Strategic Thinking


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  • OPENING: This is what Planning often looks like, something placed into a binder and forgotten – it’s relevance long since dissipated. How do we know if our strategy is appropriate if we don’t share it with everyone? It must be validated every-day and the more people evaluating it the better.
  • Let’s spend a minute or two addressing what we will discuss today.
  • I’m sure you are asking the question or questions: What is Strategic Thinking Anyway? Is it really different from Planning? Why should I, my team or organization care about strategic thinking. Before I describe what Strategic Thinking is let me first discuss what it is not. It is not a replacement for planning nor is it designed to add to any current planning mechanism. It is not SWOTTST. What Strategic Thinking brings is an open ended plan designed to remain flexible due to uncertainties and situations unknowable beforehand (Holstius, & Malaska, 2004.) Strategic Thinking assumes the environment organizations deal with is ambiguous at best full of complexity and information overload (Boal & Hooijberg, 2001.) Strategic Planning on the other hand assumed that organizations could control their environment and that there was at least one correct answer to every dilemma. Moreover, the application of strategic thinking does not attempt to control the external environment like planning attempts to do because of risk. Risk in the view of strategic thinking is yet another piece of the puzzle that makes up overall strategy making.
  • To be clear, I am not advocating for the death of Planning. Planning, strategic or otherwise serves a valuable purpose in everything we do as leaders. However, it is no longer enough. I consider Planning to be associated with a Management approach. Think of where Management’s focus is on for a moment; control measures, analytics, data, policies, rules, command and control, and a strict adherence to roles in the organization. In other words “Stay in your Lane.” Leadership on the other hand is about influence as is Strategic Thinking. Instead of reacting to the external environment Strategic Thinking seeks to influence it. Take our organization for a moment. We used to plan, and still do in a small way, for a large scale War with the USSR. We knew our enemy or at least we knew the threat and ours was a reactionary approach to this external known threat. Much has changed since, remember complexity of the environment ambiguity etc…. Now the threats and opportunities are myriad, how do we respond? I argue through learning and adapting on a continuous basis using our organizational vision as a compass – in this way we influence and are influenced by our environment. It is a never ending cycle. We planned for a War with an ending. There is no planning capable of a never ending chaotic every changing external environment, however, there is a way to influence it and that is through a learning paradigm – this is STRATEGIC THINKING.
  • This activity (20 minutes) Individual. We have a decision to make. Take a new Job in a New City? It has better Pay More Responsibility and of Course More Travel and More Time Spent Away From Family – at least at first. Can we use Strategic Thinking to help? Let’s See; How do we generally make these types of decisions? Pros and Con’s sheet perhaps. Let’s do that for a few moments. What type of questions did we ask during this activity? Where they different than ones we might ask during a planning session? Last Question; Did we think of “weighing” each question? What if the Spouse does not want to Move? Does this change the entire decision even if every other question leads to a pro response? Did our initial concept look like planning? That one correct answer. How does addressing the “weights” of questions move us away from planning and to thinking? Let’s talk about questions for a moment.
  • If Strategic Thinking is not about knowing then what does it do for us? What are we trying to learn you may ask? It is really more about How than What? How we ask a question determines the type of response. Information seeking questions only result in Facts. We should be seeking Understanding seeking questions results. The idea is to seek understanding which is to be always curious. The byproduct of this curiosity is wisdom (Bell, 2002.) Can we really develop wisdom through Strategic Thinking? What is wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to think and act utilizing knowledge, experience understanding, common-sense and insight (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1998.) This wisdom begins to coalesce into a vision for the future. What is the difference between planning for the Future and Visioning the Future you may ask? Again it is about influence. In this case we want to influence everyone in the organization through the Vision. And since Visions are communicated through motivation, beliefs, values, stories slogans and patterns (Holstius & Malaska, 2004) they are best portrayed visually. This is the strength of Strategic Thinking; the Mental Representation of the strategy expressed by the leader serves as an inspiration and a guiding idea (Mintzberg, Ahlstrand & Lampel, 2005.) Together; the guiding idea and the strategy to get there is the Strategic Vision of the organization. This is how you shape the future.
  • In a bit of a paradoxical cycle strategic thinking leads to a vision of the organizations future which then leads to strategy formulation and thus more strategic thinking. Think of our Organization for a moment. We Might consider and re-consider our approach to Maritime Security – Perhaps the Vision of the Future is a Secure and Prosperous Somalia. How do we get there? This is where strategy formulation comes in. I’ll leave you to ponder this on your own of the weeks to come.
