How Successful People Think by John C. Maxwell talks about how to become a better strategic thinker. These steps will help you formulate and implement plans that will achieve the desired objective.
1. Break Down the Issue
The first step in strategic thinking is to break down an issue into smaller, more manageable parts so that you can focus on them more effectively. How you do it is not as important as just doing it. You might break an issue down by function. That’s what automotive innovator Henry Ford did when he created the assembly line, and that’s why he said, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs. How you break down an issue is up to you, whether it’s by function, timetable, responsibility, purpose, or some other method. The point is that you need to break it down. Only one person in a million can juggle the whole thing in his head and think strategically to create solid, viable plans.
2. Ask Why Before How
When most people begin using strategic thinking to solve a problem or plan a way to meet an objective, they often make the mistake of jumping the gun and trying immediately to figure out how to accomplish it. Instead of asking how, they should first ask why. If you jump right into problem solving mode, how are you going to know all the issues?
Eugene G. Grace says, “Thousands of engineers can design bridges, calculate strains and stresses, and draw up specifications for machines, but the great engineer is the man who can tell whether the bridge or the machine should be built at all, where it should be built, and when. Asking why helps you to think about all the reasons for decisions. It helps you to open your mind to possibilities and opportunities. The size of an opportunity often determines the level of resources and effort that you must invest. Big opportunities allow for big decisions. If you jump to how too quickly, you might miss that.
3. Identify the Real Issues and Objectives
William Feather, author of The Business of Life, said, “Before it can be solved, a problem must be clearly defined.” Too many people rush to solutions, and as a result they end up solving the wrong problem. To avoid that, ask probing questions to expose the real issues. Challenge all of your assumptions. Collect information even after you think you’ve identified the issue. (You may still have to act with incomplete data, but you don’t want to jump to a conclusion before you gather enough information to begin identifying the real issue.) Begin by asking, What else could be the real issue? You should also remove any personal agenda. More than almost anything else, that can cloud your judgment. Discovering your real situation and objectives is a major part of the battle. Once the real issues are identified, the solutions are often simple.
4. Review Your Resources
I already mentioned how important it is to be aware of your resources, but it bears repeating. A strategy that doesn’t take into account resources is doomed to failure. Take an inventory. How much time do you have? How much money? What kinds of materials, supplies, or inventory do you have? What are your other assets? What liabilities or obligations will come into play? Which people on the team can make an impact? You know your own organization and profession. Figure out what resources you have at your disposal.
5. Develop Your Plan
How you approach the planning process depends greatly on your profession and the size of the challenge that you’re planning to tackle, so it’s difficult to recommend many specifics. However, no matter how you go about planning, take this advice: start with the obvious. When you tackle an issue or plan that way, it brings unity and consensus to the team, because everyone sees those things. Obvious elements build mental momentum and initiate creativity and intensity. The best way to create a road to the complex is to build on the fundamentals.
6. Put the Right People in the Right Place
It’s critical that you include your team as part of your strategic thinking. Before you can implement your plan, you must make sure that you have the right people in place. Even the best strategic thinking won’t help if you don’t take into account the people part of the equation. Look at what happens if you miscalculate:
- Wrong Person: Problems instead of Potential
- Wrong Place: Frustration instead of Fulfillment
- Wrong Plan: Grief instead of Growth
Everything comes together, however, when you put together all three elements: the right person, the right place, and the right plan.
7. Keep Repeating the Process
Olan Hendrix remarked, “Strategic thinking is like showering, you have to keep doing it.” If you expect to solve any major problem once, you’re in for disappointment. Little things can be won easily through systems and personal discipline. But major issues need major strategic thinking time. What Thane Yost said is really true: “The will to win is worthless if you do not have the will to prepare.” If you want to be an effective strategic thinker, then you need to become a continuous strategic thinker.