Strategic Thinking: Are You Critically Thinking?

How's it going! I was reading an article published on INC by Paul Shoemaker (Research Director, Wharton's Mack Institute) entitle "6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers" and I thought it was very insightful. Moreover, we constantly find ourselves asking our mental-selves... "are you really strategically and critically thinking?" Then when we come out of the daydream, we are left to find ourselves uncertain what strategic thinking and critical thinking really entails. Sure, we understand that we should be aware of the past transgressions to discern future outcomes... and we need to fill our brains with information and data of new trends and technologies to foresee where society and culture is headed. But then we come to the same cross roads to ask ourselves... "are you really strategically and critically thinking?"

Schoemaker's ideas and hypotheses about strategic thinking are great reminders and positive re-enforcement that we should continually ask of ourselves... and not only ask but DEMAND of ourselves, and I wanted to share and build upon the messages.

1. Anticipate
Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:
  • Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
  • Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
  • Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better

2. Think Critically
Conventional wisdom opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and less second-guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herdlike belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill, you must force yourself to:
  • Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
  • Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
  • Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions

3. Interpret
Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, you are tempted to reach for a fast (potentially wrongheaded) solution. A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to:
  • Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
  • Encourage others to do the same
  • Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously

4. Decide
Many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You have to develop processes and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that well, you have to:
  • Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
  • Balance speed, rigor, quality, and agility. Leave perfection to higher powers
  • Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views

5. Align
Consensus is rare. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build trust, and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge. To pull that off, you need to:
  • Understand what drives other people's agendas, including what remains hidden
  • Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it's uncomfortable
  • Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support
6. Learn
As your company grows, honest feedback is harder and harder to come by. You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial, because success and failure--especially failure--are valuable sources of organizational learning. Here's what you need to do:
  • Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
  • Shift course quickly if you realize you're off track
  • Celebrate both successes and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight
Do you have what it takes?