certain ideas and groups.
Now more than ever there is an organizational imperative to develop strategic thinkers. There is widespread agreement that strategic thinking is important for the direction and sustainability of organizations, but is often absent or at least significantly lacking. More and more organizations are learning that past experience is not always the best basis for developing future strategies. Executives need to thoughtfully consider how to create value for customers. The exercise of strategic planning, while important, tends to answer the “how” and “when” of business planning and rarely captures the essence of what it means to think strategically. That’s where strategic thinking comes in. Strategic thinking is the “what:” and “why” of the planning process. It answers the question, “What should we be doing, and why?” Strategic Thinking requires innovation and creativity and includes a research phase to examine the voice of the customer, the employee and industry best practices. It is a process of examining everything we do in our various roles, understanding the needs of our customers and ensuring that all of this is linked to clearly defined strategic imperatives.
If we compare strategic thinking with strategic planning and operational planning we see that:
* Strategic Thinking – is the “What” and the “Why”…that is what should we be doing and why.
* Strategic Planning – is the “How” and “When” …at a very high level.
* Operational Planning – is the specific details of the how and when.
The purpose of Strategic Thinking is to create a strategy that is a coherent, unifying, integrative framework for decisions especially about direction of the business and resource utilization. To do it, Strategic Thinking uses internal and external data, qualitative synthesis of opinions and perceptions. It is conscious, explicit, and proactive and defines competitive domain for corporate strategic advantage.
Strategy is a key outcome of a relevant strategic thinking process.
1. The process begins with Innovation. We try to create the ideal future and consider the plans needed to achieve them and to see them through. Innovation helps us to move outside our comfort zone into the possibilities of exceeding customer and organizational requirements and expectations. Innovations are then articulated into a series of strategies. This is a part of the entire Strategic Planning process. However, in Strategic Thinking, we incorporate the needs of our customers, the organization and our staff in the process. We incorporate Benchmarking to ensure that industry best practices are included in our vision of the future.
2. Employee Involvement at each stage of the Strategic Thinking process is key to ensuring that they stay involved in the execution of the Operational plans. This is where Operational Planning comes to play. It is the process of taking the strategies (the outcomes of the Strategic Planning process) and developing them into action plans that are achievable and involve staff throughout the organization in ensuring that the needs of the customer and the organization are met.
3. The last part of Strategic Thinking is Measurement. There must be an on-going process of measuring the effectiveness of the plans and verifying that they are implemented as planned. Measurement is also used to benchmark the original needs against the implemented actions.
To successfully implement strategic change, initiated through the strategic thinking process, it is important for all levels of employees to fully incorporate the change in everything they do. We do this by identifying and establishing Values and Principles to ensure the organization is successful at achieving its strategic goals.
The 5 essential attributes of successful strategic thinkers
1. Open to valuable perspectives from multiple sources Some elements of strong strategic thinking can certainly be enhanced by seniority. Importantly though, great strategic thinking is about the right combination of three diverse perspectives: front-line organizational experience, broad functional knowledge, and creative energy. These three mindsets are important because each will process and develop strategic perspectives in different ways.
People with front-line experience help frame and ground business issues. Those with functional knowledge of key business processes understand important capabilities. Creative people see and address opportunities in unconventional ways.
Any of these groups, working by themselves, will create a strategic direction lacking in some essential way. Working together, there’s the potential for game-changing moves.
Some people have one of these perspectives; others have two or all three. No matter how many one has, the more open someone is to considering perspectives he or she doesn’t possess, the stronger their strategic thinking skills.
2. Adept at incorporating both logic and emotion into their thinking
While there’s often an organizational premium placed on left brain thinking – the quantitative, analytical, logical processing that moves toward definitive answers – strong strategic thinkers need both a left brain and a right brain orientation. Right brain thinking incorporates a qualitative, connecting, and a more abstract view of market threats and opportunities.
Rarely do important organizational and market changes succeed or fail solely through an analytical and logic-based business case. Hard numbers may win the day for selling new ideas in the executive suite, but when it comes to successful implementation, emotions such as fear, hope, passion, and frustration are vital in moving people to embrace major change. If a strategic thinking team only depends on logic and does not incorporate emotion, the strategy it develops will be lacking a vital component.
3. Comfortable thinking in ways extending beyond today’s reality
You can’t afford to have people masquerading as strategic thinkers who cannot think outside today’s reality. Solid strategic thinkers have to be able to free themselves from today to consider multiple possibilities for how your organization’s course may play out in the future.
But that’s only half the story.
When trying to view a current situation dramatically differently, people need to be able to think in ways that have only loose connections to what today actually looks like. Effective strategic planning exercises force thinking along new paths and incorporate unexpected twists and thinking detours. This SHOULD make people uncomfortable with their standard ways of thinking. A strong strategic thinker is fine with that. A strategic thinking wannabe won’t be able to go along for the unexpected ride. It’s vital to hone a strategic team’s openness to what may today seem impossible or preposterous; that’s where tomorrow’s innovation will likely originate.
