“Mold-breaking strategies grow initially like weeds, they are not cultivated like tomatoes in a hothouse.”
- Henry Mintzberg
Strategy is one of those elusive topics which is often spoken about but seldom understood. Often thought to be reserved for “someone up there in the corner office”, many times those in the corner office don’t have a clear idea on their strategy either.
To make sense of it we can divide strategy into its core components
- Strategic planning (How do I get from here to there and what will help or hinder me along the way)
- Strategic thinking (The art of adapting your approach to suit the current environment and opportunities)
Most conversations and texts on strategy somewhat naively explain techniques or tools for coming up with strategic answers. Besides consultants selling their high priced wares, these tools seldom enter in the mind of the executive. Mintzberg’s quote above is apt in that some of the greatest companies are the result of great strategic thinking but not a great strategy.
Google for example was founded out of the strategic thought of using links into a web page to measure popularity and relevance. There was no master strategic plan to change the way almost every person uses the world wide web and in so doing make lots of money. The business came later, once the stumbled upon idea grew in popularity.
There are numerous other examples such as Kahn Academy, Grameen Bank and Southwest Airlines which all originate from strategic thought well executed rather than a grand strategic plan. In fact even if there is a strategic plan, most businesses need to significantly change it as it is implemented if they are to succeed.
So if it is strategic thought rather than strategic planning that makes all the difference, how do we cultivate strategic thought?
A key starting point is to have awareness of our current strategic thinking ability. To help you do this you can use our Strategic Thinking Evaluation tool which will give you feedback on your current ability. You can then periodically (every one or two years) check your progress and focus on areas of strength to make them better and areas of non-strength to make them good enough.