Strategic thinking: Are you thinking like a leader?

By on Sep 11, 2013 in Strategy

Strategic THINKING is not the same as strategic planningStrategic thinking can mean the difference between working yourself to the bone and creating a sustainable business. If you are doing the former the chances are you have not begun to think like a leader. Even if your business is a start-up, and you are only just beginning to venture into the world of commerce, you still need to apply the same strategic principles as those chaps at the pinnacle of Apple’s decision making processes.

What is strategic thinking?

Strategic thinking involves looking deeply into your business to analyse its opportunities and strengths in order to gain competitive advantage in your industry. You also need to assess the weaknesses and threats that could have a negative impact on your business. Just doing the work is not enough when it comes to establishing yourself in commerce for the long haul. You have to think strategically about what you are doing and why.

Strategic thinking vs strategic planning

According to Ian Wilson and Henry Mintzburg in James L. Morrison’s article From Strategic Planning to Strategic Thinking, strategic planning is about analysis, and relies on predictable outcomes related to specific articulated inputs. And strategic thinking is about synthesis of intuition and creativity to achieve a vision.

The World Wide Web has, to a certain degree, made strategic planning obsolete, as it very difficult to predict anything for certain with the rate that technology moves the goal posts. For example, not too long ago, there was no such thing as social media marketing (SMM), then almost overnight, SMM had revolutionised the way businesses interacted with each other and their customers.

If you were in the middle of implementing a strategic plan when SMM exploded into our lives, you would not have had the flexibility to adopt it and see where it took you. Strategic thinking would allow you to get involved and develop as you go, learning and implementing the things that drive your business forward toward your vision.

How does thinking like a leader apply to marketing?

If you are running a small business, thinking like a leader is your job. No one else is going to do it. When it comes to marketing your product or service, you need to work out what gives you the edge on the competition, and leverage that.

Knowing your company’s strengths and opportunities gives you greater insight into the benefits you can sell to put your product or service ahead of everyone else’s. Knowing the weaknesses and threats enables you to work towards overcoming them and preventing your business from failing because of them. This is imperative if you are to enjoy any kind of longevity in 21st Century business.

For example, strategic thinking would take what you currently know about your business, combined with your vision of your business in the future, to synthesise your current knowledge with your potential resources to promote growth. It would enable you to apply the tools you have at your disposal in terms of content marketing and social media marketing, to promote your business and develop trust in your business, and a reputation as an expert. You could also incorporate new hardware and software that add value and efficiency to your actual process.

This will maximise your opportunities and strengths, minimise your weaknesses and threats, and ensure you come out on top. If you try to stick to strategic planning, you will impede the growth of your company by disallowing the flexibility needed to swing with the technological punches.

How does it help?

Having an idea based on deep insight into your business allows you to learn and develop with your business, rather than having to stick to specific inputs which are static, and which don’t allow for learning. If you adopt strategic thinking, you can learn, from your own experiences and those of others, what needs to be done to achieve your strategic vision.

This doesn’t meant that planning shouldn’t take place, only that you should be flexible in your approach to it.  As Morrison explains: planning should be about finding the right questions, rather than the right answers. Planning should provide the data around which strategic thinking takes place. This allows you to adapt things as you learn, so that your company keeps in line with your vision of it, in the face of constant and rapid changes in the business world around you.

In fact, because of the persistent evolution of technology, if you do not engage in strategic thinking, no matter how small your business, you will almost certainly not succeed in any industry today.

Do you think there is a difference between strategic thinking and strategic planning? How do your thoughts impact your business? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.

Jane Hendry is Writer-in-Chief for aXent Associates. Her passion for education has led her to home school her children, and she reads voraciously to quench her own insatiable thirst for knowledge. Follow Jane on Twitter or Google+. Visit her blog to read about content marketing and life-long learning.

Great content writing, combined with a marketing strategy based on decades of online marketing success form the foundation of a potent relationship marketing plan.