Seven Steps to Become a Strategic Thinker

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(Step 1) Develop peripheral vision

You should constantly expand your view and mindset. This means you should be constantly looking for game-changing ideas beyond your own industry. The best ideas can apply laterally to any industry.

I have personally met and heard founders of companies, like JetBlue, etc, who have said that some of the best ideas they implemented were from industries outside of their own.

(Step 2) Develop the ability to think critically

If you only stick to conventional thinking, you will only get conventional results, not outliers or outstanding results.  Don’t spend all your time at the micro level; learn to think macro, take a step back and focus on the big picture. Otherwise, you will miss the bigger opportunities.

For example, in 2005, IBM sold their PC business to Lenovo and has seen tremendous growth and sustainability.  The critical thinking leaders figured out how to evolve the company into a strategic solutions company focusing strictly on the enterprise market rather than the consumer market.

(Step 3) Build Teams with different ways of thinking

Differences and divergence in thoughts, creative ideas, and perspectives are what create innovation. Successful teams engage all stakeholders and synthesize all viewpoints. However, all members need to understand that not all ideas need to be incorporated at all times.

At any rate, you must be sure that each person always embraces the culture and aligns themselves with the vision of your company; otherwise, they have to go. As Famous Amos (cookie company) says, “TEAM means: Together Everyone Accomplishes More”.  Build teams fast, and continuously enhance the team.

(Step 4) Ambiguity is Good

Humans inherently must label or identify the unknown; however some of the best ideas come from being in the gray zone, where there is some ambiguity. Don’t rush to have complete clarity all the time. Get good at dealing and thriving in the ambiguity zone, even if it is out of your comfort zone.

At any given moment in life, human beings are either growing or dying. They cannot stay constant. In fact, the only thing that can remain constant is change. Therefore, make it a goal to push your comfort zone outwards, and expand. And it is that outer cusp of your circle of the comfort zone where the gray ambiguity zone lies.

(Step 5) Avoid paralysis by analysis.

Balance rigor with speed. Don’t constantly aim for 100% perfection.  Use the 80% rule, if it’s good enough, go. Take action even if it’s not all clear and perfect because you can always pick up some more pieces as you move along. As Lexus says, it is the “Pursuit of Perfection” not “Achieving Perfection”

(Step 6) Never Stop Learning

Keep connecting with new people who have something to teach. There are millions of people in this world and millions of things to learn from each person. Be open to ideas, especially if they are different than the way you might normally think.

You don’t have to incorporate everyone’s ideas, just consider them. You can then discard them or take what you want from the ideas. Learn from failure, both yours and others. Fail fast, learn fast, and just don’t make the same mistake again.

Feel free to make new mistakes, within reason, and have a contingency plan to mitigate the risks. Remember, fail often to succeed sooner. Be ready to shift gears quickly and be nimble.

(Step 7) Celebrate

Make sure to celebrate every success and failure (the well intentioned failures, not any failure; see #6 above). It is important to reflect on your own achievements and failures but to move on quickly to the next step forward, never dwell on anything for too long.