“You need to think more strategically.”

How would that statement make you feel? Probably a little confused. If you ask around for guidance, you might hear responses like, “think long-term”, “look at the big picture” or “plan for change”. These are good pointers, but not very concrete. Some even consider them as buzzwords.

Prof. Dorie Clark, Duke University, has designed a LinkedIn Learning course, where she says, strategic thinking is a mindset – it’s literally child’s play. She further explains, “we spend a lot of our lives being told what to do. You’re not going to do very well in grade school if you’re constantly questioning the teacher. So, it can be hard to rewire ourselves once we graduate and enter the work world. What you’re praised for initially is being able to master tasks and execute what you’re told to do.”

But, as Einstein said, what created the problem won’t help find the solution. For strategic thinking, this means making the shift from getting things done to thinking about what needs to get done. The starting place for that, asking ‘why’. Just like little kids do. Here are three practices that can help you move into the strategic thinking mould.

Know. Build a solid understanding of your industry’s trends and business drivers. It’ll help develop a vision for what needs to be done.

  • Explore the internal trends in your day-to-day work regularly. For example, pay attention to the issues that get raised over and over in your organization.
  • Connect with peers within and outside your enterprise, to understand their observations of the industry. Then, share what you know from your own research and practice.
  • Consistently look at how your particular role fits into the larger organization’s growth.

Speak. Prioritize and sequence your thoughts, such that when you convey them, people can focus on your vision and a central message theme. Try it for both verbal and written communication.

  • Prime your audience by giving them a peek into the larger themes you want to address, especially in meetings/ talks. This way, they can prepare for a conversation that goes beyond daily details.
  • Instead of talking about departments, convey how every team contributes to the organization’s goals. Not just their own. Link departmental challenges/ opportunities to the company’s.
  • Speak about the different stakeholders – customers, leaders, vendors, etc.- when presenting. This shows you are thinking of everyone’s benefits, and not just yours.

Reflect. Think about the best way to spend your time and energy, instead of just following a routine. Challenge yourself. Because, to find a breakthrough idea, it takes space to reflect, and not time pressure. As Umar Haque, one of the world’s top 50 management thinkers, says, “reflection is the rocket fuel for experimentation, the lifeblood of high-level innovation, and the spark of deeper meaning.”

In all this, if you feel things get too complex, do what Clark says – ask ‘why’.

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