Strategic thinking can help you advance your career or improve your business. By thinking strategically, you’ll be able to break processes down into manageable steps and choose the best resources for helping you achieve your goals. Although you may not be in the habit of thinking strategically, you can develop this skill with practice. In this article, we’ll cover what thinking strategically means and how you can start doing this today.
What is strategic thinking?
Thinking strategically is a way of assessing and planning when trying to achieve an objective. Strategic thinkers take the time to plan out the best solution to a problem or the best way to reach a goal. Being able to think strategically allows you to not only help the company you’re working for, but also advance your career through intentional decisions.
Read More: Ultimate Guide to Strategic Planning
How to be more strategic at work
- Look forward.
- Continue learning.
- Talk to others.
- Take risks.
- Consider the other side.
1. Look forward
Strategic thinkers are accustomed to looking towards the future. They are trying to anticipate what problems may come up later, what challenges they might face or how things may change. To think strategically, you should look at your current goals, then try to imagine what obstacles may appear. That way, you have a strategy should any problem arise. These goals can be about your own personal career, for instance, getting a promotion or applying for a new job, or they can be for your current place of work. Employers like to see employees who are thinking ahead—and anticipating obstacles in your career path will help you overcome them faster.
Example: A salesperson who knows their company’s fourth-quarter sales are typically low may put extra effort into finding leads during the third quarter. That way, when the fourth quarter arrives, they have an easier time making sales and improving the company’s overall numbers.
2. Continue learning
Strategic thinking requires that you continue to seek out new knowledge or ways of doing things, then applying what you’ve learned towards your goals. You can learn new things in numerous ways, such as reading books, taking classes or even through your own experiences.
Example: A candidate for a marketing position does not get hired for a job. They learn from this experience and proceed to read up on social media, start their own social media accounts and take classes on social media marketing. The next time they apply for a similar job, they are able to talk credibly about the subject and showcase their popular social media accounts. In this example, the candidate recognized the issue and put a strategic plan into place to learn more and address it.
3. Talk to others
Feedback and collaboration are important aspects of strategic thinking. To best prepare for the future, you should seek advice from others around you. They may have suggestions on different ways you can do things or life experiences they can share. By talking with others, you may learn strategies to apply to your own circumstances. Test ideas with one another until you’re able to come up with the best solution.
Example: A recent graduate is looking for a job as a graphic designer. They talk to the career advisor at their university, who directs them on the best way to compile and present a portfolio. Then the graduate talks to a few older friends who have recently entered into graphic design themselves. These friends provide advice on what to include in the portfolio, based on what graphic design firms are currently looking for. By talking to both the career advisor and others in the field, this graduate can now present a stronger portfolio and give themselves a better chance of getting hired.
4. Take risks
A significant part of strategic thinking is encouraging and taking risks. If you have a staff, you should encourage them to come up with bold and innovative ideas. For your own career, set aside time to think about ways you can get yourself to stand out. Once you have a few risky ideas, consider all the factors that go into them. A strategic thinker will take a risk when it’s appropriate, after considering all the pros and cons.
Example: Prestige Marketing, an internet marketing firm, is trying to land a big client and take over their online presence. The client says it just wants someone who will tweak its website and post updates to its blog. Rather than doing this, Prestige Marketing decides to come up with mockups for a completely new web design to show how it could be better and present it at the pitch meeting. The firm is risking getting the client by doing something other than what the client asked for. However, if the client likes it, Prestige Marketing will have stood out from the crowd and earned a more lucrative contract. After considering all the pros and cons, they decide this a risk worth taking.
5. Consider the other side
For any step you want to take, consider an alternative approach and weigh the benefits. Strategic thinkers will usually remember that their ideas might not be the best and that a better solution could exist. By better understanding opposing viewpoints, you can either shift your opinion to the better idea or become more convinced of your original idea.
Example: Top Notch Products is looking for a new advertising strategy. You believe the best path forward is through a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy, while someone else on your team thinks the answer is TV ads. By taking the time to understand more about the TV ad approach you can either strengthen your argument by comparison or reach a better plan, such as a combination TV/inbound approach.