Strategic thinking is one of those things people may talk about to sound sophisticated without having the slightest clue of what it is! In fact, the term ‘strategy’ is deemed a “buzz word” because it’s so misused it almost lost its meaning.
Let’s start defining strategy:
Strategy is a very specific, focused, well thought way to get a result, using the available resources in a smart and meaningful way.
Strategies can be ingenious ways to get what you want in the smartest possible way.
This is important! Strategy is not a whatever way to reach an end, it’s a very specific and thought out process to get something.
When people and businesses set goals and plan, they rarely think about all the variables related to the situation, the opportunities, the threats, and the proposed actions to get the results they want. It’s almost as if plans were lists of random possible things to do to achieve something. That’s how most plan are made. People brainstorm trying to come up with all the different things they could do to get something. It goes like this: how can I do this? How do other people have done this before? Ok, I’ll do that too. And that’s it, that’s the end of the story. No further thought is ever given to the nature and efficacy of the planned actions that supposedly leads to the desired results.
If people don’t bother planning strategically what they’re going to do to reach results that may be very important to them, they naturally don’t think strategically on a daily basis – or at all.
But what does it mean to think strategically?
If strategy is a specific, well thought way of getting something, strategic thinking is the ability – which turns into a habit – of analyzing quickly and immediately a situation and all its variables in order to make better decisions on a daily basis. That’s the kind of person that is seen as smart, quick thinker, that can spot problems, find solutions, and be creative in the moment.
If you weren’t born that way, you can’t just become a strategic thinker overnight. You must change your brain first. As with anything that requires quick thinking and responses, such as playing an instrument or speaking a foreign language, we must rewire our brains in order to be able to excel at the new ability. To learn to think strategically you must first accept and understand that for every situation, there’s only a handful of options that work efficiently, and that this combination of productive actions changes with the slightest context variation. You can’t do whatever you can think of – or the “things you know” to achieve a certain result, solve a problem, etc. It’s like memorizing lines to tell people when they say or ask something. You would sound like an idiot.
Every conversation, every person, even situation requires a different response. You can’t just memorize that when people say A, you respond B. Conversations are dynamic. We all understand that, but some are better at this back and forth than others. It works the same way when we’re trying to figure out what to do in order to reach our goals, solve problems, or make important decisions. Life is dynamic, it requires constant adaptation. We can’t just copy what other people have done to reach the same results, it may not work in our particular situation, within the circumstances of our own life and problems. It also may not work to just repeat what have worked for us in the past.
A good strategic thinker is a master at reading the context and recognizing quickly what the moment requires. One of the best ways to understand how strategic thinking works is to reflect about history and how small and smart actions were decisive to reach certain outcomes. The greatest military generals were all excellent strategic thinkers. They could analyze and assess situations quickly and make decisions that would turn tides, leverage resources, and win wars. We can also study strategy in the context of politics, business, and social changes. When translating it to your own life, try to look at all the different variables at play in key situations where you need to make important decisions.
This slowly becomes a habit and start changing your brain. Thanks to neuroplasticity, we can learn to think differently by focusing on key aspects of decision making. We start doing it slowly, writing everything down, weighting pros and cons, and before we know, we’re doing it automatically. Our brains can learn to think strategically. When we are aware of what it takes to make strategic decisions (paying attention to all the different variables: people, strengths, weaknesses, threads, opportunities, timing, etc.) and thinking about how to leverage all that to our advantage, we start to naturally go through the same process every time we need to make decisions, even if they are simple and mundane.
The most visible effects noticed right away are a higher ability to focus and prioritize, and a keen eye for opportunity. We start doing everything more efficiently, stop wasting time with things that don’t matter, and start identifying breaks that we can take advantage of to advance and make progress.