Hannibal crossing the Alps to surprise the Roman army. Charlemagne’s conquest of Western Europe. The Allies’ D-Day invasion of Normandy. These are the powerful images conjured by the word “strategy” – military maneuvers using smart tactics to secure victory.
But strategy isn’t just for winning wars.
There’s a famous saying that goes, “Most people spend more time planning their summer vacation than planning their lives.” For many of us, our productivity is left to the whims of the day – to make no mention of our personal growth. But the more we approach our time strategically, the more we can accomplish.
Strategize for Success
To leverage strategic thinking to your advantage, consider these 6 guidelines:
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.
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? Figure out what resources you have at your disposal so you’re working from an understanding of all your options.
5. DEVELOP YOUR PLAN.
How you approach the planning process depends on the size and nature 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. 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. KEEP REPEATING THE PROCESS.
Author 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. Set aside that time on a regular basis to reassess.
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.
Sometimes strategy requires a jumpstart…
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