Most people think that to do their strategic thinking (yes, strategic thinking not strategic planning), they need to set aside a couple hours to really get into it. While that amount of time might be preferable, it isn´t going to happen in most environments. Besides, even if they had the time, many people still wouldn´t do it. That type of thinking requires too much effort – it´s too different from how we normally think.
But to be successful, you still need to do your strategic thinking. So how?
Finding the time
As many of you already know, I suggest that you set two fifteen-minute meetings with yourself per week. Put them on your calendar and make them as sacred as meeting with your boss or your staff. If something truly urgent comes up at that time, make a conscious decision to change the meeting time on your calendar so your thinking time doesn´t get lost in the shuffle.
You´re ready to start. And the phone rings. And someone drops by. And your e-mail signals a new message. And… and… and! So where should you do your thinking? Certainly not in your office where there are too many distractions. Why not go to an empty conference room, the office of a vacationing peer, or the cafeteria? Even better, I suggest that you stop at your favorite eaterie or Starbucks (I own stock!) on your way to work and spend the thinking session there.
If you find that you´re on a roll at the end of fifteen minutes, continue. But even if you end up doing thirty minutes, it doesn´t cancel out your next meeting! The object is to create a discipline of you thinking at the highest level. When you´ve done enough of these sessions to be more confident in your strategic abilities, you´ll be ready to graduate and set longer meetings for yourself.
Doing the Strategic Thinking
Many sabotage their strategic thinking meeting by expecting themselves to do top down thinking. You know – Roman numeral I, A, B, C. The problem with this method is that it assumes you know the order of the steps in your "plan."
Techniques that honor the brain´s natural ability to think holistically, like mind-mapping or fish-boning, are excellent. I´m familiar with mind-mapping, so I´ll describe it.
You start with a clean sheet of paper (Yikes!) and draw a small circle in the middle in which you write the topic. Then on spokes drawn out from this, put down your thoughts. The reason you´re doing this thinking is that you don´t have cohesive thoughts on this subject. So start with the parts that you do know. You may surprise yourself.
The beauty of mind mapping is that there is no right way to do it. Put all your ideas on one page coming off the spokes, or if a spoke has a weighty subject on it, take it and put it in the circle on another page and create spokes from it.
Subsequent Strategic Thinking Meetings
So the dreaded meeting is looming on your calendar and you don´t have any new thoughts to add! Not to worry. Just pull out your folder and read what you wrote previously. These ideas will spur new ones. Once again, you´ll be surprised.
You might want to start carrying a 2×2 sticky note pad with you. When you´re in a group meeting, someone may say something that will prompt a thought about your plan that you´ll want to capture. When you get back to your desk, just stick the note in your folder. It´ll be there when you start your next session.
Limited Thinking. One person limited his sessions to creating his "to do" lists. That´s a different session not to be confused with strategic thinking. If you´re prone to "to do" listing, ask yourself what are the major issues in the area that is your responsibility. Feel free to make a list of these! Then take the most pressing one and ask yourself what the right question about this subject is. For example, if one of your items is "firefighting," you don´t want to strategically think about how your people can become better firefighters. It would be more strategic to think about how your people can eliminate the fires in the first place.
Another didn´t know what to think about at all. I suggested he put "What to Consider" in the circle in the middle and brainstorm about that first.
Involving Others. Do enough thinking about your topic that you are grounded in it yourself before involving others. But don´t do so much that you´ve done it all without your team. There´s a balance that you´ll need to reach intuitively.
Implementing. One person who was inclined to be a "doer" rather than a "planner" didn´t know when to start implementing. He had this push-pull feeling about it, wanting to resist his normal tendencies, but frustrated about letting time go by. That´s normal.
If you are like him in just jumping in and doing things, you might want to hold yourself back until you get your ideas fully formed about what you want to accomplish relative to your topic. On the other hand, if you hesitate to start before you understand all the ins and outs, you might want to push yourself to get started earlier than normal, knowing you´ll figure it out as you go along.
The people who don´t take time out to do strategic thinking may still be successful in their roles. However, if we could clone them for a controlled study, I believe we´d find that the "one of them" who does regular strategic thinking will be more successful over the long run than the "one of them" who continued to just do what was in front of them.
If you have any questions about the thoughts expressed here, please call me at 414-852-2222. We can talk without charge to get you started on your strategic thinking!