  • Strategic Thinking occurs at the individual and organizational level (Holstius & Malaska, 2004.) Let’s look at Individual Competencies for a moment. Ingrid Bonn (2001) provides a good analysis of what constitutes strategic thinking at the individual Level: 1) A holistic understanding of the organization and its environment, 2) creativity, 3) a vision of the future of the organization. Let’s look at each of these separately.
  • For us each member must be both an expert in their particular area (Counter-Piracy) and also have situational awareness of the other areas that make up our enterprise – such as BMD, cyber-security and our operations in ISAF. How does Counter-Piracy, for example, effect ISAF for example? More importantly how can your expertise in Counter-Piracy assist another expert in the organization? Must be able to see the fine points of our expertise and also how these fine points fit into the larger picture. And We Must have Bi-Focal Vision – not necessarily just near and far – but Today (Close) and Tomorrow ( The Distance)
  • 2) Creativity - It should be no surprise to see creativity as being a significant part of what strategic thinking is all about, not to mention creativity is part of the SACEUR’s leadership philosophy. What type of creativity are we speaking about? In essence we are speaking of a new way of looking at the external environment so we can ask though provoking questions to diagnose what might go wrong before it actually does and to respond quickly and flexibly to many different situations each day (Stumpf, 1989.)
  • 3) A vision of the Future of the Organization – Think back to the Dilbert Cartoon I showed at the beginning of this presentation for a moment. While the vision of the organization generally comes from the top – every employee needs to have a solid understanding of why the business is in existence. That way they can tie their particular responsibilities to that model of future orientation. We don’t want an organization that looks like a Dilbert Cartoon. For example: The Vision of NATO is deterrence and defense of our 28 Allied Nations. How does the individual affect this Vision? How do they live it and influence it in their daily work? Can anyone provide an example of how the Individual working in Cyber-Security affects the Vision of the Organization?
  • The organization serves as a catalyst for strategic thinking to occur, this is accomplished by creating systems and structures that; Foster ongoing strategic dialogue among the top team and; Take advantage of the ingenuity and creativity of every individual (Bonn, 2001.) Let’s take a look at these individually;
  • Foster ongoing strategic dialogue among the top team and; How do we foster strategic dialogue? This is similar to asking how do we fix the communication problem in our organization? The answer is through hard work. Of course there are mechanisms to help us. A NATO example is the creation of a Strategic Leadership Team that meets periodically to discuss, collaborate and provide guidance to the organization on a wide range of topics. The discussions then serve as a platform for providing information to all stakeholders through Town Hall meetings, official memoranda and the Facebook page. There must also be a mechanism established for receiving and responding to feedback.
  • The organization serves as a catalyst for strategic thinking to occur, this is accomplished by creating systems and structures that; Take advantage of the ingenuity and creativity of every individual (Bonn, 2001.) Study after study stresses the importance of tapping into the talents of the people within it. While systems can be put into place to foster communication no such system exists for ensuring internal motivation of each employee is enhanced. This can only come from a culture that seeks the best for all of their people as developed through trust. The and only then will people feel comfortable enough to offer their most precious asset – themselves. It may go without saying – but I’ll do so anyway – You cannot Pull Ingenuity and Creativity out of People they must give it freely – it is a Gift and should be treated as such.
  • This activity (30 minutes) Let’s bring out the Popcorn it’s Move time!! Movie Clip – Apollo 13. (1.35). Square Peg Round Hole Clip. (Howard,1995) In your Groups discuss the following: What can this clip teach us about strategic thinking? NASA certainly had several contingency plans for accidents, why did they have no bearing on the issues the team were facing? Were any of the Individual Strategic Thinking Competencies displayed? A Holistic Understanding of the Organization and the Environment – Elaborate? Creativity - Elaborate? Vision for the Future – Elaborate? How did the Organization – through it’s Leaders react?
  • Strategic thinking is more than just creating a bit more creative staff. It moves the organization to a place where it can gain a solid understanding of the dynamism of the environment with the capability to see the future (Rezaian, 2008). It is a change of mindset that forgoes the inclination to control the external environment. We all want more control in our lives not less, thus it is easy to understand how this might be uncomfortable at first. However, influencing the environment is much more powerful than attempting to control what cannot be controlled. Control is an illusion – influence is the reality. Moreover it is essential to understand that no one single predictable future exists (Fink & Marr, 2005.) Ultimately Strategic Thinking is a decision making tool just as planning is – the difference is the focus. Whereas planning sought to reduce and or eliminate risk Strategic Thinking includes it as one of the many factors to be considered in the mosaic of strategy making.
