Strategic thinking is often identified as one of the most valuable executive / management skills. Governance literature often cites the importance of having a strategic thinking board. But, what does “strategic thinking” mean?
In Thinking Strategically, Professor Collis of Harvard Business School writes that “strategic thinking is about analyzing opportunities and problems from a Broad perspective and understanding the potential impact your actions might have on others.” Professor Collis’s definition is one of the most succinct definitions I have seen. However, Greg Githen’s definition is one of the most illustrative: “…thinking conceptually, imaginatively, systematically, and opportunistically with regard to the attainment of success in the future.” I think a more complete definition would include the consideration of the larger environment or broader context.
As such, I would modify Githen’s definition to read: “thinking conceptually, imaginatively, systematically, and opportunistically with regard to the attainment of success in the future,” while simultaneously considering the larger environment or broader context, and the immediate environment.
In order to be a great strategic thinker one needs to have exceptional analytical and creative thinking skills. One also needs to be able to look at current and past realities through a set of different eyes and pick out patterns that may not have been seen before, and apply this learning to decisions about possible and plausible future scenarios. Finally, true strategic thinkers have honed their ability to effectively prioritize and make trade offs in deciding what to do and what not to do.
In order to transition an organization to a strategic thinking board, one must do more than recruit strategic thinkers, although recruitment of strategic thinkers is important. One must also design an agenda and create an environment that facilitates engaging in strategic conversations about issues that are really strategic.