4. Constantly questioning both the familiar and the new. Many people are fine questioning what they don’t support. As a result, you have people clamoring for change who are excited to question everything about the status quo. People who are completely comfortable with just the way things are right now suddenly discover their questioning mojos when the possibility of dramatic change rears its head.
The best strategic thinkers question yesterday, today, tomorrow, and everything in the future. Additionally, the more they explore strategic options, the more new questions they generate. Strategic thinking is about exploration. If it’s fruitful exploration, the best strategic thinkers are okay with the new strategic paths they uncover being laden with new questions.
5. Open to not answering or resolving every strategic issue
This characteristic goes hand in hand with the previous one about constantly questioning. While successful executives are largely rewarded for moving things to successful resolution – and that’s vital for business performance – effective strategic thinkers do have to be able to moderate any tendencies to prematurely resolve strategic issues.
Even successful strategic thinking cannot be expected to answer everything. The future is never completely certain. Especially now, it’s imperative for organizations to be nimble enough to adapt to changing market conditions. That means it can be important to leave certain strategic options open fur future consideration. An adept strategic thinking isn’t rattled by that possibility. Julia suggests that this type of thinking planning and follow through are beneficial for all organizations and workers at every level.
Successful strategists learn to think strategically
Start by changing your mindset. If you believe that strategic thinking is only for senior executives, think again. It can, and must, happen at every level of the organization; it’s one of those unwritten parts of all job descriptions. Ignore this fact and you risk getting passed over for a promotion, or having your budget cut because your department’s strategic contribution is unclear.Once you’ve accepted that it’s part of your job, focus on developing four key abilities that demonstrate your strategic prowess.
1. Know: Observe and Seek Trends
Lisa wasn’t seeing the big picture. Because of the amount of work she had and the pace at which she needed to get it done, she often took a “heads down” approach to her job and failed to “lift up” and observe both internal and external trends. She was missing key information that could help her focus, prioritize, and be proactive in addressing talent issues for her fast-growing company. Because Lisa approached her job in a transactional manner, simply getting the next hire, she didn’t recognize that she needed a completely new approach to recruitment and retention.
In order to be strategic, you need a solid understanding of the industry context, trends, and business drivers. An intellectual appreciation of the importance of bringing in current data and seeking trends isn’t enough. You also have to:
Make it a routine exercise to explore and synthesize the internal trends in your day-to-day work. For example, pay attention to the issues that get raised over and over in your organization and synthesize the common obstacles your colleagues face.
Be proactive about connecting with peers both in your organization and in your industry to understand their observations of the marketplace. Then, share your findings across your network.
Understand the unique information and perspective that your function provides and define its impact on the corporate level strategy.
2. Think: Ask the Tough Questions
With a fresh understanding of trends and issues, you can practice using strategic thinking by asking yourself, “How do I broaden what I consider?” Questions are the language of strategy. Lisa came to appreciate that her life and prior experience gave her a unique, yet myopic, strategic lens. So she pushed herself to ramp up her perspective-taking and inquiry skills. By becoming more curious, and looking at information from different points of view, she was able to reduce her myopia and see different possibilities, different approaches, and different potential outcomes. For example, when working on an employee retention project she asked herself, “What does success look like in Year 1?” “What does it look like in Year 3?” “What could impact the outcome in a negative way?” “What are the early signs of success/failure?” “What do business partners need to understand to ensure its success?” and “Do the outcomes support the broader goals of the organization?” By asking these tough questions first, she recognized that she could better engage with colleagues and senior executives early on in ways that would benefit the project — and would help shape the perception that she was thoughtful and strategic.
3. Speak: Sound Strategic
Strategic thinkers also know how to speak the language. They prioritize and sequence their thoughts. They structure their verbal and written communication in a way that helps their audience focus on their core message. They challenge the status quo and get people talking about underlying assumptions. Those that are really skilled walk people through the process of identifying issues, shaping common understanding, and framing strategic choices. If this sounds complex, that’s because it is. But there are ways you can start honing these skills:
Add more structure to your written and verbal communication. Group and logically order your main points, and keep things as succinct as possible.
Prime your audience by giving them a heads up on the overarching topics you want to address so they are prepared to engage in a higher level conversation, not just the tactical details.
Practice giving the answer first, instead of building up to your main point.
Lisa didn’t realize that the way she spoke created the perception that she was not strategic. She set about changing that. First by focusing her one-on-ones with her CHRO on higher level discussions and leaving tactical issues to email. She chose one or two strategic areas to focus on. and made sure to frame issues in the context of the CHRO’s and the CEO’s top priorities.
4. Act: Make Time for Thinking and Embrace Conflict
In the early phase of our work together, Lisa kept a jam-packed schedule, running from meeting to meeting. She found it difficult to contribute strategically without the time to reflect on the issues and to ponder options. Recognizing that she was not bringing her full value to the table, she started to evaluate her tasks based on urgency and importance. She stopped going to meetings she didn’t need to be at. She blocked out thinking time on her calendar and honored it, just as she would for other meetings. And she fought back the initial guilt of “Am I doing real work when I’m just sitting at my desk thinking?” Lisa also practiced other key skills. She learned to embrace debate and to invite challenge, without letting it get personal so that she could ask tough questions. To do this, she focused on issues, not people, and used neutral peers to challenge her thinking.
