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Understanding Strategic Thinking

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What is strategic thinking?

Strategic thinking is a process you can use to view, weigh up and create the future for yourself and others. It is an extremely effective and valuable skill. When used correctly, it can help you make good decisions related to work or to your personal life.

In order to understand strategic thinking, you first need to understand strategy. Now, there are many ways to define strategy, so let’s settle on just one! Consider how you can bridge the gap between policy and tactics. What tactics can you use to implement the policy? This is your strategy.  You can also think of strategy in terms of means and ends. You have an end in mind. What means can you use to reach that end? This again is the realm of strategy. We have resources available to us to get us to our end. Then how we deploy or arrange those resources is our strategy, and how we actually execute the actions are our tactics.

The classic 1987 Harvard Business Review article, “Crafting Strategy” by Henry Mintzberg, presents the idea of ‘emergent strategy’. An emergent strategy is one that was not initially planned. Instead, it was formed through consistent actions that formed a pattern over time or through solving an unexpected issue that emerged. Rather than being planned for, it emerged naturally.

Strategic thinking in action

An in-house printing department printed a monthly sales list for the company’s freight shipping agency. This was printed on the company’s standard letter-headed paper. The company was successful, and its list of containers for hire was growing. This made it necessary to print on both sides of the paper. The headed paper was tearing in the printing machines when it was turned over.

The print department supervisor, using strategic thinking, proposed turning the sales list into a simple, folded page printed on plain paper with illustrations in one color on the front. The use of color in this context was unheard of. The trial run of the first leaflet produced a sensation in the London Baltic Exchange, multiplying the company’s sales, as well as solving the printing problem. The result was, because of the publicity, the company won the largest container agency contract in the world at that time. Every other company was still printing its list on standard headed paper.

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Bill Phillips

International Facilitator, Trainer, and Team Coach

  • Has successfully coached CEOs, board members, directors, executive teams, and team leaders in public and private companies, NGOs, and UN organizations in 15 countries across four continents
  • Is the creator of Future-basing®, a highly potent process for building strategy, vision, and cooperation
  • Inspires people to build excellent interpersonal relationships and achieve their goals

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

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    Thinking Strategically
    Bill Phillips
    Skills Expert

    Being able to think strategically, and to see the bigger picture, are attributes that every great leader should possess. With strategic thinking, you can create the future for yourself and your employees. It helps you to identify opportunities for change, and take advantage of them. This, in turn, increases market share and profitability, and makes your business more durable.

    In this module, you will learn how to become a strategic thinker. You will discover the characteristics of strategic thinking, and its many benefits. You will also be introduced to a method called Future-basing® that you can use to build a vision for the future in your own organization.

    You will also learn how to develop a leadership mindset, which entails being able to visualize how things should be, communicating that vision, and taking a wider, more panoramic view. This should help you transition from acting like a manager to thinking like a leader – which is another key take-away from this module.