Strategic thinking is hard!

I used to teach marketing strategy as a university professor—my favorite subject. I would begin the course by telling the class that this course would change the way they think - but half of them would get it, and the other half would not, irrespective of their grades!

So, what is so hard about strategic thinking? Well, frankly, it is a different way of thinking. Don't expect a simple, straightforward logical problem-solving approach! It is a gut-wrenching iterative process where you keep going back to the drawing board. An excellent strategic thinker would iterate through divergent, convergent, and practical thinking several times during the course of developing strategy.

What does this mean? Divergent thinking is when you brainstorm ideas and potential solutions. Keep doing that endlessly, and you will hallucinate rather than arrive at a feasible solution. Convergent thinking is when you filter your ideas through some criteria and narrow the list of options. Practical thinking is when you do the feasibility analysis to determine if these ideas are even remotely realistic.

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Strategic Thinking is an iterative process

As you start the process, remember that you may not have all the information you need for strategic analysis. You start with what you have and then keep asking questions and getting more information as you proceed. Each time you have new information, it might change your perspective and force you to go back to the drawing board.

What psychological traits are helpful to be a good strategic thinker? First, you must be willing to process vast amounts of information with an open mind. Next, don't be in a rush to find a solution. You must be able to live with a lot of ambiguity and mental stress as you keep pushing for the best possible solution. Be prepared for frustration and be willing to restart multiple times.

Strategic frameworks and models are valuable tools to analyze systematically, but they are no substitutes for actual creative thinking. Remember that most strategic situations have multiple feasible solutions - looking for that perfect solution is often not required. However, one must always look for a globally optimal solution. Novice strategists often close their minds too quickly and settle for solutions that may not be optimal from a long-term perspective or suitable for all the various facets of the situation.

What I used to teach at the university is what we practice at C3Research. We often joke that C3Research is a strategy company masquerading as a marketing research firm. However, the truth is that strategy and research are complementary - one must have the other to be effective.

Published by: Samar Das, Ph.D.



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