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Simply saying “I want to see you thinking more strategically” isn’t direct or specific enough to help guide people in the right direction. Thinking strategically is essentially a way of being – a mindset, a way of looking at things and linking them together.
Here are eight things you can do to improve strategic thinking.
Understand value creation and differentiation. Leaders understand the business and industry they are in, but it’s more than that. You need to understand how the industry adds value to customers and how your business differentiates that value equation from your competitors.
Connect “me to we” to “they to us” (operations to strategy). As a leader you need to be able to understand the overall corporate direction and strategy in the context of your team and your own personal areas of responsibility. Think of it like this: the strategic moves we make today are setting up the operational successes we have in the future. So the better understanding you and your team have of the connection between corporate goals and the work they do day-to-day, the more likely they and you are to focus on longer-term priorities versus staying mired in operations and shiny objects.
I can remember back to the first business I ran: I was new to a leadership role and everyday I realized how much more I didn’t know about people and how to lead. One of my key learnings was a few techniques that actually helped give me the freedom and flexibility to focus on my strengths.
It started one day when I realized that almost every customer service decision in the business had to flow through me in some way. Now of course, this helped me keep a pulse on everything that was happening with our customers but it was a trap that I slide right into. Everyone just assumed the easiest thing to do was “just check with Mike.”
Here’s what I learned: when every decision had to flow through me, no one learned and my day was filled with solving problems with no time left to focus on the areas where I created the most leverage (foreshadowing: keep reading to see what getting my leverage back led to).
Here’s what I did to get out of the trap: Continue reading
We’re born creative and continually experience the excitement of that creativity as we grow. Over time, our environment and experiences can cause us to fall into thinking patterns that get in the way of our creativity.
Your job as a leader is to help shift thinking and remove these obstacles:
Play is frivolous. We’re told that children play and adults are meant to be serious. This creates the self-limiting belief that if something starts to feel too much like fun then it can’t possibly be productive work. Start by changing your thought patterns around creativity. The more you let go of the existing beliefs and thoughts that limit you in thinking of new possibilities, the more you can explore creativity. Find small ways to be creative everyday while encouraging the same in others. If you’re interested in watching a truly outstanding creative process in action, search “IDEO Shopping Cart” on youtube.com and watch their process. (Thanks to Cactus Club CEO Richard Jaffray for recommending this video.)
Creativity comes from creative people. When people think that creativity is the job of marketing or PR, they disable their own creativity. Once they understand that creativity is a choice for all of us, not part of a select few people’s job descriptions, the realms of possibility open up substantially. As a leader, consider where you might be categorizing others as “creative” or “not creative.” Work on altering that thought pattern to embrace the idea that we all have that capacity by asking people for ideas on projects when you normally wouldn’t seek their input.
Deciding before you start. If you think you know the answer before you start the creative process, then you may be limiting yourself to a smaller set of possibilities. Instead, view your idea as only one possible solution and look at it from new perspectives. Curiosity creates leverage in brainstorming so ask a lot of questions, considering as many different view points as you can.
Believing there is a “right” answer. When we focus our problem solving on trying to find the “right” answer there’s a tendency to have a narrow focus. This prevents us from exploring the problem or opportunity in favour of trying to “fix it” as soon as possible. Try “reverse brainstorming,” where you reverse the problem or challenge by brainstorming answers to the question “How could we possibly cause this problem.” Once you have a number of ideas to solve the reverse problem, reverse them into solutions for the original problem or challenge.
Stinking thinking. The easiest way to kill a brainstorming session is with killer statements: “We’ve tried that before,” “That won’t work in this market,” “We don’t have the resources/budget” (this one’s my personal favourite). Next time you’re in a brainstorming session with your team, take a positive approach by first getting all the ideas out on the table before debating or discussing any of them.
Fear of failure. When it comes to creativity, fear of criticism, judgment, of taking risks and putting your reputation on the line is a huge obstacle. After all, your ideas may be a complete flop, so it just feels safer to stick to the status quo. As a leader, it’s your job to create the space for people to take the risk. Consider failure as feedback; focus on and celebrate learning, how to move forward, and what to do differently next time.
An enormous amount of time and energy gets devoted to solving problems within organizations, all under the pretence that solving those problems is the best way to achieve success, superiority, a competitive advantage and greatness. The challenge is that growing organizations are constantly changing, which inevitably leads to new and more interesting problems to solve. It’s an endless cycle of focusing on problems that means it’s impossible to solve our way to greatness.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative to the traditional problem-solving approach. Appreciative Inquiry was developed by David Copperrider and his associates at Case Western Reserve University in the mid ’80s. It focuses on doing more of what does work: uncovering the high moments in an organization’s history and using the commonalities of those experiences to build a plan to replicate those wins for the future. Sounds like more fun than constantly problem solving, doesn’t it? Here’s how it works and how it can be applied to your business.