As you scale the career ladder “strategic thinking” becomes an increasingly important skill. Simply putting your head down and working hard is not enough to progress your career. So what exactly does strategic thinking entail? And how can you develop it?
Your first thought might be to enrol in a business school or management course. Dr Ken Hudson, a creativity and innovation consultant says you’re unlikely to pick up the type of strategic thinking there that’s needed in a rapidly changing world. Rather than analysing the past and expecting the pattern to repeat in future, we need to be more creative. To give your career a leg up, make time to practise your strategic thinking and have fun with these five techniques.
Hop in a time machine.
Imagine it is three years from now in your perfect world. You’ll stop yourself from getting bogged down in the day-to-day by taking yourself this far into the future. Ask yourself questions like:
What projects are you working on now? What are people saying about your work? What makes your team so successful?
Dr Hudson says this technique works because you give yourself permission to use your imagination rather than sticking to what you think to be true. If you really want to break out of the constraints of your usual way of thinking, use pictures, not words. Sketch a quick picture of the present and then the future, either by yourself or as a team. “This approach is powerful and evocative,” Dr Hudson says. “There is no right or wrong, just different images of the future.”
Ask “What would (Gail Kelly) do?”
If you don’t how to solve a problem or take your performance to another level, stop trying to answer the question from your own viewpoint. Instead, think of what your role model would do. You don’t even have to know them in person – you can pretend you’re Gail Kelly, Steve Jobs, Penny Wong or Richard Branson.
Sit in the director’s chair.
Put yourself in the shoes of the CEO or head of your department. This way, you can find out what your CEO thinks of your work even if you don’t have a chance to ask them; we usually know more of their inner thoughts than we consciously realise. Discover your strengths and room for improvement by asking questions like these.
What’s important to them? What’s not?What does good performance look from their perspective? What keeps them awake at night?
Dr Hudson suggests you look at things from a range of other people’s perspectives too. Look through the eyes of a customer, partner, regulator or supplier. For example, to really understand what your customer needs, have fun mapping out a day in their life, beginning with when they get up and ending with when they go to bed. Your best guesses will be surprisingly accurate.
Become your competitors.
Have some fun uncovering crucial ideas and information with your team by breaking into small groups that each pretend to be a particular competitor of yours. Each group’s job is to design a new product or service along with an ad. Dr Hudson says the benefit is that it helps you and your team “escape the restrictions placed on them and open their minds to new possibilities”. After designing your competitor’s brilliant new products, you can ask yourselves:
If the competitors did this, why can’t we do it?If they actually do it, how will we respond?
Sometimes our brains do their best creative work when they’re off the hook. Be clear about the question you’d like to answer, for example “What would most impress our newest customers?”. Then stop thinking about the issue. Let your subconscious beaver away while you get on with easier tasks or take a walk.
In fact, walking is a great tactic whenever you want to be innovative. Recent research from Stanford University shows people are 60% more creative when they’re walking than when they’re sitting down. The increased inspiration even lasts for a short time after returning to your seat.
Trying one of these fun techniques will lift your thinking above today’s to-do list and might fill your future to-do list with clever, creative projects to showcase your career potential.