  • Strategic Thinking is not Planning 2.0. It is a set of actions that must be executed. It is about idea creation towards the vision of the organization. The more ideas created the more possibilities the team or leaders have to work with to make the vision of the organization turn into reality. That vision for the future can be realized. Ideas are what strategy is all about. Concepts, framework, techniques all provide us with new windows that help us escape the limitations imposed by our own narrow ways of seeing the world (Liedtka, 1998.) I encourage you to consider these new possibilities.
  • Your Turn Thank-you. You can reach me at by email at
  • Strategic Thinking

    1. 1. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Strategic Thinking Paul Dannar
    2. 2. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Strategic Thinking •Today’s Agenda •What is Strategic Thinking? •From Planning to Strategic Thinking •Questions Should Lead to More than Answers •Strategic Thinking as a Competency •Influencing the Environment
    3. 3. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Ambiguity and Complexity are the Norm • What is Strategic Thinking Anyway? – Designed to be Flexible enough to adapt to the Unknowable – Makes Several Assumptions about Organizations and how they Interact with the External Environment
    4. 4. Inter-ConnectedConsulting A Never Ending Process • From Planning to Strategic Thinking – Planning is a Management Paradigm – Strategic Thinking aligns with Leadership – A Learning Paradigm
    5. 5. Inter-ConnectedConsulting • Let’s try our Hand at Strategic Thinking •Activity
    6. 6. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Wisdom Leads to A Vision for Future • Questions Should Lead to More than Answers – Asking the Right Types of Questions – Visioning the Future – Strategic Vision
    7. 7. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Strategic Thinking Cycle
    8. 8. Inter-ConnectedConsulting • Strategic Thinking as a Competency – Individual • Understand how Different Problems and Issues are Interconnected • Creativity • A Vision of the Future for The Organization
    9. 9. Inter-ConnectedConsulting • Strategic Thinking as a Competency – Individual – Understand how Different Problems and Issues are Interconnected • Bi-Focal Vision
    10. 10. Inter-ConnectedConsulting • Strategic Thinking as a Competency – Individual – Creativity • A New Way of Looking at the External Environment
    11. 11. Inter-ConnectedConsulting • Strategic Thinking as a Competency – Individual – A Vision of the Future for The Organization • Everyone Must Understand why the Organization is in Existence
    12. 12. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Systems, Structures and Culture • Strategic Thinking as a Competency – As an Organization • Foster Strategic Dialogue • Take advantage of each Individual’s Ingenuity and Creativity
    13. 13. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Systems, Structures and Culture • Strategic Thinking as a Competency – As an Organization – Foster Strategic Dialogue • Communication: Lateral, Top-Down, Bottom-Up, Virtual, Face-to-Face, Any other way you can Think of
    14. 14. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Systems, Structures and Culture • Strategic Thinking as a Competency – As an Organization – Take advantage of each Individual’s Ingenuity and Creativity • The Ingenuity and Creativity of People is a Gift
    15. 15. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Adapt to Chaos • Strategic Thinking in Action? •Activity II feature=player_detailpage&v=C2YZnTL596Q
    16. 16. Inter-ConnectedConsulting • Influencing the External Environment – A Single Predictable Future does NOT Exist • Influence Rather than Control • Accept Risk as a Factor in Decision Making
    17. 17. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Idea Creation • The Overall Objective – It is not a Plan – The Catalyst to Consider New Possibilities
    18. 18. Inter-ConnectedConsulting Thoughts? Paul Dannar Email:
    19. 19. Inter-ConnectedConsulting REFERENCES – Bell, C.R. (2002). Managers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. – Boal, K. & Hooijberg, R. (2001). Strategic Leadership Research: Moving On. Leadership Quarterly, 11(4), 34. – Bonn, I. (2001). Developing strategic thinking as a core competency. Management Decision, 39(1), 8.Holstius, K. & Malaska, P. (2004). Advancing Strategic Thinking: Visionary Management. Publications of the Turku School of Economics and Business Administration, 66. – Fink, A., & Marr, B. (2005). The future scorecard: combining external and internal scenarios to create strategic foresight. Management Decision, 43(3), 22. – Howard, Ron, dir. Apollo 13 . YouTube, 1995. Film. < v=C2YZnTL596Q>. – Liedtke, J. (1998). Strategic Thinking: Can it be Taught? Long Range Planning, 31(1), 10. – Mintzberg, H., Ahlstrand, B. & Lampel, J. (2005). Strategy safari: A guided tour through the wilds of strategic management. New York: The Free Press. – Rezaian, A. (2008). Fundamentals of Organization and Management. Tehran: Samt. – Stumpf, S. (1989). Work Experiences that Stretch Managers’ Capacities for Strategic Thinking. Journal of Management Development, 8(5), 8.