The Advanced Curriculum

The Six Steps of Strategic Thinking

Successful people get to where they are because they think what is called strategically. Sometimes, it is true, they lash out and pulverize somebody, but most of the time they are thinking as much as possible in a way that you do not. Methodically. Incrementally. Strategically.   What, you may ask, is a strategy? A strategy is a plan that is designed specifically to achieve a certain well-defined goal. It is made up not of one but of several—sometimes more than several— actions. Put those actions together in a sequence and you have a strategy.   Strategic Thinking, then, is the kind of thinking that is utilized to produce a strategy. Think- ing that produces something else may be very good thinking, but it is not Strategic Thinking.

This may sound kind of simple, but you would be surprised how many management teams sit around thinking strategically without coming up with a strategy. That is not Strategic Thinking. It’s huddling for warmth. 

Strategic Thinking is not really like other kinds of thinking. It takes discipline and practice. Here are the Six Steps: 

Step One: Underestimating the Problem: People who do not think strategically immediately go off on things, small and large, with a lot of emotion. They blow things up. They fester. The strategic thinker wants time to do some light cogitation in a good frame of mind, without freaking out. Consequently, the true strategic thinker is the first to say, “It’s not going to be a big deal” when the company’s $25 million spokesperson is found facedown in a bowl of oatmeal.

Step Two: Fear: The 3 a.m. kind. Fear is a terrific motivator. It does one of two things in people. Some run away. Some run forward braced and energized by how big and scary everything is all of a sudden.

Step Three: Rage: The mind turns black. Why do these kinds of things always happen to me! you scream, silently to yourself, unless you’re the CEO, in which case you can scream audibly at virtually anybody you choose.

Step Four: Intense, Microscopic Plotting: Now it’s time to focus. A certain kind of linear thinking is concerned, the kind that produces lists. If you’re not good at that, find somebody who is and have them start plotting while you perhaps take a little break to do some more Strategic Thinking.

If, on the other hand, you’re the list maker: Get a big picture of where you want to do before you start listing stuff. Examples of a big picture include:

  • Crush the mother!@#$rs
  • Avoid a big fight at all costs
  • Have as much fun every day as possible
  • Convince the other party that a merger would be beneficial for everybody, even if it isn’t, and it’s just good for us
  • Not really do much of anything, just watch it for a while and see what develops.

Once established, the big picture should suggest a number of steps that need to be taken. Now it’s time to . . .Make a List of Actions to Be Taken. Divide your list into three time periods:

  • Immediate
  • Intermediate
  • Long term

Step Five: Getting It Done: Now, this is a huge, huge subject. While the Getting It Done people are Getting It Done, really tough Strategic Thinking must be taking place by the Getting the Strategy people as well. With good communications between these two halves of the organizational brain, you cannot fail, unless you try very hard.

Step Six: Mopping Up: You may think for a moment that the beast is dead, because you chopped its head off yourself. But look. The body is twitching. Better get busy doing some more thinking!

Takeaway: It is always better to go into the engagement with a strategy than without one. Even if you don’t know what to do, it is better to pretend that you do, and to do what you might do if you knew what to do. Most people in a conundrum of some sort have no idea what to do. They are not thinking strategically. Eventually, they will look to a person who appears to have some idea of what might be done if somebody knew what to do. That will be you. Pretty soon, they’ll be calling you a leader.

For the complete guide to Strategic Thinking, read THE CURRICULUM: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BE A MASTER OF BUSINESS ARTS. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold.



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