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Strategic Thinking - A fresh perspective

Strategic Thinking - A fresh perspective

Strategic Thinking

I have heard it said that Covid-19 could be viewed as a ‘Time Machine’ that has transported our future to us sooner than we expected. Epidemics such as Covid-19 tend to accelerate pre-existing trends i.e. Digital transition & interfaces for a wide range of tasks, online interactions & relationships, more home working etc. Therefore, there has never been a better time to consider an organisation/business strategy to benefit from the ‘Time Machine’. It seems to me that we have to re look (revisit) the term ‘Strategy’ if we wish to benefit from this monumental (historic) change.

Strategy traditionally seems to involve setting goals/objectives and determining actions to achieve these goals, then organising resources to achieve the objectives. This approach can often be viewed as an outcome of strategy or a strategic plan. It does not really explain what strategy is!

After many years spent in the world of Management Consultancy/Education I would now take the view that many organisations around the world do not have a strategy but a business plan, and in fact do not even understand the word ‘Strategy’. I recognise that this may sound a little harsh and even arrogant, but there are more eminent people than myself in this field that would say the same thing, such as Michael E Porter, an American academic known for his theories on economics, business strategy, and social causes.

The starting point in understanding the term ‘Strategy’ is to focus on the origin of the word which, in fact was a Greek word ‘Strategos’ which translates to ‘Military General’. In the Hellenistic world and byzantine empire, the term was also used to describe a military governor. The importance of this role was to achieve advantage over their enemies in order to win the war, later the French modified the word to that of ‘Strategy’.

It can be very helpful when thinking strategically that the focus should be on how an organisation/business could achieve overall advantage, especially when coping with the challenge of Covid-19. We may limit any real advantage if we view strategy as a plan and a list of objectives.

A plan by its nature requires convergent thinking, but in actual fact, and in contrast, if we need to think strategically then it is very important to think in an innovative way, therefore divergent thinking will be useful here. This thought process or method is to generate creative ideas by exploring multiple solutions. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free flowing ‘nonlinear’ manner.

I recognise that this methodology challenges the traditional approach towards strategy, and it is important to recognise that the traditional strategic tools are still useful, but success for today’s organisations/businesses would benefit from both approaches. Therefore, it will be important to either hire divergent thinkers or develop them in order to find innovative solutions to difficult problems, developing flexible strategies and leading change for your organisation/business.

When organisations/businesses typically develop their strategy they still ask traditional questions and therefore get traditional answers, for example “where are we now, where do we want to get to and how do we get there?”

These types of questions are analytical, convergent and don’t lead to strategic thinking. Divergent thinking on the other hand is now becoming a fundamental element of strategic thinking.

Example:

·         How can we increase the distance and difference between us and competitors?

·         How can we capture most of the value we create?

·         How can we avoid the arrogance and complacency that nearly always accompanies success?

There are many reasons why organisations/businesses do not ask these types of questions; largely the workforce is not trained or encouraged to come up with new ideas. How many times have you heard a colleague come up with a unique idea and then be pushed down by someone saying, ‘we tried that once and it didn’t work?’

The way forward is not just about personal development, organisations/businesses will need to evolve a culture and climate where the workforce is empowered to think differently.

Never waste a good crisis, Covid-19 has forced many organisations/businesses into radical change: traditional business models are under threat.

As lockdown begins to unwind, failure to react now might mean a failure to survive.

 

“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge”  

Carl Jung

 

 

Author: Nigel Leach DMS. M.A. MSc, FifL

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