Researchers using advances in neuroscience, however, point to a much more fundamental problem with corporate strategizing: thinking through a strategy is not good enough; you also have to feel it. More specifically, Porter-based strategic development ignores the vital emotional and social factors that not only ensure a more effective strategy, but also one that is more compelling and engaging, thus reinforcing the likelihood of successful implementation. Sensing-intuition processes, as when we connect with our internal feelings and emotions. These are the older parts of our brain; psychoanalysts use the term ‘deep dive’ when describing the mental process of reaching down into these old, primordial parts of the brain. The most adept at this kind of deep dive are creative artists, whose art does not emerge from rational thinking, but from their emotions and core feelings. This type of functioning also helps us plan for the future through focus and memory. The process is as follows: we develop the ideal future state, then internalize that vision as a ‘memory of the future’, which, like a memory of the past, guides our decisions as we plan for the achievement of our vision.
Sheryl mentions to Julia the bestseller, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Gladwell shows how the success of many outstanding “outliers” from the Beatles to Bill Gates, were “invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities that allowed them to work hard and make sense of the world in the ways others (could) not”. That is not to deny the role of special talents, but rather to say that they are not unique – many others would have similar talents which without the unusual circumstances or opportunities stacked in their favour, would not triumph. Outliers discusses a 10,000 hour rule: it takes at least 10,000 hours of purposeful dedicated practice to make an expert. By purposeful, he means targeted and effective: “Mere experience, if it is not matched by deep concentration, does not translate into excellence”. So you need to stick at something for long enough with the right attitude. Purposeful practice was the “only factor distinguishing the best from the rest”. What about child prodigies? Tiger Woods and Mozart just started intensive practice much earlier than everyone else. “HARD WORK BEATS TALENT WHEN TALENT DOESNT WORK HARD” Julia and Sheryl would say strategic thinking and planning are for everyone.
Sheryl goes on to ask if she thinks the President Trump is he a strategic thinker. Sheryl feels in regard to the chart we discussed early and as an outsider who is a hard worker investing a lifetime into building business and corporate success he is indeed a strategic thinker. The absence of strategic thinkers is a resounding cry that is echoed around the globe by senior leaders in business, military and government. Yet Julia Sloan suggests that most leaders are entrapped in an outdated, industrial-age mindset when it comes to the approach they use for developing strategic thinkers—one that is devoid of an imaginative edge and clueless about how people learn to think strategically. Sloan declares that, “Successful strategy is always past tense” and if organizations have more than a hope and a prayer of remaining competitive, it is necessary that leaders understand the underlying learning process that supports strategic thinking in order to develop innovative winning strategic thinkers.
The military uses strategic thinking. A strategic thinker is a far more productive thinker. It is always better to be able to look beyond the valley than just looking in it. Strategy comes from the military- the formulation and result of plans by generals, officers, kings, training of men and development of maneuvers to generate victory. Essentially “Strategic Thinking” is a style of systems structure, management and production of either man and or machine over time. The art of generalship. The word “strategy” comes from the Greek word strategos meaning “leader of army”. The word now is commonly used and associated with both the civilian and military world.
Strategic thinking is the ability to determine the mission structure, approach, and the mission critical in order to accomplish the objective desired. In other words asking, “what do I need to do as well as the things I need to obtain in the short, mid, and long term, to produce success. A strategist looks at the strategic, tactical operational arenas as one (long term, short term, immediate) most times. A seamless blend, a self-supporting system that carries momentum of a plan from beginning to end. The strategic practitioner understands that the loss, or alteration of a mission critical or critical, could change the dynamic of the desired outcome in totality or in part.
Sheryl thanks Dr. Julia Sloan author of Learning to Think Strategically for discussing what should be a course given to all students in order to advance thinking that moves past limited fear based impressions of childhood and societal mores which may restrict and limit us from thinking and living creatively and from approaching challenges with foresight, courage, and a new found way to think realistically and yet meaningfully at the same time. Communication has often been the root of many misalignments and roadblocks to progress. Thinking strategically is a way to improve how we interact with each other and the world and how we can thrive.
In summarizing today’s episode of “Healing From Within “we have discussed an extremely modern way to think and act in ways that enhance our interactions and productivity within our families, corporations and businesses, military and government. While complex in nature Strategic Thinking remains a way for us to evolve…. using both our right and left brain capacity to interpret and view the world around us. Intuitively and emotionally we can support the process of Strategic thinking as we continue to grow and refine our inner and outer sense of reality and create with our words, actions and investment of time the perfection of necessary skills, talents and individual proclivities for self-development and for helping our planet.
Julia and I would hope you begin to see the possibilities by observing those around you who think out of the box and bring to their work intentional planning, and efforts to work cooperatively and fruitfully, to become more proficient at improving their skills as Strategic Thinkers, in a world that is changing so rapidly now and needs us all to embrace these valuable understandings for language proficiency, persistence, engagement, asking questions that illuminate the road to progress and ultimate success.
Guest: Dr. Julia Sloan